DisCos lament rising spate of vandalism, energy theft, call for community cooperation

Solomon Ezeme

Energy theft and infrastructure vandalism have for long been a major challenge of electriticity provider in the country.
Even in the days of National Electric Power Authorities, NEPA, it was also a common challenge.
One would have thought that with the eventual unbundling of the power sector a couple of years ago, the challenge should have been laid to rest.
Alas, if any , it has continued to grow , threatening the ongoing attempts to institute a regime of constant power supply.

This twin- hydra- headed monster has led many Nigeria Power Distribution Companies (DisCos) to huge losses each month, making it very difficult for local and foreign investors to invest in the industry.

Biodun Soboyejo, professor of electrical engineering at Kogi State University told EnergyDay that ” the issue of vandalism and energy theft is a serious one, and will always remain the greatest obstacle to constant power supply and investments in the sector. How can I invest in a sector that has issues, that can not guarantee a return.”

He advised DISCOs to embark on aggressive public enlightenment campaign involving traditional and community leaders, market women on the need to own the campaign.” That way “, he said, ” would make it difficult for perpetrators. There’s also a need to lobby the National Assembly for a stiffer sanction against offenders.”

In his own reaction, the executive director, Network for Protection of Public Institutions, Ike Iheanacho, ” the DISCOs can not win the fight against vandals and energy thieves alone, they must involve the public, community leaders and other stakeholders.”

The need for the involvement of stakeholders and the general public in the fight against vandalism has been top of the agenda for DisCos in Nigeria.

Infrastructure vandalism and energy theft impede the sustainability of the Nigeria power industry as they constitute illegal consumption of electricity service and destruction of our power facilities.

Analyzing the Impact of these crimes on their networks, various distribution companies have expressed their concerns over the damages being caused by energy thieves and electricity vandals, on power infrastructure and revenue generation.

The revenues being lost, according to some of the DisCos, could have been channeled towards procuring more assets to improve electricity supply to consumers.

Each month, according to the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), an average Nigeria DisCo losses an estimated N3 billion to energy theft and vandalism.

This amounts to about N30 billion loss to these crimes, annually.

According to available data from NERC, over 40% of electricity users in Nigeria hardly pay for used electricity. Some of them are forced to engage in meter bypass and outright energy theft in a bid to equally enjoy power supply like other consumers.

This phenomenon became even worse during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. About N500 million was allegedly lost by each DisCo monthly due to non-payment of electricity bills by consumers.

The IBEDC ‘Mid-Year Press Conference Manual’ shows that the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company recorded over 15,032 captured cases of energy theft within its network, between January to July 2021.

It remains one of the key challenges facing the DisCo, to date.

The report shows that in 2020 alone, about 122 incidences of incessant vandalization of distribution assets were recorded, with over N200 million annual loss. 7 out of every 10 new meters installed by the IBEDC are bypassed during the first week of installation, up till date.

The manual was released to EnergyDay by Mrs. Busolami Tunwase, the Head of Media Relations at the (IBEDC).

Between January and July 2021, Jos Electricity Distribution Plc (JED) lost around 170 transformers, copper cables, and aluminum conductors to vandalism.

In a recent chat with EnergyDay, Mr Oyebode Fadipe, the General Manager, Corporate Communications of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), disclosed that the problem of vandalism and energy theft is not limited to the Abuja DisCo and has continued to cause retrogression in the energy sector.

He bemoaned the extent to which some vandals go just to extort valuable items from DisCos’ out-door facilities, risking their lives and leaving their communities in darkness.

“This is a major national issue in the power sector. The Abuja Disco is not immune from the level of criminality being perpetrated in our country by vandals, daily.

“The result of damages meted on the infrastructure of DisCos in this country is huge considering the cost. In most cases, we start all over again after the destruction of our electricity facilities. It greatly affects the power being supplied to our customers.

“The resources we are supposed to have invested in improving electricity supply is now used to replace these damaged facilities,” he said.

He further explained that, like in every other Disco, the AEDC is already working with security personnel to address vandalism and electricity theft within its coverage.

He said: “We will not refrain from our efforts. We are currently working with security agencies – the Civil Defense, the police and the Ministry of Justice. We have been able to secure some convictions against many vandals.

“And I need to state that it is not cables and transformers alone that are being vandalized, as presumed by many. There is also the issue of energy theft through meter bypass.

“These attacks on our facilities are mostly done outdoor and have direct effects on our revenue.”

He also said vandalism has discouraged investment from investors who are interested in the power industry.