By Mobolorunduro Hammed
It is almost customary in Nigeria nowadays to lay the blame for poor electricity supply at the doorstep of power distribution companies called discos . The reason for this is not farfetched . Discos are the point of contact between the Nigerian electricity consumer and the power industry . The discos bring the bills and they charge with the meters and where meters are not available they charge with estimates . This too has become another source of rancor and hostility with consumers , who c ry foul that the estimates are bloated and padded like the national budget .
The truth however lurks in the sickening fact that most Nigerians do not want to pay anything for electricity they consume if they can get away with it because they feel that it is part of the National cake to be taken for free .Which is a very bitter experience for the discos who have invested heavily when they bought the distributive channels and infrastructure of the Nigerian power sector at privatization time .
The general view of the Nigerian public fuelled, wrongly unfortunately by the trade unions which should be fighting for the rights of workers in the distributive establishment and structures the discos inherited at privatization , is that the discos are out to make profit and are going to sack workers to achieve that profit motive by all means . The unions also see the increase in tariffs announced by the discos as part of this profit motive of the discos which they say is at the expense of the Nigerian electricity consumer .
However new facts and data are emerging from the media in the electricity industry and the public at large , that show that the discos have been given a raw deal by the unions on the profit motive ascribed to them . This is borne by the revelation in the print media that shows that discos get a mere 24% of the collections of the industry while the power generating companies get a huge chunk of 57% of the overall collections . Yet it is the discos that the unions in the power industry are touting as heartless profit seekers out by all means to milk the Nigerian consumer dry on the new tariffs . Which is not only false but wickedly so .
The truth however is prevailing on the fact that the discos have been quite patriotic and have been running at a loss and may need a huge FGN financial rescue and bail out if they are not to go under . Since the discos have no powers to raise tariffs on their own they have been toing the line of new tariffs approved by the sole electricity regulatory authority in Nigeria – the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission [ NERC] . Unfortunately the authority of NERC has been forcibly taken over by the Nigerian Senate which reversed the new tariffs early this year and has been taken to court by the NERC which has categorically stated that it is the legitimate and sole authority on tariffs in Nigeria .
Actually the plight of the Nigerian discos is pathetic in terms of the profit motive accusation and the wrong impression created for the corporate image of the discos . Surely the discos like any well run business are expected to make profit but after a certain period in spite of the huge investment they made when they bought the power delivery assets of the PHCN and NEPA , when these were sold at privatization by the Bureau of Public Enterprises – BPE . In addition the electricity tariffs approved for the discos by NERC are cost reflective in accord with global best practices and standards . Poor electricity supply and generation ,coupled with lack of gas nation wide for the gas fired turbines and vandalisation of pipelines have meant that the discos have no power to deliver .
While it is crystal clear that the discos have scant or indeed no power to deliver because the gencos have not been able to generate needed power for the industry and the gencos get the bulk of the profit generated , it is a great wonder and a real shame that the public is being misled by those who wrongly blame the discos for poor electricity supply when they can only deliver electricity generated and transmitted to them . Such injustice must stop in the interest of fair play in the generation , transmission and delivery of needed power to make life comfortable for Nigerians and drive our comatose industries into profitability .
–Hammed, an analyst, writes from Ekiti