Perspective

From ECN to Discos: Paying more for darkness

In four days’ time, Nigerians are once again expected to dip into their fastdwindling financial resources and come up with more money to pay for electricity – which for many is still a luxury since it’s hardly ever available. Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, who broke the news recently, said the new tariff regime was actually meant to have taken off in April but had to be postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic – this means power tariffs in the country would have increased by over threefold in the last five years.

If the figures brandished earlier in the year are anything to go by, then electricity consumers are expected to pay increases ranging from N9.99 to N20.9 per kilowatt/ hour depending on the company supplying the “essential commodity”. Unfortunately, it is only in Nigeria that paying more for less has become the order of the day. Although the power sector in the country underwent a major paragon shift seven years ago, when the very unpopular Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was finally buried after the Federal Government decided to privatise the sector, giving birth to 11 Distribution Companies or Discos, which were saddled with supplying electricity to consumers, and six Generation Companies (Gencos), which were to generated the electricity; yet for millions of Nigerians, there has been minimal or even no improvement in the power supply. Instead, despite being in private hands, Nigerians still have to pay for poles, cables and transformers (to support the electricity providers) just like they did in the old days of NEPA/PHCN.

By the way, I’m not sure how many Nigerians know that electricity generation in the country actually began over 134 years ago in Lagos, (1886 to be precise), with the use of generators, to provide 60 kilowatts, according to Wikipedia. In 1923, tin miners installed a 2 MW plant on the Kwali River. Six years later, the Nigerian Electricity Supply Company, a private firm, was established near Jos to manage a hydro-electric plant at Kura to power the mining industry. Then, another private enterprise was established in Sapele by United Africa Company to power the activities of African Timber and Plywood Company. Between 1886 and 1945, electricity power generation was rather low with power provided largely to Lagos and other commercial centers such as mining industries in Jos and Enugu.

In 1950, the Legislative Council of Nigeria began moves to integrate the electricity industry when it enacted a law to establish the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) with the duties of developing and supplying electricity. ECN took over the electricity sector activities within PWD and the generating sets of Native Authorities. In 1951, the firm managed 46 megawatts of electricity. Between 1952 and 1960, the firm established coal-powered turbines at Oji and Ijora, Lagos and began making preliminary plans for a transmission network to link the power generating sites with other commercial centers. In 1961, ECN completed a 132 kV transmission line linking Lagos to Ibadan via Shagamu, in 1965, this line was extended to Oshogbo, Benin and Ughelli to form the Western System.

In 1962, a statutory organisation, the Niger Dams Authority (NDA) was formed to build and maintain dams along River Niger and Kaduna River, NDA went on to commission a 320MW hydropower plant at Kainji in 1969 with the the power generated sold to ECN. In 1972 NDA and ECN merged to form the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). NEPA was the major electricity firm in Nigeria until power sector reforms resulted in the creation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria and later privatization of electricity generation and distribution.

Like I said earlier, although NEPA, (which later transformed into PHCN in the late 2000s), has been wiped off our statute books, for many Nigerians, that anomaly still exists in their psyche, which is why whenever there is a power interruption or restoration, “NEPA” is to blame or hailed. Twenty-one years since Nigeria returned to civil rule and billions of dollars spent by four presidents and numerous ministers, the nation can still not yet boast of decent power in large swaths of the country.

And yet, only last week, another minister had a crack at getting the power sector functioning for the good of the citizens. Speaking in Abuja, Minister of State for Power, Goddy Jedy-Agba, ordered three agencies under his supervision to improve on the supply of power to consumers. Jedy-Agba directed the Rural Electrification Agency, the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency and the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria to work out measures that would lead to improved power supply to consumers. He said: “Businesses will grow if they have light.

So we need to step up our game and the essence of this interaction is for the media to assess whether we are succeeding at that. “I feel that we should give those people (in rural areas) more than we give attention to ourselves in the city because you grow from down to up, and if we grow them, we will grow our nation.” And in keeping with the theme of power in the country on Monday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said Nigerians are willing to pay for electricity if the services they receive from the distribution companies are constant and better. Speaking during a webinar on ‘Economic Sustainability Beyond COVID-19’ organised by Emmanuel Chapel, the Vice President said it is not true that Nigerians do not want to pay more for power but that they have been unhappy with the poor service over the years.

Reacting to a question posed by the former Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness, Muhammad Sanusi II, the Vice President said, “Just to comment on the point you made and I have alluded to it that income elasticity is more important for persons living in the rural area and for the poor who need to have electricity for whatever means of livelihood they have. “What we have discovered especially as we have worked with the private sector to deploy solar power in different parts of the country is exactly the point you have made.

“For example, in Wuna, a village which is just outside Abuja, they never had light until a private company provided solar power there, what they pay on the average for their power is well in excess of the N37 per unit that we pay for power of the grid. “There is no question at all and Turankawa in Sokoto pay almost N100, so from many of the areas where we have been it is evident that this business of people not willing to pay for power is not true at all, as a matter of fact the reason why there is such great resistance is really the service level.

“Most people are used to poor service so they just see every tariff increase as injustice because they are getting poor service but are asked to pay more but where service is guaranteed people have been prepared to pay.” Good talk, but from our previous experiences, and with only four days to the new tariff regime kick-off, I’m not optimistic that we will see any marked improvement in power supply any time soon. At the end of the day, most of us will still just be paying more for the usual darkness!

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