A case of NEPA in DISCO clothing 

Opinion

Simbo Olorunfemi

Not sure what to make of the news that AMCON has finally taken over the assets of Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company. It is a multidimensional loss that is painful and difficult to process, especially knowing that the short stick is on the side of Nigerians and that this take-over can only mitigate a bit of the loss, one dimension of it.

The idea that having already put in money to rescue the bank from failure, it is only now that AMCON is going after the panda that the Chair of the bank deployed the resources of the bank into buying does not offer much hope. What is the receiver/manager likely to meet on ground that would help him not only successfully manage the place, but in doing so be in a position to pay back what the Distribution company met on ground?

Either way, the consumers are unlikely to be better off. Just as consumers have hardly had a better experience in the hands of electricity distribution companies since they were ‘sold’ to private investors.

The way and manner the privatisation of electricity distribution was handled must rank as one of the major blunders of the Jonathan administration. PHCN was simply broken up into territorial monopolies and parcelled out to mostly friends of the Government, who postured as investors. Most of them neither had the technical know-how nor the financial muscle. Some of them took loans to facilitate acquisition, went in short of working capital, not to talk of funds to finance a revamp of facilities to optimise distribution and boost revenue profile. They strolled in expecting the goose to instantly start laying golden eggs.

With that not happening as they must have imagined, they started to mount pressure for an increase in tariff, forgetting that the agreements they signed expected them to deliver on some things, hit certain milestones before increase in tariffs. Many of them could not even deliver on prepaid meters which will help them cut down on collection losses.
All they kept at was the call for an increase in tariffs, urged on by free-market parrots. Under tremendous pressure, government has approved increase in tariffs a number of times, but nothing much has changed. The fundamental errors continue to hold the distribution companies back. It has largely been a case of NEPA in DISCO clothing.

I walked into one of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company offices sometime back, I could not believe it – unkempt, broken chairs and tables. Lousy customer service. Difficult to believe this is a private company. Old things have refused to pass away. Same old mindset.

One of those days in Lagos, I had to reluctantly respond to the unending furious banging of the gate. It was the Ikeja Distribution Company official. He demanded to see the physical receipt of our last payment. Receipt? We have been topping up electronically through their website. We had long moved on, but the company is still hung up on the old way of doing things.

Once you do not show up in their office to buy cards, it is assumed you must have set up a bypass on the metering system. Well, many do. Not one of the many. Abuja Electricity Distribution left a note on the gate that we call when we are home so that they can come for enumeration! I should call them! A simple interrogation of their system would have given them history and breakdown of payments. But they are still living in the past, operating with the mind of NEPA, asking to be called to come conduct physical enumeration.

The Ibadan DISCO might just be the first to go under, it is unlikely to be the last. The foundational error made at the point of privatisation has to be corrected, otherwise little will change. It is just a change of name, a case of NEPA in DISCO clothing.

 

Simbo Olorunfemi can be reached at simboolorunfemi.com.ng

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