The Discos And Service Delivery

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Monday comment1

Gabriel Ikese argues that six years after privatisation, improvement in electricity supply is marginal

The question of service delivery in the Nigerian power sector is a highly sensitive one and probably the most discussed in Nigeria today after politics and security. The distribution sector of the electricity value chain is constantly in the news, embroiled in one service delivery controversy or the other. Some of the areas where customers have expressed strong reservations include metering, estimated billing, deployment of poor technology as well as other distribution infrastructure thus leaving the sector in a state of comatose.

The recent uproar over the news of the review of the MYTO II tariff once more drew attention to the sector and got people questioning the different players in the sector. The distribution companies, being the most visible member of the value chain, bore the most of the brunt and backlash. This was not helped by the fact that many customers have issues with their local Disco either as a result of poor power supply, frequent outages, estimated billing and a host of others. Not the explanation from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), statutorily responsible for setting tariffs, was able to calm frayed nerves.

But beyond the uproar, do customers actually have reasons to cry out against the players in the sector? This question will be met with a resounding “yes” in most quarters. This is as a result of the fact that for most Nigerians, any improvement in power can at best be described as marginal, six years after privatisation. Availability of prepaid meters – an essential equipment that helps both seller and buyer to measure supply and consumption – remains in short supply leading to constant battles over the issue of estimated bills. Customers on the one hand contend that estimated billing force them to pay for energy not consumed while the Discos on behalf of the other members of the value chain contend that the bill they serve customers is based on the energy delivered to them.

The recent efforts by the NERC to bridge the metering gap through the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) therefore is highly commendable. While it is yet to yield expected results in most parts of the country though, the positive stories from the AEDC franchise areas give hope to the rest of the country that if vigorously pursued by other Discos, it will most likely be a game changer.

Like in most parts of the country, the AEDC is saddled with its own share of the daunting challenges facing the distribution sub-sector, especially the non-cost reflective tariff, insufficient yield from sale of energy, vandalism, energy theft through bypass, customer apathy, etc. Despite all these, AEDC has continued to deploy innovative strategies aimed at providing quality service to its valuable customers across its franchise area.

The company’s franchise area for the distribution of electricity covers an estimated land mass of 133,000km2 across the Federal Capital Territory, Kogi, Niger and Nasarawa States. The management, to leverage on MAP, brought its ingenuity to bear with the introduction of an instant metering train strategy. This entails the deployment of its officials and ICT resources to support the three MAP firms that were commissioned to provide instant meters to willing customers across its geography, using a Mobile MAP metering team. The AEDC announced that it reached an approximate 60,000 meter installation milestone between May 2019 when the project was flagged off by the Ministry of Power, and November 2019.  This, obviously, is an unprecedented achievement in the distribution chain of the utility.

And with technology and automation in today’s world, there is almost no task that cannot be made more convenient. Early in 2019, the company commissioned a N2bn Integrated Commercial Management System (InCMS) automated platform to improve customer service experience and reduce its losses.  The platform was commissioned by the Chairman of NERC, Prof. James Momoh with a marching order for the other distribution Companies (Discos) to adopt such automated process.

The progresses recorded by the AEDC shows clearly that our power sector can work for the benefit of Nigerians if the right vision, resources and people are in place. As long as the owners of our utility companies recognize that providing quality service for their customers is the key to their long term survival, the end result will be a win-win for all concerned.

For long, the sector has groaned under a culture of poor customer service and, it is sometimes almost useless to hope for a better outcome. The question stemming from this therefore is, can we hope for more from the other distribution companies as we begin the year 2020? AEDC seems to be providing a positive response to this.

  • Ikiese wrote from Abuja