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The Dejectable Eko Electricity Distribution and Other Matters

71

Significant parts of the area under Eko Disco have not had power for more than 2 hours in every 4 days… there is a complete blackout for whole 3 days, and on the 4th day power is restored for only 3 hours.

Since November 1, 2013, when the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company was handed over to the Interstate Consortium as the new owner, it has become the poster boy of the failed privatization of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) assets by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. 

The streets of Abakaliki, Enugu, Onitsha, Awka, Nnewi and other places in the South East geopolitical zone which had never witnessed demonstrations against public power supply now experience such actions regularly. But it seems that the most controversial reputation which the Enugu distribution company (DisCo) has been enjoying is now seriously threatened. In fact, the position has gone over to the Eko Electricity Distribution Company in Lagos.

For the past one month, significant parts of the area under Eko Disco have not had power for more than two hours in every four days. In other words, there is a complete blackout for a whole three days, and on the fourth day power is restored for only three hours. Of course, there are incessant interruptions during the three hours of supply. This is the case with the sprawling estates in Badore, Ajah, including the huge Cooperative Villas Estate where the residents hardly owe their electricity bills. Ironically, some former PHCN CEOs live here with me.

This must be the worst period of electricity supply in parts of the Ajah district in the Lekki Peninsula. It is a double tragedy that it is happening at a time of acute high temperature, which is as high as 33 degrees centigrade at night, to say nothing about the situation in the daytime. To worsen matters, Eko DisCo has not bothered to tell affected customers the problems they are having, let alone apologise for the woeful supply or tell them when the problem is expected to be rectified. The authorities have bluntly refused to explain matters to those who have called them on the phone for an answer or who have sent them text messages or who have even visited them physically. Yet, Eko Disco has a big department of public relations headed by an Assistant General Manager (AGM). What has prevented this department from issuing a press statement on the terrible power situation on the peninsula and other places under its jurisdiction?

Eko DisCo is a perfect example of the danger of transferring monopoly from the public sector to the private sector. Until November 1 2013 when PHCN assets were privatized, the power sector was a monopoly of the Federal Government. This is to say that only the Federal Government owned or operated generation, transmission and distribution companies. Whereas the ownership of these firms has formally been broken, as far as 180 million Nigerians are concerned, the monopoly has, for all practical purposes, continued unabated. This is because each of the Discos operates as a monopoly in its coverage area. A consumer cannot easily switch from, say, Eko Disco to Ikeja Disco which is far more efficient and far more professional.

Monopoly is the enemy of progress. The telecoms industry in Nigeria has witnessed tremendous growth since the GSM revolution because of competition. If there were no competition, MTN, Airtel, Glo and Etisalat would have been as inefficient and corrupt as NITEL, a failed state-owned telecom operator. NITEL used its monopoly to exploit the Nigerian people for decades. But when the monopoly was broken and the telecom sector became liberalized, NITEL collapsed because it could not compete with the new players. Healthy competition among the telecom operators has been to the benefit of consumers. We have seen how the per second billing which was once touted as too advanced for Nigeria was adopted by all operators overnight once Glo introduced it. We have also seen how SIM cards are now virtually free and how the monthly and exploitative access or fixed charge has been abolished.

Monopoly by DisCos has enabled these electricity firms to continue to treat consumers with deep contempt, apart from exploiting them in a most unconscionable way. Despite repeated orders from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), they have refused to provide consumers with prepaid meters which shield consumers from paying for electricity not provided. As a result, prepaid meters are scarce. 

The DisCos are, therefore, in a position to send crazy bills to the hapless Nigerian people who do not have an option. My office bill was increased in January, 2016, from N5,000 a month to N50,000 monthly without any increase in consumption or improvement in power supply. No telecom operator can treat its customers this way otherwise it will lose all its customers en masse; its competitors will be enthusiastic to receive them.

The point one is making about the evil of monopoly by DisCos is the urgent need for the Muhammadu Buhari administration to amend the 2007 Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act so as to end this obnoxious monopoly. Without breaking the monopoly, DisCos like the Eko Electric Distribution Company can never improve. And without the DisCos improving, the Nigerian national economy will remain in a mess. And public confidence in the government will be at low ebb.

A far-reaching thing which the Buhari administration should do is to review the so-called privatization of PHCN assets. The so-called competitive bids were won by firms which have no business in the electricity sector. Everyone knows how the Jonathan government brazenly rigged Emeka Offor’s Interstate into the ownership of the Enugu DisCo. The people of the South East and businesses in this area are today paying through their nose for this barefaced roguery. 

The new owner of Eko DisCo may not have rigged the process of the acquisition, but the firm is a greenhorn which should not have been allowed in the first place to engage in a highly technical field like electricity. Because it does not know its left from its right as far as electricity is concerned, it has retained exactly the same structures, the same offices and the same personnel, including the same chief executive, it inherited from the PHCN, the very people who worked in NEPA and left it in the present state. Neither the managers nor the new owners of Eko DisCo have any ideas about how to meet the challenges of doing electricity business in the 21st century.

The collapse of large sections of the area covered by the Eko Electricity Distribution Company is only the shape of things to come. More areas are about to fail completely.

Adelajah is a Lagos-based power engineer.


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