Eko Disco retains lead as most customer-centric power firm in Nigeria- MD/CEO EKEDC

Engr. Adeoye Fadeyibi, Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EKEDC, is without doubt, an experienced long-distance runner in the energy business. He has had over two decades experience in the sector, horning his professional skills accentuated by in-depth knowledge in the power industry, having previously served as Sales Director of General Electric (GE) Energy, MD/CEO Transcorp Power Limited. In this exclusive interview with ENERGYDAY Nigeria, the one we can conveniently refer to as one of the avatars of the industry, bares out his mind on a number of burning issues in the energy sector, including the challenges affecting the distribution arm of the Nigerian electricity power sector, among others. He gives a graphic detail of how EKEDC managed to surpass major regulatory benchmarks and other metrics, to become a leading customer-centric distribution company in Nigeria-Excepts.

In one breadth, you have dedicated so much energy to the mission of the company, especially to its vision of becoming the most customer-centric utility disco in Nigeria. How did you do it?

I think for us, our mission and vision is to be the leading customer-centric business concern in the world. At Eko DisCo, we have consistently pursued the mission of quality service delivery in the context of making our customers the centre. This has been our mantra since the privatisation of the power sector and since I took over the helms of affairs of Eko DisCo. Our focus has revolved around the theory of customers first. Of course, problems will definitely come, but these are surmountable, and of course, fairness is when we do things to satisfy customers and make customers the centre of our activities.

We don’t believe in limitation, of course it will go away, when there is a shared belief in benefits and reward system. That reflects a lot in our overall performance indicators, especially in the way we have boosted the numbers of channels of engagement with customers.

We have opened up a lot of customer care platforms and strengthened customer care network, especially in terms of prompt response to the needs of customers.

Though we have come along way, there’s a room for improvement, and that’s exactly what we are doing.

From time to time, we receive a lot of accolades in respect to our response mechanism, especially the timeliness of our responses, and this has rubbed off positively on our reputation as friend to our customers.

Our friendly posture has given us the privilege of getting both positive and negative feedback which is good for evaluation of our goals. This is good for us.

We are open, and we want our customers to understand our challenges as opposed to just telling them something that does not exist. For us at EkEDC, that is how we evaluate the direction of our vision, being the leading customer-centric distribution company.

What differentiates Eko DisCo from the other DisCos?

Apart from the metrics that are out there for people to see and understand, there’s a way we all measure as an electricity distribution company, in the eyes of our customers.

Whether it is in the area of our obligation during the period of privatization or when we took over these assets.

And over a period, how are we measured whether in the area of Aggregate Technical and Commercial Collection losses (ATC&C losses) which revolves around the efficiency of the system, the performance of the assets, the ability to supply and get appropriate revenue back.

So, you will hear things like ‘billing and collection efficiency’ and quite some other things. But what is important is to see what differentiates us from others. We have managed to achieve the efficiency and safety of the network, and we have also paid attention to our employees themselves and the public.

We do know we have a regulator that takes all these into consideration. Our focus has always been on how do you reduce estimated billing; how can you bill more accurately? A lot of different indices are compared. Whilst we compare, we can say accurately based on all this that we are a leading Disco. I think I would rather spend more time trying to know what people are doing in the global community in terms of standards, that is countries and companies that are doing well and particularly markets that are similar to ours.

You don’t just start comparing yourself with what obtains in America. I think to be reasonable and relevant; we should try to compare with the market in India, know what they have done to clean up the network, supply more power, reduce energy theft in terms of working with the security, government and law enforcement agencies.

Those are the things we have started doing. But, first and foremost, we need to increase supply hours and quantity. Physically, we have a smaller and tighter network – Agbara through Amuwo, Festac, Costain to Ibeju, covering the entire Island, including Ibeju-Lekki. It’s a good/ close network. We have some issues with some areas, but, compared to other discos that have about 4-5 states with a larger expanse and maybe a little less ability to focus, we are able to focus on our network budget.

What measures have been put in place by EKEDC to reduce service deficiency?

There are a few things that we call ‘service downturn’ – things in our control and things not in our control. As a distribution company, we always help people to understand that we distribute, first and foremost, the power that we get. This power that we get from the grid is usually allocated.

Through the coordination between ourselves and Transmission Company of Nigeria, we make sure that power is distributed appropriately. Sometimes, there are issues with the coordination like when you get messages saying that we are not getting the load adequately, and we sometimes have to drop the load because of that.

One of the things here is not to pass blame. Sometimes you take a look at the feeder – an 18-20hr public feeder – but you note that, along the line of that feeder, one customer is getting 20hrs while the other is getting 10hrs. We try to identify the things that create faults in those lines as we are also on 20hrs feeder – I’m not getting the supply. We have captured that and have taken a lot of that information. The recent CBN intervention along with the office of the Vice President, our regulator and the whole market have all come together to determine the required Capital Expenditure (Capex).

So, the Discos are going ahead to take loan with a contract put in place, and go with this service-based tariff system.

I like the idea of service-based tariff. It implies that people are going to take responsibility on all sides. It ensures that we repair everything, fix, replace and get a clean system. That way, we can resolve the service-related issues. In some areas, we are already doing that and almost concluding on it.

Hopefully, by the end of this year or probably next year, some of the projects that are ongoing, would be completed in one or two months.

You must have noticed in the dailies that we posted expression of interests for the tenders. That process will be completed in the next two weeks or so. We are definitely committed to improving the whole system to improve the supply.

How did EKEDC cope with the workload during the Covid-19?

First and foremost, at EKEDC we render essential services. Whilst most companies have business continuity plan, I am not sure a lot of people were ready for the pandemic. Thank God, Nigeria was lucky the pandemic didn’t affect us as much as it did in other countries. We had to form a Covid-19 Taskforce; we faced the reality based on how it affected the world. We were lucky that it was already happening in other countries like in Europe – U.K, U.S and others. For our network at EKEDC, we were lucky that Governor Babajide Sanwoolu of Lagos State had constant television program talking, enlightening the public about the pandemic. This level of awareness and seriousness shaped a lot of people perception about the pandemic and what step were required at that time to fight the spread of the virus in the state.

We took this advocacy and prevention seriously and educated our staff about what should be done, in the manner that the state was dealing with it at that time.

Our Covid-19 Taskforce reviewed our business continuity plan, worked out plans to ensure we sustain supply, being essential service, we developed operational strategy for movement of our engineers, while also guaranteeing customers’ safety during the pandemic.

We also had to reduce the number of staff reporting to our office only to those whose roles were essential at all time.

We increased numbers of cars. We restocked our stores in anticipation, we probably did better than other Discos. Whilst we saw within the first-few months, a drop in power consumption due to the pandemic- required shutdown of big hotels and industry would reduce electricity consumption.

We later discovered that power consumption was getting high as a result of home appliances being used in all the households under our network.

As people were using home appliances, it was then an internet of everything. The overall energy demand shot up at that time we managed to respond to that. At that time electricity consumption increased and the management and staff were solidly on-ground to respond to that.

How do you rate your company’s and staff performance during the peak of Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria?

Absolutely, the pandemic period affected us negatively. It tested our level of passion and commitment to vision. I was quite proud of my team. We saw our jobs like that of medical staff responding to emergency.

The positive side of the period was that we were able to see the strength and commitment of our staff to this essential duty. The idea of disconnection was not possible. At that time electricity consumption increased and the management and staff were solidly on ground to respond to that. Technical response was, however, negative – we witnessed 40-50% drop in collection, critical interaction energy usage dropped – for about 6 months very tough on the businesses.

EKEDC was one of the first companies to respond in terms of providing palliatives to the general public, this was in the face of your revenue collection dip and technical losses. How did you manage to achieve this?

In over two decades of being in the power related sector, I have learnt the virtue of compassion. I think once you look at humanitarian needs of people, you should show empathy. I have seen people who applied some decency in their understanding of people and in their manner of response to people and things, even when there was a strain on business. I was a fan of people who do WAOH things for humanity, their interaction and understanding of need to respond to human needs. I am a big fan of such people. I remembered during some of our zoom meetings with the Board, I was quite impressed that even when there was a strain on businesses, the major conversation that people were having was about how to respond as a power utility company to give people palliatives.

Those were in the early days of palliatives intervention. From Chairman to Director, we took a case study of the humanitarian needs of people living in Agege. What came to our mind was medical intervention, and that was a period when there was critical need for the supply of ventilators across the medical centres in the country.

We promptly got approval from the Board of Directors to make order for supply of ventilators, which were later donated and dropped to different isolation centres including the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) and other General Hospitals. It felt good that we were able to do this.

As business men, we were not compelled to give these palliatives, we just felt it was the right thing to do, at that period. Our management was involved in the distribution of the palliatives and we were excited with the entire process. I was directly involved in delivering the interventions. So, it was a wonderful experience.

How would you rate your performance in the National Mass Metering program of the Federal Government?

The start was rough. You know the National Mass Metering was going to be an accountable process. The system was structured properly. Though we started a bit late, we were able to account for all 80,000 meters.

We are at 50-60% completion stage of this Phase Zero Installation. The Regulator has said that Phase Zero Installation must be completed by July 31st. A lot of meter providers have different challenges of which you need to hear from them. The Covid-19 contributed to some of those challenges. All discos were sharing a pool of installers. It requires some training and confidence (in terms of practice and experience), to make sure they are properly installed.

We discovered that the general public also needed to be enlightened. We noticed that, after forty to fifty thousand installations have been made, you see meter installation going up but metering revenue from people being metered going down. That could be a problem. My concern now is that we have to go back to do a lot of audits.

The reduction in the number of people on estimated billing should make their billing more accurate but that was a bit contentious in our case. At EKDC, for example, prior to the mass distribution of the prepaid meters, even at a lower tariff, our revenue from population of consumers on Pre-paid Meter (PPM) used to be two (2) billion per month.

But, at an increased tariff, on the backdrop of mass metering, we discovered that we are receiving less than the N2billion, this means that there’s a concern that we need to work out.

Again, at the moment our focus is to ensure that everyone is metered on the network during the Phase Zero and Phase 1. After that is achieved. If there is still any case of energy unaccounted-for, then we will need to do a lot of monitoring.

Now that you are getting realistic revenue, how do you wish to deal with the unaccounted energy?

The way the energy industry works is such that as Disco, we distribute this power on behalf of other energy industry players. The revenue we collect is a market revenue, it doesn’t necessarily go into our account, based on the system devised by the CBN, we are only allowed to collect, we can’t touch it. It goes into an account managed by CBN. We only look at movement of energy on our network. All our feeders are metered. So, we know the amount of energy that comes into the network. As you move energy, some technical losses are expected.

We have an overview of the movement of energy through the substations, transformers (public and private), lines to houses. The first accounted energy for the market is the biller and his meter. We all know what we gave you; that’s the money you owe the market. We start to distribute even with the accompanied technical losses.

If you remove those two, that’s where the problem starts. If they are vending appropriately, no energy theft, no bypass. A lot of systemic issues have to be addressed. So much policing, physical and technical cost for us. And it appears most of our activities have to do with policing.

When we do so much physical and technical policing, this affects resources we put into supplying energy.

Do you have any CAPEX project at the moment?

Yes, we have a lot of CAPEX projects going on. Earlier, I talked about the expression of interest (EOI) we sent out. For us, there is a big investment drive at Eko Disco. We are looking at excess of N70-N80bn, in the next 3 years for focused CAPEX project. The first round of EOI that came out covered about N14 to N15bn.This was used to fix about 186 Feeders rehabilitation project, both on 11kva and 33kva. The first phase covered a number of key projects that we had including dedicated feeders, panels and new transformers especially on those assets that we actually needed at the moment.

We also have about 38 lots, in total. Starting from this month, immediate implementation will be carried out. We have other CAPEX projects lined up for this year and next that will ensure efficient monitoring of all our activities. We are putting monitoring team in place jointly with the CBN, NERC and office of the Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The idea is to have a clear transparent process and ensure that we monitor outcome of all our CAPEX implementation.

What are measures put in place to reduce ATC&C losses? How would rate your collection efficiency?

To reduce technical losses, we are committed to putting some engineering efforts in place

We are the first to introduce the SCADA-DMS to improve our efficiency. We have 50 substations out of which one is inactive due to some issues. All the substations are active. The idea is to tie in technical support to clean up the network, get needed technology in place. Apart from metering there is enough payment channel.

Audits are being done to ensure that we are collecting revenue that we require. We have been ensuring that issues relating to losses are addressed.

What efforts are being put in place by the management to reduce assault on staff from the customers?

We don’t condole assault on our staff. We want to first of all appeal to the general public (customers under our network) to show decency. We have a stressful situation in the country, there are challenges. We need to understand that while we are agitated and stressed over other things, we should avoid transfer of aggression arising from stressful circumstances to our staff. They need to separate their stress and frustration with their lives, and not allow these to affect their interaction with our staff who are in the field.

Whilst that is being said. I want to affirm that there’s zero tolerance for attacks on any of our staff by anyone who thinks that is a way of passing a message to us.

Sometimes, it could be due to frustration from their personal lives, not necessarily related to electricity distribution. There are better ways to pass a message across to the company if decency comes to play. You can write to us, visit us or even stage peaceful protests. That appeals to human decency. Recently, we had a case where one of our staff was thrown off the ladder. The moment I saw that video. We ensured that we spared no expenses to persecute that case. The assaulter was arrested, he is in cell as I speak, the court has rejected his request for bail condition.

We will pursue the case to logical end by ensuring justice is duly served. That is why I am appealing to our customers to use appropriate channels of communication to speak to us over issues. They do not have to take laws into their hands. They should rather reach out to us, and resolve any issue amicably. We want to entertain their complaints and we will do the right thing. Take us on, and do give us some reasonable room to address the issue. I have also told my colleagues to be civil and courteous to our customers.

We need to give them time-lines even when they may not accept the time-line. I think customers will give them benefit of time. The target is to continue to being customer-centric all the time.

We hear that Eko DisCo always surpasses performance indicators set by NERC for the discos most time, how does your company do this?

Yes, I like it, it is quite encouraging and this is because everyone likes to win. In my opinion it helps us to gauge our competitive mindset and spirit. When we see the metrics any time we are not first or second. we are always challenged. We want to keep maintaining the leading spot. We need both the positive and negative customer feedbacks to keep improving. Sometimes this achievement comes at a cost as it always hit the bottom line of the company massively. It is not like other discos are not performing but this comes at a cost.

We ensure we keep a clean eye out to ensure that we are not just trying to be first at all cost. But we make sure we have something in place to sustain the lead. It is a continuous cycle but it is important to sustain it.

How do you motivate and reward staff in order to maintain industry lead and sustain the number one spot?

In terms of clarity, there are quite a number of things to be done to motivate staff. This is globally understood. In terms of remuneration, we have done comparative analysis. We consulted PwC to help us handle benchmarking, to understand our position on benefit and remuneration of staff. There are incentives that are tied to the extra work we do (‘convenience fees’). We have completed our appraisal process and the Board has fully approved this for promotion of staff. This keeps our staff motivated to do more. We give award and monetary rewards to outstanding staff. This is not only to encourage the individuals; it also goes a long way to encourage the entire team.

Our staff are encouraged that the company recognizes their efforts. We keep engaging and talking to them about safety and all that, to motivate them. We apply many approaches and we have benefited a lot from doing so. I think we have been doing a decent job as regards our reward system.

At the level of DISCOS, how would you assess the power privatisation process thus far?

The person tasked with assessing the whole privatization system will be someone in the NERC, and Federal Government and the entities that oversee all discos. If I have to do personal assessment, I think it’s not true to say power became worse after privatization. There is clear improvement. But has the improvement been seen across all areas and places where we want to see them? Definitely, not!

Eko Disco will continue to play its part, so I will not take responsibility for others. We need to take stock of a number of things that have been done. We have really missed the tracks on so many things, including the inability to implement a number of things like the tariff reviews.

There was no ability to implement a number of things. Whilst in the last 7 to 8 years, I knew at the back of my mind that there were no ways in view of the economic challenges in the country at the time, to implement quite a number of things that were projected.

And those things were key to performance. it is what you put in that you get. At that time all those issues were raised by the Discos, including Eko Disco. I see all of these from an interesting standpoint, because I have been privileged to be part of the process when I was working with Transcorp Power, an electricity generation company, before moving on to join the Disco. It gave me a huge perspective. Whilst I was at the GenCo, all I was concerned about was where to get gas for my plant; I was concerned about the supply end; I was focused on how to evacuate power to the TCN and all that.

My activities weren’t centered around the Disco front. At that time, I was just reporting the Discos to the NERC and NBET, especially about those discos complaining that NBET was not giving them monies due to them. There were barriers to improvement which needed to be addressed by everyone. I think that things are more coordinated now.

From the central NERCG, bulk trader (NBET) to the grid operators (TCN), and now to the Discos, everyone now sees the need for coordination and effective communication.

Everyone now knows that if coordination is missing, there will be no sustainable improvement anywhere. Without proper coordination, there will be financial and other hindrances. With this understanding with CBN there has been a realisation. The funds collected by Discos are used to pay every group in the system. The discos, for example, are paid what is called ‘allowable Operational Expenses (OPEX), which is sometimes not even enough to cover our operating expenses. But I do not mind because it has been designed to work that way. If you feel you don’t have enough, apply for loan. It allows for accountability and helps you see how your business is performing. If things continue this way, I think in the next 2-3 years, after full implementation of our CAPEX project and complete metering, there is no doubt that we will see a super situation in the power sector. There will be a noticeable improvement that will be clear to everyone.

In a very recent report, we have it that about N1.5 trillion has been expended in the power sector since 2013, this has not translated into efficient distribution and generation of electricity in the country. But interestingly, Eko DisCo has not been reported to be rejecting load allocated unlike other discos, how have you managed to achieve this?

While saying that our kind of efficiency is relative. It is also important to say that we do keep this in mind. I think it will be unfair to say that we are extremely efficient. Amidst all challenges, we ensure that investments are driven, focused and strategic. We ensure that supply situation has to continuously improve, while losses are reduced. Running a distribution company properly requires having inventories in place to respond to faults and even preventative maintenance like detecting faults before they occur.

Those are the things we have done to ensure that those investments lead to efficiency. Therefore, we train our staff to work more efficiently.

The next stage for me is that I don’t want to be afraid of the next raining season. This comes every year and there is no reason to be unprepared. I am preparing for the rainy season. We have to conduct task clearing to prevent the wind from blowing lines off. How do you do that? How do you do tree clearing, ensure separators meet global standards? We do send our team to go round and check if transformers, lines and other things are in good shape. We do preventive maintenance. It is a culture that we have developed.

We need the public to also understand that they are stakeholders in this process. We need to avoid vandalisation of public infrastructure. They need to be co -custodian for policing of these infrastructure. I also want to let the public know that we are critically assessing ourselves to do even better.

Discos rejecting load?

We do collect load; we have good coordination from the places where we collect loads from. We are also trying to do embedded generation. So that we can increase more load and generation. We are partnering with some. We are not efficiently collecting revenue for load from customers. We are presently doing 80 percent collection efficiency. Today we average 80 to 88 per cent. it means we are not collecting all that we evacuate to customers, it takes us a lot of work to even maintain ATC at 28,29 or below 30. Meanwhile, our obligation is to get to 14,15. These are losses, so we are keenly watching because, if we are putting in all that effort and resources, there should also be an increase in collection. It is good news that we are increasing distribution but it is a bad business that we are increasing losses.

We won’t relent in our good works. We need to drive on to get to our destination. I am convinced that with the support from our investors, the management team, Board and everyone at EKEDC, we will keep on the good work. The energy here is evident – the commitment of our customers’ accommodation department, technical team and HR, towards meeting the target ahead. God willing, we are going to set the pace at doing good things, here in EKEDC. We will continue to be customer centric. We want those out there to continue to partner with us. We also want both their positive and negative feedbacks. When there’s any issue, we won’t pretend it doesn’t exist. We might not be able to give them optimal expectation. We will continue our townhall sensitization, we are willing to allow them to communicate more. We want to tell them about all our CAPEX project. We will be giving regular updates to customers. We will focus more on continuous improvement.

Download full report here