As the monthly meeting between the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, and operators in Nigeria’s electricity industry enters another cycle, having completed its first year, Chineme Okafor examines the discussions at the last two meetings in Ughelli and Osogbo
Base Transceiver Station (BTS), commonly referred to as base station, is a telecommunications mast that houses telecoms antennae, which are devices used to receive and transmit telecoms signals in the form of electromagnetic waves. Since the inception of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in Nigeria in 2001, telecoms operators have always installed BTS for the transmission of telecoms signals and the BTS is powered 24/7 by generating sets.
The BTS had initially been installed away from residential buildings to avoid health risks that could emanate from either the radioactive emission from the antennae or from fumes released by the generating sets. But in recent times, telecoms operators are seen installing masts close to buildings, and in most cases, masts are installed on roof tops. Aside the possible health risks, there are fears that the mast could collapse when subjected to strong wind because of its height and lead to damage of buildings and, consequently, death of persons living around the installed BTS.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has tried to allay fears about health risks from electromagnetic emission from BTS, insisting that there is no scientific research that has proved it otherwise. But even at that, subscribers are still sceptical that the endless fumes and noise from BTS generating sets pose serious health risks, since most telecoms masts are now located close to residential buildings.
Another area of concern raised by subscribers is about the communications masts used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), radio stations and television stations, designed for the transmission of radio wave signals from one location to another. Nigerians have been witnesses to the collapse of such masts, whether in use or out of use, causing death of humans
From the time he took office as Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola has held monthly meetings with relevant operators in Nigeria’s electricity industry to try to find solutions to the many problems of the industry. Though, he somewhat adopted this practice from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Fashola enlarged the assembly to, perhaps, provide some level of inclusiveness in the deliberations. He has done this for 14 months now.
As a sustained practice, Fashola would in his opening remarks always ask operators in the power sector to indicate if the monthly meeting he set up to try and find agreed solutions to the many challenges of the sector was still relevant. In response, operators would affirm the need to continue the meeting. It is from then that deliberations on old and new challenges of the sector would kick off, with Fashola superintending and providing the lead on government’s actions and plans for the sector as regards the issues previously raised as well as fresh ones that would be discussed.
Having held the meetings for 14 months, the last two meetings at the premises of Transcorp Power, Ughelli, Delta State, and the National Control Centre (NCC), Osogbo, in Osun State, provided an opportunity to measure the impact the deliberations have had on the operations of the country’s power sector, especially since they were the first two after one year of the meetings.
When he started the meeting, Fashola was emphatic on the intentions of the meeting. He explained that the target was to review and enhance services offered by the power sector to ensure that they meet the needs of Nigerians who expect something different from the government. The minister, by implication, meant that improvement in service delivery and obligations of all stakeholders in the sector to Nigerians was the primary focus of the meeting.
He further highlighted this at the 11th edition of the meeting at the Ayobo area of Lagos, when he noted that it was the duty of the sector operators to meet the expectations of the consumers who pay bills for services rendered. To do this, he encouraged operators to improve the user experience of the consumers, by improving on their metering plans and providing near-scientific estimated bills to unmetered consumers.
Acknowledging the multiple challenges of the sector, Fashola also noted that the meeting would take them one after the other until they were considerably resolved to allow the sector operate efficiently. One of the challenges, which he said would be addressed urgently, was the issue of financial illiquidity. The sector got into this as a result of issues that include operators’ recalcitrant attitude to revenue remittance and payment of bills to the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), and debts to electricity distribution companies (Discos) by government offices across the country.
Similarly, technical issues which relate to efficient project implementation across the transmission and generation systems were also going to attract the attention of the monthly meeting, as the minister explained that his plan for the sector would revolve around “incremental, stable and uninterrupted” power policy. The minister explained that the meeting would continue to deliberate on and solve relevant issues of the sector to secure its appeal to investors as a functional, friendly, and profitable industry.
At the 11th meeting in Lagos, Fashola agreed that debts owed the 11 Discos by government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) was inimical to their progress, and acknowledged the need for proper verification prior to payment. The verification was subsequently reported to have commenced at the 12th meeting in Ibadan, where a deadline of February 28 was issued to Discos to submit their MDAs debt claims to the verification team from the office of the vice president.
13th Meeting Sets Off New Cycle.
The 13th meeting was the first edition that marked the beginning of another cycle of the monthly meetings. While many of the challenges identified at the onset still dominated the discussions, they were however being tackled with considerable progress. For instance, the meeting acknowledged at its 13th edition that Nigeria’s economic progress was largely dependent on the success of the power sector, saying the government is committed to improving the sector’s fortunes with measured actions.
It disclosed that in addition to reconstituting the board of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had approved a financing package of N70 billion for the NBET to assure payments for generated electricity to the generation companies (Gencos).
It also reported that several distribution and transmission projects had been completed to improve service delivery to consumers, and specifically mentioned the completion of maintenance works in Awka and Maiduguri by Enugu and Yola Discos to improve service delivery to targeted customers.
As regards compliance with regulatory terms, which the NERC had previously said was poor among operators, the 13th meeting reported an improvement in compliance, with stakeholders submitting their audited accounts as was mandated at the 12th meeting. Also on the financial challenges of the sector, the 13th meeting stated that the audit and verification of debts owed the Discos by government MDAs had advanced from the position it was at the last meeting to a new position that looked promising.
It explained that the debts verification team received claims currently estimated at N59.3 billion, out of which 86 per cent (N51 billion) were owed by the top 100 customers, composing mainly military and defence installations around the country.
Similarly, at the 13th meeting, the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) presented the level of progress it had made on some of its generation projects at Ikot Nyong, Egbema, Ihovbor, Gbarain, Olorunsogo, and Omotosho.
The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) also reported at the meeting that it had resolved the “way leave” issue in Uzalla in Edo State, while work on its transmission projects in Ondo and Rivers, among others around the country, were on-going.
14th Meeting in Osogbo
The 14th meeting in Osogbo provided the federal government the opportunity to disclose its completion and approval of a power sector recovery plan, which it jointly developed with the World Bank. The government acknowledged the plan as being critical to ensuring accountability for losses, improving customer service, customer accessibility, safety, and performance in the sector.
Also at the meeting, the vice chairman of NERC, Mr. Sanusi Garba, affirmed to operators the government’s commitment to cost-effective tariffs that would sustain the sector. He also noted the commitment of the government to the NERC in terms of applying sanctions where appropriate to ensure operators comply with the established rules.
Another critical development, which Garba disclosed, was the decision of the regulator to centrally manage the market’s revenues as collected from all customers, as well as initiate appropriate capitalisation of the Discos. He explained to operators that the regulator would also enforce prudent procurement processes in the sector, in addition to holding Discos accountable to their metering commitments to consumers, including government MDAs.
On debts owed by government to the Discos, Fashola announced that payment had commenced with an initial tranche of N374, 551,000 paid to Abuja Disco as outstanding debts owed by the Federal Secretariat in Abuja.
Generally, the monthly meetings have not really found solution to the troubles of the power sector. And they have not done much to curb the nagging issues of pipeline and electricity assets vandalism as well as Discos poor performance in metering and the question of estimated billings. But the meetings have provided both the government and the operators a platform to productively engage and try to find solutions that the sector can rely on for growth.
Experts say the new cycle of meetings provides the government and operators fresh opportunities to open up and overcome the pervasive mistrust among them. They believe the sector could continue to crawl if the government and operators fail to overcome the current trust deficit between them.