Revisit privatisation agreement to overcome power sector challenge, Osike tells FG 

Chief Haruna Ahmed Osike is  the first president, Electrical Wiring Licence Contractors  of Nigeria in the northern part of the country. In this interview with OYIBO SALIHU, this former staff of Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) and National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) with over five decades of experiences in the sector says the only way out of constant power outage is for the government to revisit the 2013 privatisation agreement with DISCOs which he said was done on a faulty ground.

Majority of Nigerians still experienced epileptic power supply despite the federal government’s effort in revamping the sector. What do you think is responsible?

First and foremost, the privatisation  of the power sector done by the federal government with the sole aims of  improving  efficiency, attract investments and enhance overall electricity supply was carried out in 2013 to favour only few individuals at the detriment of the masses.

Yes, government has done a lot but no meaningful result because all it activities and financial commitments toward the sector could not meet the demands of electricity users nationwide. Imagine how the companies they sold, the erstwhile Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) messed up the aims and objectives of the privatisation programme.

It is obvious now that the major problem this country has today in respect of electricity or power supply  emanated from the distribution companies. At the beginning, the power  generating companies tried  their best in ensuring that enough kilowatts of electricity are generated, but the distribution companies saddled with the responsibilities of evacuating the electricity were the one thwarting the enormous efforts put in place by the federal government in order to make more profit for themselves. I believe that Nigerians can still attested to the fact that when President Muhammadu Buhari took over the mantle of leadership in 2015, his major priority was to tackle the issues surrounding the power sector and he created enabling environment for the critical stakeholders to operate all with a view to improve power supply, regrettably, while the power  generating companies played their statutory obligation of generating the needed kilowatts, the distribution companies especially Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) that handles Kogi, FCT and other states in the north  completely deviated from the core agreements it went into with the federal government.

Beside deviation, the companies also jettisoned many of the agreements they signed before assuming  distribution status. Imagine the power generation companies would generate enough electricity and the AEDC will refused to buy and distribute, instead they were busy in load-shielding putting consumers in total darkness while they continue billing and over-billing the consumers through what they referred to as estimated billing system that does not reflect the near actual  electricity consumed by customers. The distribution companies were in the habit  of minimising power supply in order to maximise profit for the owners of the companies at the detriment of some  consumers whose  businesses solely depend on electricity to survive. 

Again, despite the hues and cries from Nigerian masses over the poor electricity supply and monthly over-  billing, the National Assembly and federal government in the last 10 years turned deaf ears to the plight of the people. It is apparently the responsibilities of distribution companies to provide and maintain their equipment, but in this country, it is the consumers and communities who replace broken electric poles, replace damaged wires   which to me is ridiculous and unacceptable because that was not part of the agreement during the concession. Also the distribution companies have refused to employ qualified electrical engineers and technicians because they don’t want to pay. Imagine, in some areas, distribution managers are not engineers; therefore how can such companies succeed? Most of their staff are casuals and the permanent staff are very few.

What is your rating of AEDC in terms of performances in Kogi state?

The company’s performance is far below average because in the recent times, no household in Kogi state can boast of enjoying electricity for eight hour in a day. Many artisans that depend on electricity to carry out their business activities in Kogi- central and other districts in the state have been thrown out of businesses especially welders who have abandoned their jobs to be riding ‘Okada’ due to constant epileptic power supply in the state. Even the welders association in Kogi-central in the past took AEDC to court for not living up to expectation. This is the same complaints by the association of hoteliers in the district. According to the agreement between the federal government and distribution companies,  prepaid metres are supposed to be supplied freely to every household that uses electricity, but the prepaid meters are being sold to Nigerians at exorbitant prices. Why is it so? I think the reform brought by the federal government in the power sector was not meant to favour the masses of this country because from the days of ECN, metres were meant to be free and up till tomorrow, it supposed to be free because billing metres are part of equipment used by the distribution companies.

Asking or forcing consumers to pay means that the people are buying tools for the companies and this is an indication that the distribution companies especially AEDC does not have the financial capacity  to render service to customers. I am appealing to the federal government and National Assembly on behalf of Nigerians to look into the issue of prepaid meters because the cheating is becoming unbearable as it is a fraudulent act. Members of the National Assembly (Reps and Senate) were elected to protect the interest of the masses that gave them the mandate. Therefore, the lawmakers should be sensitive to the suffering of the masses and as such  should as a matter of urgency extend their oversight functions to electricity distribution companies.

As an old hand in the sector, what in your opinion is the way out of this predicament?

There is a way out because there is never a problem without solution. If President Bola Ahmed Tinubu truly and sincerely wants to tackle issues of electricity in this country, he should as a matter of urgency in this his first term declare a state of emergency in the power and revisit the 2013 privatisation of the sector. Anything short of that means that Nigerians would continue to dwell in total darkness, companies and industries would continue to pack off one after the others and when this ugly incidents happen, the unemployment rate would continue to rise which ultimately would increase the high level of insecurity we are witnessing now. 

I think a stitch in time saves nine; so the president should focus vigorously on the issue of power this time around and engage professionals in the field of engineering on matters that bother on power. If the sector is directly under the supervision of the president, he would be able to identify the high-level of corruption in the sector; otherwise, no matter how much dollars and naira he sinks into the sector, the result will amount to nothing and the people would not derive any benefit from it. 

It is a statement of fact that power sector is too dynamic just like oil sector; whatever affects the two sectors would definitely tell on the citizens and the economy. I am therefore using this medium to appeal  to the federal government to compel state governors to establish Ministry of Power in their respective states; then any state that has the capacity to generate power should be encouraged to do so. They can register with the federal government, generate power, distribute it and add to the national grid. For instance, Kogi state has two major rivers which can be used for hydro-power generation of electricity; if the governor can venture into such project, the state would have constant power supply and even supply power to other states. 

Recently, the federal government announced new electricity tariff and classification of customers on bands A-E. What is your response to this?

First and foremost, the federal government took this decision without any input from the consumers on the band classification. This has clearly shown that those on other bands are deliberately denied electricity supply  to meet up with the obligations of band A customers in a country we all call ours. The  electricity tariff increase is ill-conceived and at a very wrong time because the masses are passing through economic hardships which the president is aware of. Introducing new tariff means the federal government don’t want Nigerians to breathe again.