One would’ve thought that with the privatization of the power sector which took effect from the 1st of October 2013, things will begin to look up for Nigerians in terms of amount of electricity generated, transmitted and distributed, just like we witnessed with the telecommunications sector. On that day, the Behemoth that was the Power Holding Company Of Nigeria, PHCN was unbundled into Five Power Generating Companies, One Transmission Company and Ten Power Distribution Companies.
No one was in doubt that changes may take a while and not be immediate especially in terms of provision of stable power supply, seeing that unlike in the telecoms sector where the investors built their infrastructure independent of government’s moribund infrastructure, the investors in the power sector took control of government owned power infrastructure.
What we did not bargain for was that the behaviour of inefficiency, recklessness and corruption for which the power company was known for under government control will continue and even take on a dimension coarser than it ever was, now that it is under private ownership.
You would’ve thought that the incompetents would be weeded out, while what will be left will be competent souls at least those who will appear competent enough to deliver on the mandate that the opportunity their retention had provided them, to do their best in ensuring that their customers get the best in terms of service delivery.
No right thinking Nigerian expects a change in the tale of woe that power supply has become, definitely not immediately considering that the GENERATING COMPANIES and the DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES known as GENCO’s and DISCO’s respectively are still yet to find their feet, but they certainly didn’t expect things to become abysmally worse than it had been.
Infact, I am beginning to find some truths in the allegations thrown in the direction of former staff of the PHCN who were laid off in the wake of the Privatization of the sector, and according to reports fully paid their benefits (unprecedented in the history of Nigeria), as being involved in sabotaging current efforts at improving power supply in Nigeria, in cohort with those currently serving in the privatised companies.
It appears that the vandalization of power infrastructure (which is now on the increase) by vandals since privatization is perpetrated with the active (or otherwise) connivance of the retained staff of these DISCO’s especially in the downstream while it is same with the GENCO’s in the upstream.
The only thing the new Distribution Companies like the Ikeja Distribution Company (IKEDC) are efficient at, is the distribution of electricity bills, mostly for services not rendered, usually the norm is to give a semblance of what may seem to be some constancy in hours for which there’ll be light two days before and after the bills are distributed, then things go back to the sad situation they were before.
There seem to be no hope for hapless Nigerians who have continued to be raped under this new Power regime, even worse than they were when the government ran the power sector.
The Generating Companies haven’t recorded significant feats since they came on board. Though it is yet too early to judge them, the body language does not suggest that they intend to do something extraordinary, or attempt to think outside the box beyond the template that has been put in place by government which involves passing gas from source to gas-powered power plants whose generating capacities make them look merely bigger than the generating sets in the homes of many Nigerians, infact if truth must be told, those generating plants are nothing more than Glorified Generating Sets.
There isn’t plans as ambitious as the GEOTHERMAL Energy infrastructure for which a Kenyan company is pioneering in Africa, nor the kind of Solar Energy plants Europe intends to build across the Sahara, or French ENGEN’s intention in South Africa, or the building of the largest dam in Africa by the Chinese over the Nile in Ethiopia. Nooooooo, the Nigerian government never thought of these, they did not insist that investors think in this light, they simply gave out the unproductive behemoth they had and asked the power companies to perform miracles. Of the installed capacity of about 6000MW, Nigeria at the peak generated close to 4000MW of electricity when Professor Barth Nnaji was minister of power. Nothing close to that has been achieved since the takeover, infact power generation has consistently dwindled to as low as close to a thousand megawatts (for a country the size of Nigeria?).
The much generated cannot even be effectively evacuated by the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN because of obsolete equipment, many of which reports have indicated simply caved under the pressure of the power they were meant to convey to the Distributing Companies, and onward to the end users. Failure at this point is usually responsible for darkness witnessed in large swathes of the Nigerian space, but is not as widespread as you would have should a power station shut down (though this isn’t as regular as you’d have with failure of Transmission infrastructure).
The Distribution Companies appear to be the tool with which the Power companies sodomise Nigerians. Their stock in trade involves charging and accepting payment for services not rendered.
If there were any hopes for the distribution of prepaid meters to those without meters or in exchange for those with analog meters, that dream appeared to vanish with the privatization of the power sector, with the procedure of procuring one becoming more tedious.
Indiscriminate billing has continued and the lofty ideas propounded by the former minister Barth Nnaji for which people residing in low income areas will pay less for power while those in highbrow and industrial areas will pay more to subsidize power for the poor, appear to have been relegated to the bin of obscurity, especially following his unexpected removal for an ‘indiscretion’ that’s prevalent amongst ministers (many of whom remain in government till date) in the Nigerian government.
All that these Private Power Companies appeared set to do is to ripoff the masses, to continue on a greater scale where the Government-owned power corporation stopped. If that was all, then maybe the burden would’ve been lighter for the masses to bear, unfortunately the staff of these organizations have formed cabals to ensure that besides their wages, they rake in huge amounts again from the hapless electricity-hungry customers, in the ‘kôwópé’ philosophy of meeting targets, howbeit illegal.
It has become norm that once your house has been disconnected from the grid, besides paying the bill you owe, you have to pay a reconnection fee of =N=1000. You will be making a huge mistake if you go to their office to make payments for reconnection, because those saddled with the responsibility of reconnecting you will not move an inch until you’ve ”sorted” them out.
It seems to be in the interest of these cabals in the DISCOs for prepaid meters to be scarce. This ensures that at every point in time there’re defaulting customers owing to the crazy bills they periodically send their customers, who will then have to be ‘disconnected’, and require reconnection later.
The ‘lucky’ owners of prepaid meters are still scammed in that they still pay ‘meter maintenance fee’ of =N=500 each time they recharged their credit to enjoy power, despite the fact that complaints have been made severally when government still controlled power supply and they’d come out to outlaw it yet as with that regime and now, that charge is still being paid without any form or need for ‘meter maintenance’ (not like you wouldn’t still pay something if your meter ever needed maintenance).
Gone are the days when everything used in bringing electricity belonged to the power company, as well as the responsibility for it. Today you have to buy everything, including Transformers for the street and cables attached to it should they develop a fault. I know of an area serviced by the Ikeja Distribution Company where the people suspected that the ‘cabal’ in the privatized power sector may have been responsible for the stealing of the cables carrying power from the Grid into the transformer. They decided to contribute some money to replace the cables, but rather than give the money to the DISCO officials they elected to buy brand new cables, when the engineers came to fix it, they left angrily without fixing it because they weren’t consulted and questioned the authority they had in going to procure power equipment. That street is in darkness till date!
Nigeria’s development is stalled by the lack of power, unfortunately if much isn’t done to check the human factor in this sector the lofty dreams behind the privatization of this sector may not be met.