Hope Dims for Proposed Free Electricity Supply

0

•It’ll make FG pay for consumption by the rich, says minister

By Emmanuel Addeh

The proposed two-month free electricity supply to Nigerians, spearheaded by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, may have fallen through, according to THISDAY findings.

The Ministry of Power, which is supposed to drive the initiative, is unenthusiastic about it as it has expressed concern that it could lead to a situation whereby the federal government would’ve to pay for electricity consumed by the rich.

But the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) yesterday said it would align with any position taken by the Ministry of Power on the matter even as there are divided opinions in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).

Minister of Power, Mr. Saleh Mamman, in a BBC Hausa interview at the weekend doubted the possibility of executing the proposal, which is estimated to cost the federal government between N100 billion and N120 billion for the two months.

According to him, the entire power supply chain is not owned by the federal government, but run as a strictly business concern.

He added that if the National Assembly insists on pressing ahead with the plan, its members should come up with fresh ideas on its implementation.

He stated that while the government was interested in the supply of stable electricity to Nigerians, the generation, transmission and distribution to various households were being done by private businessmen who would be expecting returns on their investments.

The minister explained that if the plan is implemented, the federal government will end up paying for the electricity consumed by the rich who live in highbrow areas like Maitama in Abuja and Victoria Island in Lagos to the detriment of the extremely poor, adding that over 80 million Nigerians do not have access to on-grid electricity.

“This free electricity bill will be paid with taxpayers’ money and you want to serve the interest of the privileged Nigerians, then the less privileged and the vulnerable what are you going to do for them?
“Every month what we pay as electricity bill, I mean what the distribution companies are paying with the little support from government is a little above N50 billion monthly,” he said.

Speaking with THISDAY, the General Manager, TCN, Mrs. Ndidi Mba, said the minister spoke for TCN on the matter.

“The minister speaks for us. We are a government entity. The minister’s office is the policy-making arm; so we can’t speak against the minister. The minister and the federal government take the decision and whenever they take that decision, it then cascades, and then it is discussed,” she said.

Managing Director of TCN, Mr. Usman Mohammed, had earlier dismissed the feasibility of providing free power to Nigerians, saying that the federal government cannot make power free because it does not own it.

However, a stakeholder in the Distribution Companies (Discos), who chose to speak on the condition of anonymity, said the initiative came from the National Assembly, which promised to work with the executive arm, noting that the job of the Discos is just the implementation.

The source said as distribution companies, just like beer sellers cannot lay claim to manufacturing the drinks, the Discos could not unilaterally take a decision on the matter without the active participation of other stakeholders in the supply chain.

“It has to come from top to bottom. Every stakeholder in the entire chain must be willing to key in and ensure that this plan sees the light of day. Otherwise, nothing will work. But we as Discos can only wait and observe. We are monitoring things closely,” the source said.

The Executive Secretary, Association of Power Generation Companies (APGC), Ms. Joy Ogaji, had earlier expressed concern about funding the initiative.

“There are a number of issues to be considered. For us to have free power, the gas suppliers have to be engaged. Would they give the Gencos free gas? Apart from free gas, they have O & M cost and other obligations before power is generated.

“We have not been engaged by the government. But I believe that they are in the process of engaging us. When we know the full details then we will be able to respond,” she had noted.