IN terms of the cause of poor electricity supply ravaging the nation presently, a blunt statement from the office of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Raji Fashola, provided an answer. The statement which was issued by one of his aides stated that it was immoral to expect the federal government to blame electricity distribution companies called Discos for the poor electricity supply in the nation.
The Power Minister was responding proactively to the news that the House of Representatives had invited him and stakeholders in the electricity industry for a meeting to explain the cause of power failure in the country. The press statement was therefore meant to apprise the legislators before he showed up in the House for grilling on the subject. In effect the Minister killed the proverbial two birds with one stone. He answered the question of the legislators from afar as it were. He also allayed their fears also at a safe distance on the mistaken notion that the Discos were the culprit of the poor power supply experienced in the country. Let me state clearly as a keen observer of the power sector and its development that the pronouncements and statement of the Minister is candid, informed and most patriotic. In particular, I urge our law makers to emulate these virtues even as they grandstand to nail perceived culprits for the poor supply even though the cause is well known to all Nigerians except perhaps our legislators and trade union leaders.
The minister’s statement pointed out some facts. The first was that pipeline vandalisation had disrupted and decreased electricity supply massively nationwide and power generation, and transmission had suffered massively and such distribution had been scanty all over the nation. The second is that many government parastatals and institutions owe the distribution companies a lot of money predating his recent appointment as Minister of Power thus tying his hands to stop the Discos from demanding immediate payment from such government agencies or have them face massive disconnection, which ipso facto is the legal resort for such breach of payment in the face of continuous enjoyment without payment of electricity supply by these government facilities and corporations.
The third is the fact unknown to many in the public that the federal government before the advent of this administration had sold its ownership in the power companies and had no control over them in terms of generation and distribution of electricity. The minister admitted that apart from the violation of the law inherent in assuming false ownership and giving futile orders, there was the dangerous risk of creating a potential rash of litigation in the advice in some quarters to stop the Discos from realising revenue for sold services both now and in the past, especially from government institutions which have become brazen debtors to Discos which are now privately owned by Nigerian business men and investors . In addition, the minister harped on the fact that the Discos charged cost reflective tariffs approved for them by law and it would be again immoral for government whose agencies owe the Discos so much to ask them not to take money for services rendered.
Indeed to support the Minister on this stance was the advice he offered Nigerians when the Senate summoned him earlier in the year to explain the new electricity tariffs approved for the Discos by the Electricity Regulation Commission of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the Senate stopped the new tariff increase rather ill advised. The Minister said then that the increased electricity tariffs are like a dose of quinine which ultimately will make life better for Nigerians. This very apt and instructive example was ignored by the Senate. Since then, electricity generation and distribution nosedived and the situation is now worsened by gas pipeline vandalisation which has resulted to the present uncontrollable situation. If the fact that the union leaders asked Nigerians to go on strike because of the increase in electricity tariffs, is added to the fuel price hike, then one must admit that it was indeed honourable of the Minister to say publicly that it would be immoral to blame the Discos for poor electricity supply as the unions had done so.
Mr. Gbadamosi, an engineer, writes from Iseyin, Oyo State