The Measure Of A Nation

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Nigerians deserve to know why electricity supply is still epileptic, writes Okachikwu Dibia

As a public servant who work and live in Abuja, I always experience the heat in Abuja during this time of the year. As per darkness – that is living without electric power, I am well immune to its hazards since I was born in Emohua, Rivers State. From when it was the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN, a name given to the organisation by the Bureau of Public Enterprises in preparation for its privatisation) and now to private investors, it has been darkness all the way.

I have chosen to comment on this year’s heat and darkness in Abuja for the singular reason of the effects I have observed on my little boy, Nkwamzinuchi, who is eleven months old. For some time now we have been battling with excessive heat and rashes on his body, to the extent we had to visit the hospital several times. Based on the tests and results, the doctors say it is heat rashes. Besides the rashes all over his body which had kept me uncomfortable, April 4, 2017 was nightmarish.

My little boy could not sleep: he rolled from one end of the bed to another, restless and crying. That night we bath him almost every two hours, called doctors and nurses we know and the summary of their opinion was that we should continue with the medications. We extended the time for using the generator to 12 midnight, at least to have the electric fans on. Of course there has been no power, even though we have paid all the estimated electric bills from Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) to date.

 I have been wondering what is wrong with electricity in Nigeria: why is it that power is not available? NEPA or PHCN failed to deliver its essential mandate of providing regular and affordable power to Nigerians. Hence NEPA was privatised in November, 2013 and handed over to the so-called private investors. These investors in their technical and financial bids promised to provide regular and affordable power to Nigerians.

Alas! We were wrong! Or deceived? In less than five years, these so-called powerful portfolio-carrying investors can really do nothing. Darkness is still very much with us just like when electricity management was under NEPA or PHCN. What happened was that the investors and former PHCN workers, who are still working with them in the newly privatised companies, and who had been paid all their entitlements to disengage from PHCN, have continued with the former work tradition that derailed NEPA and PHCN.

To disengage PHCN workers so that they do not constitute a burden to the new investors, the federal government spent over N340 billion, yet most of them have been retained and no change in behaviour. Even a common POS machine which the smallest company in any computer village in Nigeria has, they cannot afford. They still demand cash payment for electricity bills. They still issue estimated bills to Nigerians. They still tell Nigerians that metering will soon be done so that we can pay as we use, just like GSM phones. They are still disconnecting lights just as was done under NEPA and PHCN. They still instal meters for their relatives and friends and charge small bills and tell other members of the same estate that this is Nigeria: they should know what to do to have meters installed for them. They are still arrogant and uncaring. The only thing that has changed is the account number into which estimated bills are paid. And the new investors are happy with all of these because they only collect money, neither making important investments in the utilities as promised nor rendering equivalent services.

When you ask the new investor why he is not meeting up with and implementing all he promised in the signed agreement to improve the utility and provide regular and affordable light to Nigerians, he will tell you that they are operating at a less cost effective rate. Hence they have put pressures on the federal government to assist them for funds. Was this part of their agreement? They keep making this complain despite the supportive roles of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET). They make this claim despite the relative cheap cost of labour in Nigeria compared with their home countries where labour cost is far more expensive. So why can’t the new power investors deliver? I think Nigerians deserve to know why these new companies are not providing regular and affordable power to Nigerians. Yes, we deserve to know because there is no significant difference between the services Nigerians are currently getting and what they used to get under NEPA or PHCN.

Some people may say that Nigerians should be patient with the new investors. Why? Why should Nigerians be patient with investors who daily smile to the bank with estimated bills paid by Nigerians with all the darkness around? Why should Nigerians be patient with investors who promised heaven on earth when they bided for the utility, only to now turn around to be begging the government to fund their proposed investments in the utilities? Is that what they would have done if the utility they bought were in any of the Western countries? Why are they taking Nigeria for a ride? Why should Nigeria be a country where every Tom and Harry can cheat and go free?

The Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) needs to tell Nigerians why the darkness we inherited from NEPA and PHCN should persist after spending huge sums of money to privatise PHCN. There should be no secrecy on this issue. NERC must provide information to prove that the investors are operating at a less cost effective rate in Nigeria. How much do they collect monthly? What is their cost? NERC must guide against these smart investors from merely providing fake reports that support their stand. NERC should verify their reports and if convinced that they are in order, such reports must be made public to Nigerians and the National Assembly should take them up from there. Nigeria cannot continue to be a country without regular and affordable electric power.

If there is any important change Nigerians deserve now, it is that we need to have regular and affordable power 24/7. This will help to reduce the effect of heat on Nigerians, especially for those living in the Northern part of the country.

Okachikwu Dibia wrote from Abuja