Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Bitter Truth On Power Supply

By Adisa Gbadamosi  
It  has  been said  from times immemorial that the truth is bitter. In terms of  the cause of poor electricity supply ravaging  the nation nowadays, that fact was brought home vividly  by a statement issued by the office of the Minister  of Power, Works  and Housing, Mr.  Raji Babatunde Fashola, SAN.  In a statement issued by one of his aides,  the Minister said it was immoral to expect the Federal  Government to  blame electricity distribution  companies  called Discos  for the poor  electricity  supply  in the nation.
Ostensibly,  the honourable power  minister  was responding  proactively  to the news  that  the House  of  Representatives had  invited  him and stakeholders in the electricity  industry to  a meeting to  explain the  cause  of  power  failure  in  Nigeria. The  press  statement  was,  therefore,  meant  to  apprise  the legislators before-hand  till  he eventually  showed  up physically  in  the  House  for  grilling on  the subject. In  effect  the minister  killed  the proverbial  two  birds  with  one stone. He answered the  question of the legislators from  afar as it were.  He  also  allayed  their  fears also  at  a safe  distance  on the  mistaken  notion  that  the Discos  were the culprits of  the poor power supply  problem  in the country. Let  me state clearly  as a keen  observer  of the  power  sector  and its development in the right  direction in  Nigeria that I  find  the pronouncements  and statements  of  the  minister candid, informed  and  most  patriotic.  In    particular ,  I urge  our lawmakers  to  emulate these  virtues  even  as they grandstand to nail  perceived  culprits  for  the poor  supply  even  though  the cause  is well  known  to  all  Nigerians except  perhaps  our  legislators  and  trade union  leaders.
The  minister’s  statement  pointed out some facts. The  first was that pipeline vandalisation had  disrupted  and decreased  electricity  supply  massively  nationwide  and power  generation, and transmission had suffered massively  and such distribution  had  been scanty all over the nation. The  second  is that  many  government  parastatals  and institutions owe the  distribution  companies  a lot  of  money  predating  his  recent  appointment as Minister  of  Power thus  tying  his  hands  to stop  the  Discos  from  demanding immediate payment  from  such  government  agencies  or  have  them face massive  disconnection.  Which  ipso  facto  is the legal  resort  for  such  breach  of  payment  in the face of  continuous enjoyment  without  payment  of electricity  supply by  these  government facilities and corporations .

The  third was the  fact unknown  to many  in the public  that  the Federal  Government  before  the advent  of  this administration  had  sold its ownership in the power  companies and had  no control over them in terms of generation  and distribution  of electricity. The  minister admitted that aside from the  violation  of the law inherent in assuming  false ownership  and giving futile orders,  there was the dangerous risk of  creating a  potential  rash  of litigation in the  advice in some quarters  to stop the Discos  from  realising  revenue  for  sold  services both now and in the past. Especially from government institutions which  have become  brazen  debtors to  Discos  which  are  privately  owned  by equally  patriotic and hard  working  Nigerian businessmen  and astute  investors. In  addition  the  minister  harped on the fact  that the  Discos  charged cost  reflective tariffs  approved  for  them  by law  and it would  be  again immoral for government  whose  agencies owe the Discos so  much  to  ask  the  Discos  not  to  take  money  for  services  rendered .
Indeed  to support  the minister  on this  stance  was  the advice he  offered Nigerians when  the Senate  summoned him  earlier  in the year to explain  the new  electricity  tariffs approved  for the Discos by the Electricity  Regulation  Commission of  Nigeria (ERCN).  Unfortunately,  the Nigerian Senate stopped  the  new tariff  increase  rather  wrongly. The minister  said  then  that  the increased  electricity  tariffs  were  like bitter quinine  which ultimately  will  make life  better  for  any patient or  victim  of  malaria. That  example  was very  apt  and instructive but  the Senate  ignored it then and  electricity  generation and distribution  took  a nosedive even  before the vandalisation  reached  the present uncontrollable  situation. If  you  add  to that the fact  that the union  leaders  asked  Nigerians  to go on strike because of the new  tariffs in  electricity alongside the fuel price hike of  N145, then  you  must  admit  that it was  indeed  honourable of the minister to say publicly that it would  be immoral to blame the Discos for poor electricity supply as the unions had done so unpatriotically.
*Gbadamosi, an engineer, contributed this piece from Iseyin, Oyo State.

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