Discos and Historic Electricity Debtors


By Okechukwu Nwankwo

The  news  in the Thisday  newspaper of  May  9 on  how  much  some  Nigerian public  institutions  are  owing  Nigerian  electricity distributor companies called discos   was quite  disturbing . The amount  ran  into about  98bn  naira . The  report noted that the debtors ,called  historic  debtors , cut  across  the three tiers  of government namely local , state  and  even the Federal  government  and  also  included  the security  and  military apparatus  of  government.  That  certainly  is  a very  bothersome development which simply  does  not augur well for any  hope  of having constant  power  supply in Nigeria  or  for any  meaningful    economic  development   to occur , when institutions  which  should  set  the pace for others  to follow  are  the leading  defaulters on  payment  of electricity bills .
Worse  still  is the obvious situation  of these  public  institutions being  the very  ones  expected   to act  to prevail  on ordinary  and  corporate  debtors to pay their electricity bills in case  of default  on payment  of such  bills . What  sort  of moral  authority  would  such  public institutions  and security outfits  have  to prevail  or induce electricity debtors  to pay  their  bills  when  they  too  are owing similar  bills they have  not paid? .Certainly   a huge  moral  deficit  has  been  created  for  such  local  , state or  local   governments that have  not  paid  their  electricity  bills . Obviously  such defaulters  in high places both  in power and  the corridors  of power  have  contributed  immensely  to the parlous state  of electricity  supply  in  thenation and  the   odium   of  poor  performance that attended  the image of both  NEPA  and  PHCN both  predecessors  of  the  discos  in the delivery  of electricity  in  Nigeria
Given  the  huge  investments  of the discos  to  come   on stream in electricity delivery  as a result  of privatisation ,  it is  certainly  unrealistic , if not downright   wicked  to expect  the discos to carry  a debt  burden  that preceded privatisation  without  some  financial  help  from government  in recognition  of the existence  of such debt burden on the discos  .  But  now that government  itself is involved at  all  tiers  it is as if it was a   government  policy  not  to pay  electricity  bills  at  all  levels which  definitely cannot be the case . Or  are  we mistaken on this matter in assuming that government has  decreed  not to pay  electricity bills when it privatised the power industry  in this nation thus contributing  immensely  to the huge  historic  debt  burden inflicted  on the  discos? Certainly  an answer  needs  to  be provided  at  the highest  echelons  of government  to solve this riddle  finely  but mischievously  hidden  in an enigma  of  unbelievable government  default  of electricity  bills
The  obvious comparison  is for government at all levels to consider how it will feel  if citizens in each  local  government , state  and  the nation at  large , fail  to pay  taxes .Of  course  they  are taken  to court  and if found  guilty are jailed .Now   how  can  the  discos who are  partners  with  government perform  successfully  their  task of delivering electricity when consumers  including government don’t pay the equivalent  of taxes which are electricity tariffs  and  which  in this case  are cost  reflective and  putting that weight of delivery on the shoulders  of the discos ? Certainly something is rotten  in the state of public institutions perception  of  their electricity  bills  and government at all tiers must  do  their duty  in this regard  to prove that like  all  of us   who pay  our  taxes  and electricity bills , they too are worthy to be called  solid individual  or corporate  citizens .
This  is a clear  cut case of civil  irresponsibility that  should  be nipped  in the bud before it becomes the norm in our  society  and nation  generally .Public  institutions have always  had priority over individuals or even busy  corporate companies and the private  sector  at large in the allocation  of electricity even before the coming of the discos and right till  now.  So  why  cant  they  justify   their  importance  by  simply   footing  the bill  of their  electricity  consumption ?
This   none  payment  of electricity  bills by  agents  of government  at all  tiers  cast deep  aspersion  on the  integrity  and  sense  of  accountability  of  such  institutions in the governance  of this nation . This is another act  of blatant  corruption and misuse  of public funds  since  such  public  institutions must  have  budgeted for  electricity usage  and  delivery . This  certainly  is another  pandoras  box  in the Buhari  government ’s  fight  against  corruption .  Government  should simply ask  its institutions  of  all  shapes  and sizes,  and  at  all levels  to pay what they owe the discos or  be ready  to face another Dasukigate , this time in the  power  sector .
––Nwankwo, an analyst, writes from Benin