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

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Solomon Ezeme

Energy theft and infrastructure vandalism have for long been a major challenge of electricity providers in the country.

Even in the days of the 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 the 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 cannot 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 cannot 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 lost 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, 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 these 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 being used to replace 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.

“In terms of investment, it’s been discouraging. You won’t be willing to invest, especially when you do the Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) of that level of investment.

“Investors want to look at how much they can get from such a place. So, it definitely discourages investments,” Mr. Fadipe said.

Abdulazeez Abdullahi, Kaduna DisCo’s Spokesperson told us that, though there has been cooperation from communities under its network, vandals have kept on damaging its out-door facilities.

He also stated that there is an on-going partnership between the Kaduna DisCo and security agencies to reduce infrastructure vandalism.

“Vandalism, of course, has been a menace threatening our operations. We are working with security agents to try and curb and also sensitize communities in our network to help us root out any found vandal.

“In the area of cooperation, community members have been doing their best but, sometimes, vandals take advantage of certain circumstances.

“So, it’s not something that can be completely wiped out immediately. However, our network is making efforts to reduce it to the barest,” he said.

Mr. Akinola Ayeni, Community and Media Relations Manager at the Ikeja Electric (IKEDC), told EnergyDay that vandalism occurs frequently in its network, leading to loss of revenues.

He said: “The issue of asset vandalism is a cankerworm in the power sector, especially in the distribution companies. It is becoming a reoccurring issue in the system.

“We spend our money replacing transformers when we are supposed to be improving power supply to places it has not been steady, or where communities have no power at all. That’s a waste of investments.

“Recently we were able to apprehend about 3 vandals who are now in police custody. I am sure they will face the music.

“But the fact that we keep arresting vandals and yet they don’t stop, means that they are people living in the affected communities. You get one today, another attacks within the next two or three weeks.”

He said that the DisCo presently runs various programs on air to sensitize customers about the dangers of vandalism and urge them to cooperate with it, to contain the problem.

The IKEDC also organizes fora where it talks to community leaders on the way forward.

“We keep sensitizing them through different channels, including television and radio stations. We currently hold programs on Faaji FM and Ikorodu Radio (IKD 106.1 FM).

“We also intimate community leaders about what is going on, to make them get their vigilantes involved in this struggle,” he said.

He commended the efforts of the Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) in ensuring that surveillance is conducted on its facilities, and also stated that the vandals are members of communities where the acts are being perpetrated.

“The police and other security agencies like the Civil Defense have really been trying.

“If the transformer is faulty and light is not being supplied for some weeks, customers, including those who have outstanding debts, are usually not willing to pay. That amounts to huge losses for us.

“The security agencies have been providing surveillance on our assets, to the best of their ability,” Mr. Ayeni said.

Wola Joseph, Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary, Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC), explained that the problem of infrastructure vandalism presently being suffered by DisCos needs to be nipped in the bud if power distribution must improve.

She said: “There has been a lot of vandalism going on in our network. That’s actually the challenge. Just this morning, another case of vandalism was reported.

“A vandal was electrocuted while attempting to steal one of our cables. It’s one of the challenges we face, causing lack of supply.

“It all started during the “End SARS” period. We have done some major repairs and are still working on this.”

She described the menace as a challenge that requires the partnership of DisCos, security operatives and communities, to overcome.

She further explained that the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigeria Police Force are already partnering with the DisCos to tackle the issue.

“The first thing we are doing is to try to partner with security agencies as that is very important to us. We have the police on our side and the Civil Defense too.

“We’re also charging criminals to court and are ensuring that we get convictions against them. It is one of the top-line things that our management is already doing to curb the issue,” she said.

She appealed to its customers, especially community leaders, to quickly report any found case of vandalism to the DisCo for prompt actions.

“We still experience vandalism but we hope that community leaders will help report any case of vandalism to us, immediately for prompt actions,” Mrs. Joseph appealed.

The Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) had increased surveillance around electricity installations to check the activities of vandals across Nigeria and help protect assets of DisCos. But the battle continues as this menace remains a major threat to electricity distribution in Nigeria.

The frustration caused by this had led to some DisCos calling on the Federal Government to set up a special tribunal to convict electricity thieves and vandals in the country.

Section 9 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act (2004 CAP M17), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, states that: “Any person who unlawfully disconnects, removes, damages, tampers, meddles with or in any way whatsoever interferes with any plant, works, cables, wire or assembly of wires designed or used for transforming or converting electricity shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life.”

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