First a disclaimer. This piece is about power; no, not the other convoluted one, but rather the primary one that has to do with electricity. And in this wise then, the second person to bring into the dock (the first of course is the government with which we would not really bother much here) would be one with whom yours truly had fought and crusaded for a progressive Nigeria during their time at the University of Calabar; namely, the Chairman of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, Dr. Sam Amadi. So there is indeed something personal.
But then that is as far as it goes because the critical burdens of our nation and indeed of life would not really be discharged by personal relationships. They will rather be built on nobler ideals like the fidelity to truth, values, hard work, sacrifice, honour and justice. Yes, many of the subsisting realities of today’s Nigeria are clearly at conflict with this ‘Olympian heights rationalization,’ but a deeper appreciation of history will confirm that sloppy grandeur never lasts. ‘Vanity on vanity, all is vanity!’ So to justice we return.
The fundamental premise that we take in this piece therefore is that to fix the most enervating power incubus in the land today, we will need to return to a critical exegesis of the foundations of the system to confirm whether there is indeed any justice in it. For years, the old Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN), National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in turns, carried on like ‘lords of the manor.’ They inflicted injustice on Nigerians via their operations, billing systems and disconnection practices and there was virtually nothing that distraught consumers could do about it. In one instance for example, yours truly had strongly protested a very ridiculous act of over-billing. At the then PHCN office on Oba Akran Way, Ikeja, the official looked at the bill and tersely responded: ‘I know how you feel, Mr. Mammah, but you have to go and pay.’ He was lying! How could he know how I felt!! But then it was a state-controlled monopoly; and ‘the king could do no wrong.’
A few years ago, the government commenced an unbundling and privatization programme and the metrics seemed to be promising; until they bungled it themselves! This piece is about a promise deferred and the way out for the nation. And we say again, it is about justice.
A business, indeed every business that will thrive, must run on an intrinsically sustainable model. This involves a number of core variables that must be in place. It must have an organization to carry out its activities. It must develop a quality product that the market needs. It must take the same product to, and canvass potential buyers to pick and pay for it in the market. It must correctly price the product. And finally, it must put in place a robust and efficient feedback mechanism that would help it continue to gauge the satisfaction levels of customers and promptly make adjustments as they arise so as to continue to sustain critical customer interest.
The trouble with power in Nigeria today then is that between the government and the firms that presently run the complex, they have not taken heed to observing these commonplace rules. And there is no alternative.
Even more telling in all of this fiasco is the relative helplessness of the regulator to step in strongly with a view to putting square pegs in square holes. By its mandate, NERC is in a good position to corral all actors onto ensuring that basic performance matrixes are observed and met. To its credit, it moved to do same a few weeks ago when it announced sanctions on the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, over infractions related to the unscrupulous practice of estimated billing. If it could do that, then it means that it always had, and still has the nominal capacity to get all actors within the system to shape up or ship out. Now that it has begun to use its power, our plea is that it simply continues. There is far too much rot in Nigeria’s house of power that compels such confrontation.
As we write, distribution companies continue to collect a very dubious flat rate charge for consumers with prepaid meters even as they fleece other subscribers – that they are doing very little to provide with meters – through the pre-privatisation practice of ramming outrageous estimated bills down their throats. And now, they are posting notices of an intention to raise tariffs! On which service? This is plainly annoying, vexatious, unjust and contemptible and NERC must stop them now.