Fashola versus electricity DisCos – Thisday

All the stakeholders should work towards resolving the power problem

After several months of giving excuses on behalf of the 11 electricity distribution companies (Discos), the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, last week practically called them out over inability to live up to expectations, particularly with reference to metering the consumers under their networks as well as their reported unwillingness to receive electricity from the generating companies. But in the fight between Fashola and the Discos, what concerns Nigerians is not the abuses or exchange of angry words between both parties but rather electricity service delivery which unfortunately is still notoriously very poor.

While we accept that sound economic developments do not happen overnight, we must also state that Nigerians anticipated better outcomes than what they are seeing today five years after the privatisation of the sector. Based on the letters of the agreements the government signed with the Discos in 2013 before they took over, and the efficiency levels of the assets now in their fifth year of operation, we are convinced that there is still a lot more to be done to get anywhere near efficient electricity service delivery, and that both parties have nonetheless failed in their responsibilities to the Nigerian people.

The Discos claim that the federal government has continued to frustrate their operations with politically-motivated policies. They allege being forced to operate without cost-reflective tariff for more than three years; railroaded to accepting in their balance sheets certain legacy debts (gas debt) carried over from the defunct PHCN days as against the government offsetting them and most importantly, that the industry regulator is more an appendage of the Power Ministry with little or no say in how the sector should run.

However, we may need to remind Fashola and the Discos that the real fight they should be getting into now should be in the operational fields so they can find solutions to the many problems that afflict the sector which are manmade and solvable. Asking the Discos to quit, as Fashola publicly did, will not resolve the problems, neither will the threat by the Discos to return the assets to the government. What will most likely solve the problem is collaboration.

Unfortunately, both parties have largely been combative in their relationship. They need to accept wholeheartedly that the challenges of the sector are not just the responsibility of one party and that the earlier they get down to work on credible solutions to them, the better for Nigeria. They also need to understand that asking just one party to consistently bend backwards will not work as everybody must be willing and able to make sacrifices for the good of all.

We want an end to this seemingly unending brickbat in the sector, and would like to see all parties being alert to their jobs – the NERC becoming independent in all its roles in the sector; the government taking its own share of obligations to the sector; the Discos meeting all the service level agreements they signed up to in the sector; and of course the Gencos producing power for the TCN to transmit to the Discos for use by Nigerians. Until these happen, there will continue to be crisis in the sector to the detriment of the people.

Finally, based on existing operational status report of the sector where the government has claimed the Discos owe the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) over N500 billion and the Discos in turn alleging the tariff gap which is the gap in excess of N1.3 trillion, we will like to remind all parties that this sector is already on the brink hence there is an urgent need to save it from imminent collapse.

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