THE Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), the umbrella body of all the power distribution companies (DisCos) in Nigeria, has cried out over huge debts amounting to N60 billion owed its members by the military and the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government at the federal, state and local council levels. The mindboggling figure was disclosed by the Executive Director of the association, Mr. Sunday Oduntan, in Abuja recently.
The debt, which accumulated over a period, is said to be financially strangulating the power companies. The failure of the military and the MDAs to pay their electricity bills is a huge moral burden for the government. How, indeed, can the different levels of government expect good performance from these companies when they are owed huge sums by their MDAs? This huge debt is also a moral constraint on the power regulatory body, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
We appreciate the difficult position of DisCos concerning the crippling debts which are negatively impacting their ability to deliver good services to their customers. A breakdown of the N60bn debt shows that the military alone is responsible for about N15bn, representing 25 per cent of the sum. What is more? Some military personnel are reportedly still carrying on with the culture of impunity of the past by beating up the workers of the distribution companies and vandalizing their equipment whenever they come to demand payment for power supplied to some military institutions.
This is not only embarrassing, it is highly condemnable. The military must live up to its billing as a disciplined institution. This is more so in this era of democracy where high premium is placed on adherence to the rule of law and respect for constituted authorities. The military must let go of the bad habits of the past.
The idea of the military and other government agencies refusing to pay for power supplied to their institutions must come to an end. The leadership of the military must wake up to the reality that the national power behemoth, (Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), has been privatised and its successor private firms run on a different business model.
The power generation and distribution companies (GENCOS and DisCos) are in dire need of finance and cannot afford to be owed so much by anybody, least of all, government agencies. This situation is bound to impinge on government’s ability to regulate the companies, as we have seen so far.
We join ANED in calling on President Muhammadu Buhari, the state and local government authorities and the military leaders to immediately pay these huge debts. Nothing short of this will do.
It is regrettable that this disclosure is coming at a time when power supply is worsening. These debtor government agencies may unwittingly have handed these power companies a convenient excuse not to do the needful about the embarrassing power supply situation. With power supply presently below 3,000 megawatts, which is far from what the country needs to attain stable power supply, we are light years away from where we want to be. What Nigerians deserve is for government agencies to pay their bills for electricity enjoyed.
This is why we must ask what happened to the funds appropriated for power by the MDAs in their annual budgets. If the Federal Government is to be taken seriously, it must make efforts to investigate this malfeasance. Refusal of any agency to pay for electricity supplied to it, indeed, smacks of sabotage.
The truth is that electricity is very expensive, everywhere. Comparative analysis of power costs all over the globe indicates that electricity in Nigeria is one of the least priced. The long years of military rule and the willful neglect of the power sector means that there is a huge spending gap to fill if the goal of optimal power supply is to be attained in the country.
As Oduntan put it, about $40bn would be required to achieve the 160,000 megawatts target that the country needs to achieve stable power supply. How is this to be sourced when MDAs refuse to pay for electricity consumed? Persons who attack DisCo personnel on payment drives ought to be identified, prosecuted and punished in accordance with the laws of the land.
We urge the military and MDAs at all levels to cooperate with DisCos on this matter. It must be clearly stated that the era of impunity and free power supply is over.