Despite Private Operators’ Take Over, Nigerians Still Groan Under Epileptic Power Supply

When in November 2013, the federal government decided to hand over the operation of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to private operators nationwide, the citizenry felt a wind  of relief had come their way. The handing over of electricity business in the country was seen as the final solution to curb incessant power supply to millions of household and business concerns, and a means to boost the economy, especially through small and medium scale enterprises (SME).

But the reverse seems to be the situation on ground, as major cities and businesses still groan under epileptic power supply. A nationwide assessment of the new owners shows that more still need to be done by these business outfits to satisfy the yearnings of Nigerians.

The Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED), which is responsible for the distribution of electricity in four states, namely Rivers, Cross River, Akwa-Ibom and Bayelsa, was handed over to its owners and managers, the 4-Power Consortium, which acquired majority ownership of the distribution firm in the deal.

4-Power Consortium is a partnership of nine investors that came together under a consortium agreement to bid for acquisition of 60% shares of PHED.

Investigations have revealed that more than two months after the take-over of the firm, power consumers in the four states, especially Rivers State, are yet to see improvements in the area of power supply.

However, while speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday in Port Harcourt, the chairman of the Trade Union Council (TUC) in the state, Comrade Hyginus Chika Onuegbu, urged Nigerians not to expect miracles from the private firms in just two months.

Onuegbu said, “I think realistically, we are expected to give them some time. I don’t think the mere transfer of power supply from government to private people will mean automatic improvement in power supply. For me, I think we should give them between six months to one year before we begin to see whether that transfer is beneficial to Nigerians or not.

“First and foremost, the private companies are not generating power, they are simply distributing; and the power they distribute is the power that is generated by the government. Be that as it may, I think they have a lot to do to gain ground first. As you are aware, many of those involved in the electricity distribution do not have experience about power. They are strictly businessmen; looking for new areas of business. You can understand why we are having the problem for now; because they are in the area that is supposedly not their own.”

On his part, the chairman of the Association of Fast Food and Confectionary (AFFCON) in Rivers State, Mr. Adepoju Adegoke, said, “So far, there are a lot of improvements in sending out bills. However, in terms of power generation, it is not healthy. They are also very fast in demanding for payments, despite the poor service, which has actually increased the cost of diesel from 40% to 70%, which is not good for any business in the city.”

Meanwhile, the management of PHED has attributed the poor power supply being experienced to limitations from the national grid.

According to its public relations manager, Mr. John Onyi, “the poor power supply being witnessed is due to limitation from the national grid.”

In Kaduna, the hand over is seen as a curse than a blessing. This according to many is because the light situation has gone rather worse than it used to be. Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC) is not having it rosy in terms of distribution of electricity energy to consumers within its zone, comprising Kaduna, Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi states.

KEDC MD/CEO, Malam Mohammed Idris, in an interview, said the power supply in the area had improved tremendously, even while adding that the processes of handing over to the new investor was yet to be completed. But the company is yet to satisfy the expectations of its consumers.

For most people residing in Bayan Dutse, they are already used to darkness, they get surprised when they see light, and in most cases, assume it was a mistake. Pastor Steve Moses, said, “We are used to perpetual darkness, because even though PHCN said the light is being rationed, we don’t even get light when we are supposed to. And when we do have light eventually, it is worse than a candlelight.”

Ibadan residents also lamented on power outage, describing the situation as the worst in recent times.

An artisan, Bolanle Adewale, told Leadership Sunday that he had to abandon his workshop for commercial motorcycle “Okada” business, because there was no light to work with in his area, describing as unfortunate, a situation where a community would be in darkness for months without electricity supply.

But when contacted, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company’s Public Relations Officer, Tokunboh Peters, disclosed that generation, transmission and distribution are inter-related and inter-dependent, adding that the generation company is not generating enough due to shortage of gas caused by vandalized pipelines. “A lot of the gas pipelines have been vandalized, which has led to reduction in megawatts being generated, and this has affected the electricity generation.

“In the last one month, we have been receiving half of the electricity required for supply. This has been the major challenge we have been facing since new owners take over the country,” he said.

The story is not different in Ekiti State, where some residents even complained that the tariffs they pay have been jerked up by almost 40% without commensurate electricity supply.

A renowned Ado-Ekiti-based industrialist, Chief Julius Adegoke Ajayi, posited that the situation was better under the defunct PHCN.

However, in his response, the head of corporate communication of Ado district of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company, Mr Kayode Brown, said the acute shortage of gas to generating stations was responsible for very low supply of electricity being witnessed in the state and indeed other parts of the country, adding that while thermal generating stations depend on gas, the lower water level at the hydro stations also accounted for the drastic decline in electricity supply.

On bill payment, he stated that the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission was saddled with the responsibility of determining what is payable as bills by electricity consumers, and not the distribution company.

In Katsina, the gains of privatisation appear to be slow as some residents lamented deteriorating state of power supply, with some complaining of alleged exorbitant billing by the new company.

However, Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KNED) is a firm that has recorded better performance. The company’s public relation officer, Baffa Usman, said that power allocation is fluctuating between 80 and 100 megawatts, as against the agreement that KNED will be receiving eight per cent of the total generation in the country.

Baffa added that the burden on Kano Distribution coy is huge, as it allocates power to Katsina, Jigawa, Kano and Azare, adding that one company in Kano that produces iron metal requires about 20 megawatts, which is not forthcoming, saying that “KNED is not being fairly treated.”

In Ondo State, residents expressed their displeasure over incessant epileptic power supply in the area, even after the privatisation of PHCN.

Primate Ade Ademisokun-Turton in his reaction said he supported the privatisation of the sector in principle, apart from the Nigerian factor which is manifested in every policy of government and would not allow anything to work in the country.

In her reaction, Mrs Folashade Adesua said, “It is a pity that Nigeria finds herself in a situation whereby companies that are supposed to employ university graduates are moving out of the country to other countries, that are not even better than Nigeria, due to the problem of power supply.”

She disclosed that because of the epileptic power supply in the country, she had closed down her pure water factory which has been source of income for her family.

She noted that no business can thrive today in Nigeria that will not require stable power supply and expressed her displeasure on the power outages in the country.

Dr. Toyin Fadero however commended the federal government on the giant stride of the present government in the privatisation of the sector, saying power supply has improved tremendously in the past few weeks, particularly in the area where his hospital is located in Akure, compared to the time he was using over 25 litres of petrol on daily basis.

In Osogbo, the residents claim that they are yet to experience appreciable change in the area of power supply. Osun State gets its supply from the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company, and the state has been experiencing stable power supply, especially in Osogbo, the state capital.

Speaking on the performance of electricity since the takeover, Chief Adeola Adeniji, an industrialist in Iwo, said there is remarkable improvement in power supply, however regretting the abnormal tariff being charged by the new owners.

According to him, the private owners initially robbed off the debt incurred at inception and started on a new pedestal, only to bring what he termed “crazy bill” in subsequent months.

While Chief Adeniji condemned what he described as arbitrary disconnection of indebted consumers,  Alhaja Abibat Usman, from the same town, noted that the rate of electricity disconnection has reduced drastically.

An official of Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company who spoke on condition of anonymity said the company is determined to live up to expectation, adding that workers have been tasked to improve the power situation in the state.

Lagos State is experiencing its worse power situation, according to some residents in the state.

Stakeholders who shared their experience of the dwindling power situation are of the view that compared to the situation before the hand over, the state is now in a state of darkness.

The worsening electricity supply had also prompted  protests in some areas like Oshodi, Ikorodu and other parts of the state, attesting to the abysmal performance of the new owners in the zone.

While speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday on the issue, Mr Okwudili Onyia, said the impact of the IPPs in Lagos has been at best minimal. “What other index do we need to gauge them other than seeing light in our homes, offices and places of business. If we use that benchmark, then it is safe to say that they have performed below expectation,” he declared.

He said that aside from inadequate gas supply, vandalised gas pipelines, sabotage and theft of power infrastructure, the new investors are faced with the challenge of replacing obsolete equipment which also  impede stable power supply.

Onyia, a power industry analyst, added further that the situation has pushed up cost of doing business in the state.

The worst hit are small business operators, who now spend more on fuel to keep their businesses running. The implication he cautioned is that inflation will rise as additional operating cost is passed on to the consumers, disclosing that at the moment the cost of frozen fish in the market has risen as well as the cost of ice blocks which has also tripled.

Some businesses are considering cost cutting measures to stay afloat, which includes retrenchment of staff members, he said, suggesting that the new owners must live up to their responsibilities and provide electricity to Nigerians, adding that buck-passing and excuses will not solve the problem.

A source at Chevron, who would not want to be named, disclosed that as the situation worsens, Chevron has entered into a development plan with the state government to facilitate the commissioning of some of its IPPs, particularly the Ikorodu IPP.

He also added that there is a significant improvement on power output from Egbin power station, while disclosing that currently Egbin generates 600MW or 45 per cent of its installed capacity. This is an improvement over 300MW recorded in December last year. The Egbin plant has an installed capacity of 1,320MW.

Also, the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited, which was incorporated to serve as the legal vehicle to hold the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP), conceived in 2004 as a fast track government funded initiative, has embarked on a number of projects to stabilise power in the state.

The NDPH has commissioned 15MVA, 3,311KV injection substations in Ipakodo, Ikorodu, Ajamgbadi, Agbowa and Ikeja among other projects, but the situation continues to deteriorate.

Oando Gas and Power Limited (OGP) conceived the Akute Power Limited project, which has been in operation since 2012. The project is a 12.15 MW gas-fired plant meant to deliver electricity to the Lagos State Water Corporation.

There is also the Alausa Power Project which is to provide dedicated power supply to the state secretariat and free major government institutions from relying on national power supply.

In Niger State,  electricity supply has been nothing but epileptic, especially since the beginning of 2014, even as the distribution company,  Abuja Electricity Company, has stated that it has started upgrading of electricity installations in the state.

LEADERSHIP Sunday’s findings revealed that even some areas in Minna, the state capital, that used to enjoy uninterrupted power supply have been experiencing epileptic supply since the hand over.

Some of the residents in Bida, Kontagora, Suleja, and New Bussa that hosts one of the three hydro dams in the state, stated that they have been experiencing shortage of power supply of recent.

The Abuja Distribution Company, which is in charge of supply to the state, however said they have been upgrading facilities with a view to ensure improved power supply.

The company’s task force committee leader, Alhaji Garba Madani, said the company is putting the facilities in shape for effective power supply to its consumers.

“The company is prepared to ensure that consumers’ needs are met, as the heat season approaches, through improved power supply to the various business units across Niger, Nasarawa, Kogi and the Federal Capital Territory,” he said.
He added that “It is important that consumers also pay their bills on time, so that the company can fulfill its mandate of improving power supply to them by procuring new equipment and improvement on its infrastructure.”

To check the incidents of nonpayment of bills, he said the company would flood its areas of operation with pre-paid meters as against credit meters being used now.

Meanwhile LEADERSHIP Sunday observed that the company has started embarking on mass disconnections in its states of operation.

It was observed that the disconnection has being targeting all groups of consumers, from the maximum demand consumers to government and residential consumers, with the determination of collecting outstanding bills owed the company.

The leader  of the task force, who confirmed the mass disconnection, also said that the task force intends to sensitize its staff members on change of orientation and attitude, following their absorption from PHCN into the new company.

Culled from LEADERSHIP Sunday.

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