Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has reportedly solicited the support the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) of the United States, supports to educate or upgrade the knowledge levels of its six commissioners on current regulatory practices in the electricity market, THISDAY gathered yesterday.
Reliable sources which are aware of happenings in the commission have state that in response to NERCâ€™s request, NARUC which was founded in 1889 as a non-profit organisation dedicated to representing the state public service commissions which regulate the utilities that provide essential services such as energy; telecommunications; power; water; and transportation in the United States, has sent a Nigerian-American, Dr. Orjiakor Isiogu, a regulatory expert and one-time chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission, to train the commissioners for one year on power sector regulation.
NARUCâ€™s members include all 50 states in US including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The source explained that Isiogu would have to train and upgrade the regulatory capacities of the commissioners who were appointed into the board of NERC in February 2017.
It was further gathered from the source that the request became necessary because the commissioners are allegedly finding it difficult to cope with the regulatory demands of the sector.
According to one of the sources, the knowledge gap between the commissioners and regular staff of the commission was wide and impeding the regulatory works of NERC being that it reportedly takes too long for the commissioners to respond to files sent to them by workers in the units they head.
The commissioners expected to benefit from the one year tutorial on regulatory practice from Isiogu include Mr. Sanusi Garba; Prof. Frank Okafor; Mr. Dafe Akpeneye; Mr. Nathan Rogers Shatti; Dr Moses Arigu; and Dr. Musiliu Oseni Olalekan. NERC has had no substantive chairman for more than two years now.
â€œThis precarious state of the NESI (Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry) shouldnâ€™t have been left in the hands of a set of commissioners with almost no regulatory competency and proven track record.â€
â€œThe operators, especially the Discos are having a field day violating NERCâ€™s regulations with impunity, while the new NERCâ€™s board is busy travelling all over the world to acquire basic regulatory competence which ought to have been a prequisite as spelt out in EPSR Act 2005 for any of them to be appointed as a commissioner aside from full understanding of the NESI.
â€œLet us hope that the recently sent regulatory expert and ex-chairman of Michigan State Public Utility Commission, a Nigerian-American, Dr. Orjiakor Isiogu, currently on a one-year mentoring attachment with NERC would accelerate the ramping up of the regulatory competency of the commissioners,â€ the source added.
But when contacted for clarification on this development, the head of public affairs unit of the NERC, Dr. Usman Arabi, told THISDAY that the commission has an existing collaboration with NARUC and that it was within this partnership that Isiogu has come.
Arabi noted that he was not aware of any specific training schedule for the commissioners of the NERC alone by Isiogu, adding that the NERC constantly turns to agencies like NARUC and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for capacity building.
He stated: â€œWeâ€™ve had this long-term partnership that has been on for 10 years. It is what you call an exchange programme where we send our staff to them and they send theirs here so that they can help us in the areas of international best practices as far as electricity regulation is concerned.
â€œYou know they have been doing this for so many years, like in the last 300 years while ours is just 10 years. Whatever knowledge we can get from them is good, and especially that he (Isiogu) is a Nigerian Â and understands our terrain very well. It is not like he is here specifically to train the commissioners, he is here as part of the exchange programme, and of course, he will advise us from time to time on one or two issues especially as we come up with some of new regulations. He is not exclusively here to train commissioners.â€
When asked how long Isiogu will be in Nigeria, Arabi said: â€œHe will come and go. Like it was said, this exchange has been on for long, and earlier in the year, they sent some people to come and help us. At the end of April, another group will also come in and we will discuss the mini grid regulation. They will teach us how theyâ€™ve done it. It is all part of the Power Africa initiative that the federal government has signed up to.â€
However, a biography of Isiogu from the Michigan Public Service Commission indicated that his public service experience is extensive. It explained that starting from 1989, he served as an assistant attorney general for Michigan in their special litigation division. Following that, he was the director of telecommunications for the Michigan Public Service Commission. During this, he was responsible for carrying out Michigan Childrenâ€™s Protection Registry Act and the Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act. He has also served as the chairman of the board of NARUC.