By Sunny Eze
KEEN observers and genuine opposition to privatisation of the Power sector must be giggling at the recent turn of events as core investors of Electricity Distribution Companies are beginning to throw in the towel, after five years of privatisation characterised by ineptitude and abysmal performance.
This came on the heels of government’s determination to wield the big stick and correct the anomaly prevalent in the Power sector for ages. Government’s position has already sent shivers down the spine of stakeholders especially DISCOs, known to have persistently violated the rules of engagement.
In its bid to blackmail government to soft-pedal on certain decisions, the Distribution Companies registered the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors, ANED. This new association is a procured vehicle positioned to champion the interests of DISCOs and downplay their obvious incompetency. It opposes and dares government on virtually every decision taken on power which it feels does not favour its pay masters.
Since inception, ANED has vigorously launched unwarranted offensives against government agencies especially on the Ministry of Power which is determined to instill sanity in the power sector. Consequently, there have been raging wars of words and running battles between the Minister of Power, Raji Fashola and ANED for a while now. The recurring public spats have woken government to its responsibilities and exposed the weaknesses of DISCOs and their penchant for abuse of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act.
Having read the handwriting on the wall, DISCOs affirmed their readiness to quit if their funds were made available to them by the Federal Government. Alhaji Tukur Modibbo, Chairman and Chief Executive, Jos Electricity Distribution Company, JEDCO, while speaking at a media parley, agreed to sell the power assets he bought at $82 million five years ago for $72 million. “I paid $82 million to acquire the power assets but I am ready to sell these assets for $72 milion to whoever wants to buy it.”
The chairman literally begged investors to come forward to buy even with over US$10 million discount on the original price. While reflecting on the prevailing challenges of DISCOs, John Ayodele, the Chief Operating Officer, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company said: “The Distribution Companies could not embark on physical due diligence of the privatised power entities before taking over the assets.
There was no accurate technical, physical due diligence on what Distribution Companies bought.’’ It would be recalled that the Distribution Companies paid 1.4 billion dollars (about N427 billion) to acquire the distribution assets in 2013.
According to media report, “the investors who met to give their side of the story on the wobbling and declining state of power supply in the country, however, painted a gloomy picture of disaster waiting to hit the nation’s electricity supply system in the nearest future, if certain measures were not taken.”
DISCOs could be likened to over pampered, spoilt brats of the rich fool who even at forty year expects cookies on return of every Daddy’s journey. And when the cookies are not forthcoming, the brats chose to raise dust and create unnecessary scene.
The position of the chairman of Jos DISCO reflects the rising frustration of others as well to effectively run an important business dear to the growth and development of the country.
It exemplified the near hopelessness, total collapse and dwarfed business initiatives prevalent in DISCOs. Modibbo, who insisted that the Minister of Power should convene a stakeholders’ meeting, said the Distribution Companies had been sidelined in the scheme of things in the Power sector. “We have been relegated to the background on the issues affecting the Power sector’s value chain.
We want the minister to call us together and ask us why we are not investing in the distribution infrastructure. Blaming the electricity distribution companies alone cannot solve many of the problems in the sector. We have been relegated to the background and that is why we are calling on the minister to meet with us so that we can give our own side of the story.” Distribution companies are now private ventures which must contend with the usual vagaries associated with businesses to survive. It is laughable that a business owner would want an official of government to ask him why he is not investing appropriately to boost his business.
It was evident at the point of sale of power assets that the DISCOs were technically incompetent but those in charge still went ahead to sell despite the concerns raised.
The dummy sold to Nigerians by government then was that privatisation was the only solution to the intractable problems of power supply but the present situation has proven this to be untrue as the situation has become even worse. Those who left the nation in darkness to satisfy their personal business interest will be judged harshly by posterity.
How would they feel looking back at the bleak legacy they left behind? Truth no matter how long it is covered, in due season surfaces despite all odds. Nigerians will agree that stakeholders in the Power sector value chain especially the DISCOs, have added little or no value to the existing services.
It is common to find many communities thrown into darkness for months as a result of minor repairs in a faulty transformer. Responsibilities of the service providers are taken over by these communities who levy themselves to speedily make these repairs in order to have electricity supply.
It is frustrating that after such repairs, DISCOs still come forward with questionable bills which always almost result in fracas with customers and their staff. In fact, it could be said without any contradiction that the state of power supply is worse now than in pre- privatisation era.
Presently, Nigerians can no longer be held hostage by those who after due consideration, have scored themselves low in technical and financial competencies of modern business. Those who bought the power assets judged the book by its cover. Power sector investment is capital-intensive and the return on such investment evidently takes longer time which only government can cope with unlike short term investors.
Excellent and efficient Power sector service delivery gives the desired impetus to socio-economic growth and technological development of nations. Nigeria must embrace this globally acclaimed fact and run with it. Government should diligently discharge its responsibilities creditably without compromising existing standard for the benefit of a few powerful elements. It is only by doing it right that government can be bold enough to invoke the appropriate laws against any defaulting stakeholders in the Power sector value chain especially DISCOs.
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a Media and Communications Specialist is the publisher of thenewinsightng.blogspot.com. He wrote via email@example.com and can be reached on 08060901201