Experts and other deep players in the power distribution industry have suggested how the Federal Government may help the DisCos instead of thinking of re-acquisition, an option the government had openly discarded.
The minister of power had told the Lagos Chamber of Commerce that the present administration had decided against revoking the sale of power to private owners to avoid creating negative records and disturbing the international investment community.
Despite this, however, a top business tycoon last week in Abuja pointedly urged the FG through the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, to re-acquire through a technique he suggested in the form of buy majority shares and reselling same to new investors for the purpose of injecting new capital into the sector.
Some of those who play deep in the power distribution sector in the oil region however, said there were some ways the FG can help the Discos to take stronger control of the sensitive power sector.
Chinedu Ama, CEO of Spark Media online, fighting vandalism and power theft as well as selling the distribution business through integrated messaging systems, said: “Two key places where the government can come in are policies and funding. In terms of policies, there is need for policies and regulations that guide against infractions, and sourcing funding for investments into the Discos. I remember seeing statistics which showed that in January 2017 forex allocation to power sector was only one per cent. This is against the high demand for forex to source equipment such as meters, transformers, etc. I have not seen enough capacity to produce meters and meeting the demand. So, there is need to import meters. It means the Discos have to source forex, but how easy is it for them to access forex? Now, is it more important to tackle pilgrimage or source meters?”
He went on: “When you talk of capacity, there is a lot of talk about the licensing of the Discos but people need to look at it critically. What knowledge level exists amongst Nigerians for discipline in use of energy? The government needs to step in on sensitisation of the masses. How much can the Discos commit to this important task and still fund investments in the sector, the government can push the National Orientation Agency to take up this task and join the fight on proper use of power.”
He said he read where the Gencos were promised N700 billion to grow capacity. “Some say it’s a loan, others say its funding, but for me, a large chunk of that fund can be committed for bulb exchange programmes for rural areas because if we can meter and change the bulbs, energy would be freed up for large urban areas with more population and higher demand for power. These are the areas with industries that would create jobs and production.”
So, he said, Nigeria must look at policies that drive the sector and control attitudes. “FG needs to critically look at these areas. They are doing a good job but there is need to carry everybody along with monthly all-industry meetings and direct interface between the Discos and the customers with the government agency as the meeting point.
There is a lot of ignorance in the power sector. Investors are torn between investing in power and educating a huge populace. Government can bridge this gap and improve capacity.”
On what the FG can do about energy theft and efforts to reduce vandalism and tampering with meters, Amah said punishment for energy theft so far is very minimal. “There is need to upgrade it to the status of an economic crime. The individual or organization tampering with power items should be treated as saboteurs. There is need for upward review and making the penalty harsher. Along that, there is need for massive education. Nigerians for now see stealing of power as a right or act of bravery. They used to see it as government property but it is now owned by private interests. These investors need to recoup their investment to reinvest. You cannot demand improved services of more investment when the investor is losing minimum of 30 per cent per month. An average Disco loses at least N1.5 billion every month. That amount is huge. This can get you well over 100 transformers every month. If you have people that steal energy, policies should aim at curtailing such wastes. We are not talking of federal levels alone but also at state levels. Strict actions must be taken against refusal to pay or theft of electricity.”
In her contribution, Chioma Aninwe, the CSR Engagement Officer for PHED, under the Corporate Communications Department, harped on safety and need for the FG to step in to help the Discos.
Aninwe said one of the hardest aspects in the power sector was visiting a woman to tell her that her husband, bread winner, would not be coming home that day; that something happened to him to say, “We are sorry that a line snapped and unfortunately your loved one stepped on it. It is so difficult to be the first person to convey bad news or tragedy to a child, a wife. The FG should look at safety again. There may be regulations, but are they being observed or enforced?
She went on: “Another issue is right of way (RoW) and buildings under high tension. What is the government doing about this? Such matters should not be left to Discos or push them against members of the public. There should be huge advocacy. Discos cannot do this. Let the National Assembly should step in too. It can happen to anybody. Disaster is taking place everywhere, from Kaduna to Aba. The FG should take this matter very seriously. Let action start from the FG and cascade down to the Discos. If you see someone living under tension, even a child can say no, no, no. It can even become part of the primary education system so that children can be very safety conscious as it is abroad where they are taught about hazards early in life. The FG should make safety a nationwide campaign.”
She said her department has a responsibility to visit customers and engage with them heart-to-heart, get it raw from their mouths and feel what they feel. You can go back to report to Management. The issue is that we are in business because of our customers.”