Open letter to President Buhari on electricity -By Cosmas Odoemena

Filed under: Letters,National Issues |

 

Dear Mr President,

We write you on the state of electricity in Nigeria. We had to involve you directly because we have lost faith in the system. There is so much politics around electricity that there is no one to trust anymore.

This is not the first time we have written to the President on this particular matter. During President Goodluck Jonathan’s time, we brought up this issue, and it was widely published. The image used in one of the newspapers that published it was instructive. It showed the then President in a weightlifter’s outfit and struggling to lift a weight, with the weight plate on the right called “executive power,” and the one on the left called “electricity power.” The barbell tilted awkwardly downward on the left. That’s to say electricity power was more powerful than the executive’s. But we forbid that for you!

It’s not just at the executive level. Since the privatisation, many communities have been at war with electricity distribution companies and their workers. Nigerians now look at them with so much disdain. The way the Jews of old saw tax collectors. A fellow in his house marked his electrical changeover switch thus: Upper one, representing light from his generator: “Gen.” The lower one from electricity company: “Idiots.” There have been such inscriptions like “Cut light, anything you see, take.” “Electricity official, keep off!” One cartoon was even explicit: “Cut light and die!”

There is nothing that Nigerians have not said or written concerning electricity. Absolutely nothing! Editorials after editorials by newspapers. It’s almost like a dialogue of the blind and deaf.

A staggering amount of money has gone down the drain, still we are nowhere.

As we said then, there are areas that should not be privatised. Electricity is one of them.

Electricity is too critical to be left in any hands. You may consider reverting to the old system when the power ministry was on its own. You may even consider overseeing it the way you have the petroleum ministry.

With the telecommunications companies, in no time Nigerians saw the benefits. Competition in the telecoms industry brought about the best.

Only competition can salvage the situation in the power sector. But what we have is a quasi-monopoly. There seems no way this present system can birth competition as that has been stifled from the very beginning.

The power sector is bedevilled by corruption, greed, inefficiency and injustice.

We long for when power was run by government. Under government, Prof Barth Nnaji showed that government enterprises can still work if the right people are there with the right policies.

Power supply has remained abysmal, with power generation at 7,000 MW, for a population of 180 million people. It’s even going to get worse during the dry season when the usual excuse of “low level of water in Kainji Dam” will be given.

While this is so, the bills have continued to increase. When we wrote back then, in a flat we lived, we were handed a bill of N18,000 for one month, our minimum wage! And it was for an “estimated bill” for regular darkness supply. President Jonathan’s intervention made it drop down to about N5,000. Today, the bills have gone up again to about N10,000 and more. But as long as the bills Nigerians pay are huge, many will not pay.

The Discos now mount pressure on their workers to “meet target” just like banks bully their own staff. There is no job security. And every month, they risk their lives climbing poles to disconnect electricity.

But we often wonder who thinks for these discos. The market is not efficient and cheap. If the bills were between N1000 and N3,000, many Nigerians will afford it and the Discos will make more money than the furtive fits and starts and uncertainty they are presently on.

In addition to all these, there is a huge metering gap. The Discos have given the excuse that there are many Nigerians to serve and the meters are in short supply, and that they are sourced from abroad. To get round this, local manufacturers have come out to say they can solve that problem if given the needed support and patronage. Sadly, the Discos are not ready to do this for reasons best known to them.

Consumers who know their rights have refused to pay estimated bills insisting on only bills from prepaid meters.

We can’t think of anything more primitive than estimated bills. Just the other day, we saw a video clip of a mud house in Ghana with a prepaid meter. It’s embarrassing.

The electricity distribution companies are not interested in prepaid meters because in their warped thinking there is more money in estimated bills. If that is not corruption, we don’t know what else is. And this is exactly what you stand against. Or purport to do.

The electricity companies must slash the bills. Even if the power supply is regular, the bill must be affordable to Nigerians. Electricity is a necessity, not a luxury. Every necessity should be available and affordable.

The Discos have an obligation to provide meters to their customers but have deliberately chosen not to. Kindly enforce it that on no account should consumers be billed until they are provided prepaid meters. Or at worst a fixed service charge of five hundred naira per month until a meter is provided, hoping it does not put the Discos into hibernation mode.

Mr. President, realise that we have not asked that you give Nigerians 24 hours electricity supply. But if you can, we will be very thankful. All we have asked is that let Nigerians pay for only the “little” they have been supplied, through prepaid meters, sourced from abroad or from home, and at a cost they can afford in the spirit of fairness and self-reliance.

Whatever the Discos and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission signed needs to be revisited, and possibly revoked. We may be better off returning to Egypt. Permit us to shout “Up NEPA!”

Yours distraught Nigerian,

Dr Cosmas Odoemena, a medical practitioner based in Lagos

 

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