Throwing down gauntlet on vandals freely ravaging power infrastructure in Nigeria

The outcome of the impending consequences of vandalism on essential infrastructures is taking its toll on the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry(NESI), as Nigeria is constantly in darkness due to power outages and disruptions in the supply system.
The vandalisation of electricity infrastructures has become another line of illegal business or economic sabotage and it is expanding on a daily basis to the extent that more and more stakeholders are losing grip.

The overlapping occurrences of poor electricity supply, tariff increases, meter thefts, and a lack of enthusiasm by investors to increase their investment commitments in the electricity value chain point to deep-seated causes that must be addressed immediately.

One of the major causes of incessant power outages often described as national grid collapse, is the vandalisation of power supply equipment and infrastructure, EnergyDay has lost count of the numbers of time that industry stakeholders will raise the alarm concerning the extreme damage of vandalism on the sustainable supply of electricity to consumers.

This is happening at a huge cost, as the economic security of the nation is greatly at grave risk, if this is allowed to continue.

The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), announced that in 2021 alone, it lost the sum of N2.65 billion due to vandalism on its facilities, including substations and transmission lines in Borno and Yobe states.

The loss recorded according to TCN was on vandalised transmission lines at an average of 740 megawatts per day, putting the monthly average at N139 million, being the value of the wheeling charges and energy lost to Maiduguri and environs alone.

Engr. Abubakar Aliyu, Minister of Power, disclosed during a recent Federal Executive Council meeting (FEC) in Abuja, that the 330kva towers that evacuated power to Maiduguri were repeatedly vandalised by insurgents in 2021. According to him, the ministry tried a number of times to restore the facility, but the insurgents would go back and pull down the towers.

The Minister expressed dismay that the continued vandalisation of infrastructure has limited the capacity to deliver electricity to Nigeria, adding that vandals are now playing hide and seek with the government.

This submission by the Minister, however, smacks of a weak resolve on the part of the government to surmount this challenge. It falls short on conviction to evoke public co-operation.

On January 7, 2022, TotalEnergies E & P Nigeria Limited, reported an attack on its NOPL pipeline, at the Alaoma Etche Cluster by vandals, causing the 504MW Alaoji Power Plant, managed by the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), to shut down operations for  prolonged repairs .

The backbone of Nigeria’s electricity infrastructure is gas, accounting for about 80% of total electricity production in the country, with the Trans Niger Pipeline (TNP) in the eastern Niger Delta and the Trans Forcados Pipeline (TFP), in the western Niger Delta supplying critical  feedstock to most of the thermal power plants across the country.

Investigations carried out by EnergyDay showed that between December 29, 2014 and February 9, 2015, six different attacks were recorded on these two major gas networks owned and operated by the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), with adverse consequences on electricity production amounting to the loss of 1,500 megawatts (MW).

Blackouts and sudden electricity interruptions have become common sight in Nigeria due to the activities of these criminals who are now daily innovating new ideas to perpetrate their heinous acts on the DisCos and on customers in their various franchise areas.

The DisCos in recent times have released updates of the scale of vandalism and cases of energy theft by their customers. They revealed that  beside low electricity generation and poor power transmission, electricity theft and power infrastructure vandalism are major factors responsible for the lack of adequate power supply to Nigerians, over the years.

The challenges, according to them, form the major part of the DisCos’ Aggregate Technical, Commercial and Collection (ATC&C) losses, especially the one caused associated with losses due to power wastages in distribution lines, meter tampering, illegal connections and free users (customers connected to distribution lines but not known by the utility).

According to the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), Nigerian DisCos lose about N3 billion of their monthly revenue to energy theft, meter bypass, vandalism and unpaid electricity bills. On average, each DisCo loses about N3 billion every month.

The Association revealed that over 40 percent of electricity consumers in Nigeria indulge in illegal connection of electricity, damaging the installation with a view to avoiding payment of their electricity bills. Some of them are involved in the bypassing of meters and even outright energy theft.

EnergyDay sympathizes with stakeholders as they continue to bear the brunt of severe infractions on production facilities that are meant to deliver higher quality services to consumers and upgrade the country’s economic status . Cases of vandalism, crude oil theft , arson, and sabotage are on the increase on a scale that ridicules the country’s  legal system as completely lame.

These actions cost the investors and government billions of Naira on a monthly basis. The recurring cases of vandalism and energy theft has remained the greatest obstacle to attraction of investors in the power sector. It has become difficult for investors to put resources in a sector that cannot guarantee a return due to constant vandalism.

Having monitored the situation as an establishment over the years, EnergyDay believes all the investors in the power industry affected by this scourge should embark on an aggressive public enlightenment campaign involving traditional/community leaders, market women and other stakeholders on the need to own the campaign.

There’s also a need to lobby the National Assembly for a stiffer sanction against offenders, because we believe that the investors cannot on their own win the fight against vandals and energy thieves, a strong legislative backing is critical.

EnergyDay is aware of the  relevant punishments and sanctions  established by the law. There exist criminal offences punishable under the law, as enshrined in section 94 (3) of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA), as well as in the Miscellaneous Offences Act.

Similarly, Section 94 (3) of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act, states that “any person who wilfully destroys, injures or removes equipment or apparatus of a licensee commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period of not less than five (5) years and not more than seven (7) years.”

Section 400 of Nigerian Criminal Code, also clarifies that any person who fraudulently abstracts or diverts to his own use or to the use of any other person any mechanical, illuminating, or electrical power derived from any machine apparatus, or substance, the property of another person, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.

These laws seem not to bother vandals and power thieves in the country as they continue to perpetrate these acts at the detriment of all the investors including innocent Nigerians who are left in darkness after every damage to electrical facilities and gas pipelines.

In forging a permanent solution to this growing scourge, we therefore recommend the establishment of a special court  to fast track the prosecution of suspected vandals and saboteurs.

There is also the need for all stakeholders to strategically re-invent the security architecture through the establishment of a special task force to complement Nigerian security operatives. This may come at a cost but, this is not commensurate with the losses associated with vandalism.

This broad-based task force will be responsible for protecting critical power infrastructure through military action, intelligent gathering and high-end technology.

The need for the involvement of stakeholders and the general public in the fight against vandalism should be top of the agenda for all the players.

EnergyDay believes that all stakeholders, including the general public, government, and service providers, should share ownership of public infrastructure and the responsibility to protect those assets in order to achieve economic value across the board.

This simple fact, however, seems poorly understood and the need arises, therefore, for a transparent dialogue amongst all stakeholders that will imbibe the concept of shared ownership and expunge the view that business assets are “no man’s properties” ‘ and can be plundered for selfish personal gains.

It must be emphasised that stakeholders who have taken the plunge by investing in Nigeria’s economy have done right in committing investors’ resources to develop the huge market potential in the country’s energy sector and they deserve commendation , public co-operation and institutional support.

The electricity sector is one of the largest sources of revenue in the Nigerian economy and the bedrock for the potential growth of the country’s circular economy. Infrastructure vandalism and energy theft impede the sustainability of this important sector.

The value propositions to support mutual protection of business and public assets by everyone are, therefore, worth bringing on the table as a win-win initiative that will favour all stakeholders, particularly, the consumers of electricity. This is the primary rationale for a Stakeholders Consultative Forum. .

EnergyDay is as concerned as other patriotic Nigerians about the growing trend of forceful conversion of public assets into private ownership by organised groups or privileged persons in the country through the vandalisation of electricity equipment or the outright theft of money, service equipment, particularly transformers, cables, and meters.

The menace is no longer hidden or executed discreetly, but with glaring impunity seen across all sectors of the economy and society.

EnergyDay will not avoid mentioning that the government is more culpable through its failure to firmly set the pace for actions that should galvanize the entire country along the path of rectitude.

It is shocking and unacceptable that Nigeria is still unable to transmit a meagre 5000 MegaWatts of electricity considering the huge amount of money expended by successive governments over the last twenty years.

Industry stakeholders, particularly, service providers, should rise in confidence and courage against every threat that undermines the rapid growth of the country’s electricity sector without sparing its own erring members. .

The time for action is now beginning with a robust Stakeholders Consultative Forum that opens a common platform of communication amongst all stakeholders, including participation by members of the public.

The consequences of our collective failure to address the growing menace of vandalism will cut across the economy, the social lives of citizens and the future of the nation,