Interview

May 6, 2024

Power sector reforms: How Nigerians can identify fake electricity metre, by Tahir Aliyu, NEMSA MD

Power sector reforms: How Nigerians can identify fake electricity metre, by Tahir Aliyu, NEMSA MD

—Discusses the dangers of using sub-standard electrical equipment  lSays Electricity Act 2023 protects people from impunity of DisCos

Engr. Tukur Tahir Aliyu is the Managing Director  and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA). He is also known as the Chief Electrical Inspector of the Federation. In this interview with OBAS ESIEDESA, he spoke on the responsibilities of the agency in the Nigerian electricity supply industry and why customers must not engage roadside electricians to carry out electrical installations in their homes and business spaces. 

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Your agency is the technical regulator for the power sector, and yet not much is known about your work. What is the role of NEMSA in the industry?

I always say that electricity has become part of our everyday life. It is of great benefit to all of us. We do a lot of things with electricity. Even our transport system now is becoming electrified because of the electric vehicles that are coming on in this country.

But electricity is associated with hazards and these hazards are real because they can even affect the professionals in the sector. We have seen it happen and therefore for us to use this electricity safely, these hazards must be effectively mitigated. It is in mitigating these hazards that we have the technical standards and technical regulations that were developed. But it is one thing to develop these standards and technical regulations, and it is another thing for effective enforcement of these standards.

So, because of the need for the effective enforcement of these technical standards and regulations that the agency, Nigerian Electricity Management Services, NEMSA, is established. In a nutshell, the agency is established by the NEMSA Act 2015, which is now the Electricity Act 2023, to carry out enforcement of technical standards and regulations, technical inspections, testing and certification of all categories of electrical installation across the power value chain of generation, transmission and distribution, as well as the utilization of electricity to ensure efficient production of electricity, to ensure reliable and sustainable electricity supply across the country.

How are these functions performed?

This is done through our various statutory activities and through our field offices across the country. As we speak now, we have our inspectors, engineers, and technical officers across the country carrying out these activities of NEMSA to ensure reliable, safe, and sustainable electricity supply across the country. This is what we do in a nutshell.

People talk about the new Electricity Act 2023 it its impact is minimal. How has it impacted on NEMSA’s operations?

The Electricity Act 2023 is a welcome development to the power sector and the country at large. It has brought in the liberalisation of the electricity market, thereby establishing state electricity markets. This will no doubt bring about more players and the needed investments to revamp and expand the sector. It may also bring about competitions in the area of electricity distribution.  

For NEMSA, yes, it has further strengthened the agency by making additional provisions such as Sections 184 subsection 8, 9, 10; section 114 (5). These provisions made it mandatory for all players in the sector to carry out the enforcement directives from NEMSA because failure to carry out such directives is now an offence that can be sanctioned.

Another area is that it has also made it mandatory that all utility companies now have to report occurrences of all electrical accidents within 48 hours to NEMSA for investigation. It is through the investigations of electrical accidents that the causes are determined and recommendations are now made to forestall future occurrences of these accidents.

The Act also mandates all customers and consumers nationwide, including me, must now accept NEMSA’s certified electricity meters in their various premises. Failure to accept that is also an offence that can be sanctioned. It has also enhanced the powers of NEMSA in terms of sanctioning violators of technical standards and regulations in the country.

There are concerns about the standard of electricity meters in the industry. How would you ensure that DisCos do not cheat customers through defective calibrations?

One of the agency’s activities is to ensure that electrical materials and equipment that are used in the networks are of the right quality, right specifications and right standards before they are allowed to be used including the electricity meters that we have in our various premises and houses. For meters specifically, we have about four meter test stations that are running right now.

Two are already under construction. The buildings have been completed, and the test equipments are on their way and will bring our national meter test stations to six in number. What would they do? They will carry out testing and certification of these electricity meters. So, before you are allowed to deploy any electricity meter in the country, that meter must have been tested and certified by NEMSA.    

Under this testing and certification of meters, we carry out three types of tests. One such test is the type test, which is a kind of test on the brand of a meter. If you are bringing in a new brand of meter into the country or you are manufacturing a new brand of meter, before you are allowed to continue to manufacture such meters you must have to bring that meter for type testing. We test the meters in so many parameters like suitability to weather, mechanical and electrical. At the end of these series of tests, if these tests are satisfactory, a type test certificate is now issued for such a brand meter. That is when you are now allowed to mass produce such a brand of meter.

After mass production, you are also not allowed to deploy them until they undergo what we call routine test and certification by NEMSA. This routine test is a sample test. Out of batch, certain percentage is taken randomly and they are now put back to test, to ensure that standard to which that brand of meter was certified is still maintained by the manufacturer or importer of such meters. It is after this that these meters are now allowed to be deployed. Before we release such meters, there are two features that are fixed on such meters for you to be able to recognize that these have actually been tested and certified by NEMSA.  

What are the two features so that Nigerians can be on the lookout?

The two features are NEMSA cream seal, which is fixed on the meter. It is green in colour and has an NEMSA logo on it. You will also see the test label. Test label indicates when that meters was tested and when that certificate will expire for it to come back for recertification.  

The third type of test we carry out is the recertification of these meters in the circuit. A meter is an electronic device, and when you put it there in a circuit, after some time, it may go out of accuracy. So, you need to revisit it and test it again and then recalibrate it so that it will continue to render its services. These are the three tests we carry out on electricity meters in the country. Likewise, all other electrical materials like transformers, concrete poles, insulators, cables, and some many others in the country.

There are cases of consumers purchasing substandard equipment, especially power saving products. How can this be curbed? 

This is one of the challenges in the power sector because of the number of substandard materials and equipment within this country. NEMSA is not at the ports or entry points into the country. But we have agencies that are allowed there like the customs and the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON. What we did as an agency is to collaborate with these agencies. We already have MoU with SON and a team has been set up. The main term of reference for the team is to identify these substandard electrical materials as the agency carries out its statutory activity of inspection and testing across the country. And when these substandard materials and equipment are identified, they are now escalated to SON for them to trace them at the markets and ensure their removal. Ultimately, for us to effectively get rid of these electrical materials we need to have interface at the entry points of this country so that these substandard materials and equipments are not allowed into the country because tracing them into the market and removing them is a herculean job.

Communities and individuals are often compelled by DisCos to purchase power equipment like transformers and cables only to be supplied with refurbished ones. Is there a way of ensuring that the right equipment is supplied?

This has been brought to the knowledge of the regulator, which is the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, and it has made a number of pronouncements on it. As far as I know, you are not allowed as an individual to buy electrical materials and equipment for the networks. It is the mandate of the utility companies. But I also understand that if you are pressed and now want to get these on time, you can meet the utility company and agree that yes I have this challenge but I am ready to buy these materials to which the utility company will agree and will reimburse you later.

This ensures that when you buy the materials, you are assured that you will get paid back the money you spent in buying such materials.  

The other aspect is that if a material is bought for you and within a short time it develops fault or goes bad, you should report the personnel or the contractor that carried out the installation to NEMSA. This is because as part of our mandates, we carry out the certification of these electrical installation personnel to ensure that they are competent and skilled to be able to carry out the installation works across the country.

We also monitor their performances through the inspection, testing, and certifications of these electrical installations. So, where we have a report that the electrical installations carried out by electrical personnel is not good or is defective, then it is a pointer that we need to call to order that electrical personnel as long he is certified. But where the problem is, when you engage uncertified electrical personnel to carry out your job, then it will be difficult to trace that personnel and penalize him. 

There was a recent electrical accident in Calabar South, Cross River State; you visited the area. What was your finding?

There was an electrical accident at Calabar that happened recently, which trended online across the country. I immediately brought it to the attention of the Minister of Power, and we immediately undertook the inspection visit to Calabar to first of all sympathise with the community. We visited the victims and then carried out an investigation into the occurrence of the incident. We sensitized them and advised them on what to look out for in this kind of situation across the country. It was an electric surge, and the electric surge happened as a result of breakage of cross arms on an 11kV network system.

Calabar is an old town, and the network has been there for a long time and it has aged. When you have an aged network, these are bound to happen, especially where the utility companies have not carried out rehabilitation of this network as of when due or have not been carrying out preventive maintenance on the network. This is one of our major challenges in the country, that the needed investments to revamp the networks and carry out the necessary maintenance of the networks are not actually there due to inadequate liquidity in the sector. The Minister has brought the liquidity challenge to the fore, and the ministry is working hard to ensure that there is adequate liquidity in the sector so that the necessary rehabilitation of the networks and maintenance are carried out.

We also met with the families of the victims, to which the utility company, Port Harcourt DisCo, agreed to take care of the hospital bills of the victims. Our officers have also carried out an assessment of the networks generally within Calabar, especially at the southern part where this incident happened.

With what we saw there, there are a lot of places that are accidents waiting to happen, and these we have brought to the knowledge of the utility company for immediate corrections. A report has been generated to the Minister, the Ministry, and the utility company, and a timeline was given to them to notify this network for our re-inspection very soon.