By Tabia Princewill
I AM not one of those who believes that Nigerians cannot recover from the “jollof” mentality, as it is popularly known, i.e. the belief that it is possible to eternally profit or make perpetual returns without putting in any hard work or commensurate investment.
However, after getting used to a system whereby it was possible for some to make incredibly huge sums overnight by simply walking into the right government office, therefore prompting others to aspire to such an easy but corrupt lifestyle, it is now urgent to explain, step by step, to those who might have forgotten, to those who pretend to have forgotten and to those born into this system, who might genuinely not know any other way, that in the modern world, in a society guided by the principles of equity and fairness, not only do you reap what you sow, you pay for what you get and we are all equal in front of the law.
Then again, Nigeria is neither a modern nor a fair society so my premise isn’t one the average man on the street is familiar with. In such a context, where poverty abounds and government for decades was perceived as doing little or nothing to empower Nigerians, the question of paying for public utilities is ironically a controversial one.
Ironic because most Nigerians, from corporate entities to individuals, do not pay taxes yet demand government services, having gotten used to a system where governments would dole out favours with a sort of condescending kindness meant to buy support and keep people in check.
As we bickered over political patronage based on ethno-religious concerns, government’s ability to provide public utilities (electricity, water, sewage etc.) in a generalized, efficient, neutral manner became significantly eroded.
With universal quality of service no longer assured and a global trend towards privatization and liberalization, precisely to ensure citizens get electricity and other utilities efficiently and at a reasonable price, in 2005 our National Assembly passed a law requiring that government relinquish its monopoly on power provision by unbundling it into generation (GENCOS), transmission and distribution companies (DISCOS), a fairly misunderstood process.
Electricity produced by the generation companies comes from gas bought from gas producing companies or from water in hydro-electric dams. Government’s sale of the GENCOS to private investors meant said companies repaired the broken down equipment they bought from Government.
The question of why said equipment was broken down in the first place is one Nigerians should ask all previous administrations. These companies have also taken on the responsibility of building more facilities to generate more electricity. The most misunderstood issue is that of the role and functioning of the DISCOS.
Government retained ownership of the transmission company, as in most countries. So, its role now is reduced to transporting electricity (through TCN), from the GENCOS to the DISCOS who then sell it to Nigerians.
Many are protesting the tariff increase, saying it amounts to “paying more for darkness” or to “paying for companies to enrich themselves but not to serve us” which is reminiscent of both the “jollof” mentality and the trust deficit which undermines all government (and also private for that matter) action.
On one hand, Nigerians have gotten used to poor services (in this case a lack of electricity) so we assume nothing can make it better because in the past, there never seemed to be the will, on anyone’s part for things to work for the benefit of all. However, as difficult as it might seem, I’d urge anyone reading this to give this new dispensation the benefit of the doubt. We impede progress in this country by instantly nullifying or rejecting any attempts at reform, under the guise that it has never been done or that people and governments so far have not been sincere.
But will we ever know who is and who isn’t if we protest every potentially beneficial action? As for the accusation of DISCOs enriching themselves off Nigerians, the truth is, these companies are commercial, profit driven entities, which doesn’t stop them from doing what’s best for consumers, especially because the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) ensures DISCOS don’t charge Nigerians more than what is fair given that they must also charge enough so all companies involved in producing electricity can earn enough to keep producing and also, to invest in the necessary infrastructure to increase production.
“Is she saying investors need my money to improve power?” you might ask. In an ideal world, we would have more electricity before the price goes up, but in the real world, why would any investor negate the question of their own profit, having on top of it all inherited dilapidated structures and market constraints?
Certain facts should also act as assurances as to the seriousness of this government: first, there will be no more fixed charges from DISCOS; we will pay for what we consume. So why not disengage from the practice of leaving unused appliances on, turning off the lights when not in use etc. so as to save energy and reduce our bills? Also, customers without meters to verify electricity consumption cannot be forced to pay more than their last uncontested bill. These inbuilt consumer protection mechanisms allied with incentives for DISCOS to provide better service (after all the tariff increase will help all companies involved recoup costs and further invest) will not only change Nigerian homes but the industry as a whole. Furthermore, in the Buhari era where suddenly everyone seems to be sitting up, or re-awakening to their duty, one can believe there will be better monitoring of the DISCOS through the performance contracts signed with government.
Once change occurs it can be institutionalized and self-perpetuating if we the citizens get on board and play our part. Government has done its part, in contrast with previous unrealistic, populist prices, set without regard for the economic and commercial implications which in the end, hampered service delivery.
What we must do now, Nigerians, is hold the power companies to their end of the bargain as is done all over the world. If things do not work the way they should, let us protest them and not the government, given that now investors, customers and DISCOS can also create more power generation and distribution facilities, enabling more electricity for the general grid.
The industry is about to become a lot more competitive and we will get to a point where, like in Europe or America, if you aren’t satisfied with your company’s services, you can switch to another. If we are passionate about our savings on power, we must also, as communities get involved in energy issues, come together to set up our own solar installations or work towards community ownership of some commercial power projects.
It is also impressive that this government has not forgotten about the poorest amongst us who will benefit from a N4 tariff which virtually subsidizes basic services. From now on, powering change is in our hands.
Indications that the Nigerian elite has been calling on government to forget the anti-corruption war are not surprising and it is interesting that among the poor and middle-class who cannot dream of government patronage, the sentiment is the exact opposite.
However, because the elite uses the excuse of witch-hunting on ethno-religious lines, we all must begin to appeal to the national conscience and explain that beyond compassion for the poor, there is a security imperative which forces us all to fix a system with opportunities schemed towards a few.
Ben Bruce and the bitter truth
Reacting to the President’s interview in the UK Telegraph on Nigerians’ image problem abroad, the Senator in his continued populist affront on logic, tried to garner support for his onslaught against the President saying #NigeriansAreNotCriminals.
Certainly, and the President never said they were. However, the bitter truth is that Nigerians are among the largest number of Africans in UK jails. Let’s think about that.