Electrickcity – DisCo-Dancing while the City Burns

We, Nigerians, are a very patient people known to be ‘suffering and smiling’, according to the Late social activist and great musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Nothing riles and annoys us like the Electricity issue in Nigeria. Nothing annoys more than to have and to have not at the same time. To have electricity available but just out of reach. To have in abundance but to lack. To have hopes raised and to be quickly dashed repeatedly. Were it not, perhaps, for our proverbial docility, we’d be up in arms by now demanding what is essentially our inalienable Human Right – Electricity.

With the coming of every new Government, we yearn for a change and nowhere more than in the distribution and supply of electricity, but then, as soon as the Government settles down, everything returns to the same old, painful, status quo. The same stories would be told again. Committees would be set up. Lectures and Seminars will be held, Communiques issued, White Papers written. This is what we are good at: Discussions. analysis and reports followed by fatuous pronouncements, backed by the lack of the strategic Will and wherewithal to carry through.

If the restructuring of the electricity market and the quasi-privatisation of the sector was to bring about efficiency and effectiveness in electricity supply then the failure is a glaring 0% with clowny eyes and a stuck-out tongue. Otukpo people would say to their oppressors that ‘the food that was promised with mere words they will eat with their ears’. We have eaten enough with our ears but the stomach will remain empty while the DisCos (Distribution Companies) continue to wallow in the celebration of unwarranted riches obtained at the expense of the people.

Why single out the DisCos from the collection of ineffective participants in the electricity market: The GenCos, NERC, NBET etc.? The DisCos are the interface between us and the whole electricity service backstage. Our impression of the electricity service depends on their performance and, so far, they’re only deserving of rude expletives. They have not invested a penny in the business since their entry in November 2013; their services have remained unchanged and as uncaring as it ever was under the defunct NEPA, nay, some would say that NEPA was much better. No one expected anything from NEPA and nothing was given, we invested so much hope in the DisCos and have received nothing; to whom much is given much is expected.

It is obvious that the DisCos have failed woefully and are in breach of every fundamental social contract by being exploitative, greedy, disdainful of the people that they are supposed to serve and by their sabotage of the economy. What sort of contract did they sign with the NERC, or whichever authority gave them the concessions, that would allocate only benefits without obligations? What sort of contract did they sign that does not explicitly define a social component?

They shamelessly talk about debt being owed by consumers as their major failure factor but if the same consumers were to monetize every cost to them of poor or no electricity supply, they would be buried under a mountain of debt: Imagine all the households that have had their electronics damaged and food rot in refrigerators. Imagine SMEs driven out of the market because they can’t produce for lack of electricity. Imagine that poor neighbourhood fish seller and her rotten fish. They don’t seem to understand that while we owe them to pay our bills that they also owe us to have a constant and good electricity supply.

How should customers pay when they will not provide meters?!  Why should the DisCos refuse supply from the GenCos, leaving them with idle generative capacity and thereby starving Nigeria of power in the midst of plenty? What is happening is that they are so very comfortable with the level of revenues already being generated that they have no desire to work for more, after all, they invested practically nothing in comparison to the values of what they got.

How else would you, also, explain the case of Ungwar Boro in Kaduna, for example, where for 1 whole year they were deprived of electricity because of a faulty transformer. It took a public protest and the intervention of the Governor of Kaduna State for electricity to be restored to that area. In another ongoing example, Ungwar Pama, again in Kaduna, has been without electricity for a month, also due to a faulty transformer, which is ridiculous but, worse still, not a word has been heard from the Kaduna DisCo. The DisCos simply have no interest in maintaining customers or acquiring new ones for that additional revenue.

The problem with electricty distribution in Nigeria is well understood but there are very prominent people and interests invested in their persistence; someone, somewhere is benefitting from the chaos. Dr. Aako Ugbabe, who was part of Obasanjo’s Committee on Power and who’s eminently knowledgeable of the workings (failings) of Electricity Industry puts it this way: “A faulty model was chosen for the privatization of the DisCos’, it cannot work”. Away with the DisCos then.

Enough of the Electrickcity. Enough of DisCo-dancing while the city burns.


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