29 January 2015, Lagos – Mr Joe Ajaero, General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, wherein he spoke on the power distribution companies, DISCOs, and who he said are shortchanging Nigerians. The second part was published earlier. In this, Ajaero speaks on, among others, issues of pre-paid metres, service charge among others. Excerpts.
Consumers want to buy pre-paid metres
Apart from buying, there are various ways if actually they want to metre the country, but does it favour them? Does it make economic sense to an investor who wants to maximise profit?
If you were in their shoes would you not do the same? Nonetheless, there are different metre companies that are coming up. You see PHCN in Kaduna, for instance, used to have one metering company. I think they equally sold it and it stopped production.
Ordinarily, you can’t be talking of building power plants without talking of building factories that produce metres. But even the ones that are producing metres they are not patronising them because of these factors that I mentioned. But let me even say this.
At a period when pre-paid metres would be in every house, they would be subjected to manipulations. In some countries they are fighting metre manipulations. If you check your phone now may be whether you use one minute or 30 seconds they charge you for one minute.
Those kind of practices are common. So, when eventually they take over all the houses the way they are running now is not the way they will run. This is what is happening in some countries of the world.
But we are saying for the time being, we need these pre-paid metres because there is usually a section the regulatory commission or ministry of power that stipulates that their job is to inspect for standard. So, we have what we call metre test stations all over the country.
Issue of service charge: The issue of service charge is like, if I go to a hotel now to spend a night they will charge me service charge; they will charge me VAT (Value Added Tax). PHCN Building at Awolowo Road was lost to Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) because they asked for all those VAT.
It was because of the interest on the VAT not remitted, not the principal. That is from one government agency to the other. Now, if you can treat one government agency like this they will do everything humanly possible to collect VAT, collect service charge because they are under pressure from somewhere. I don’t know how to explain what is going on in this present dispensation and how they factored in fixed charge. I don’t know. The fixed charge if you look at it, it is for that metre, pole and for that wire you see in your house; that is the analysis they gave.
Or if you are not going to be around for two months you tell them so that they will take their wire out for that two or three months so that you will not have fixed charge. But for that wire to be there, day and night, standing there, there is a charge you have to pay for it.
National Electricity Regulatory Commission’s role
I think the the commission is even trying. Forgive me, but by the time the NERC is fully politicised the private sector will be appointing NERC chairman and commissioners and when that happens, the customers will not enjoy protection.
The current chairman and commissioners are not products of any political consideration as far as I know. But this private sector now that I am talking about, as at today, I pity the President of of Nigeria, because the people involved in petroleum are involved in power, so he is powerless, quote me.
If they want to frustrate President Muhammadu Buhari tomorrow the people that bought the DISCOs and GENCOs are the same people in control of fuel; they will frustrate him. He will be a president without being in control of the economy.
The constitution is clear on this; that the state shall be in control of the commanding heights of the economy. Now, out of sheer liberal policy the state has given that out. I want to repeat that the people that bought the electricity companies are still the people in petroleum; if they want to paralyse Nigeria today, they can, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Engaging the new administration: You know we believe so much in dialogue. We will make efforts to talk to the government as soon as possible. But I am worried about the comments credited to Babatunde Fashola that he is going to continue with the reforms in the power sector. I was thinking that at the level of Fashola as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria he should have known at the time he took over, he should find out what the situation looks like before making such comment.
He has refused to meet with us. We have met with the investors and even agreed on tariff increase in the midst of erratic power supply. We have invited him to some of our functions, he did not turn up.
We will be relating to him on the pages of newspapers. Now, what that suggests, unless he proves otherwise, is that the reform policy was a joint one between the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and that he knew much about it, and that this reform is an agenda of the APC.
But if not, he should have studied the situation, meet with stakeholders, find out how far before talking about continuing with the reforms. I think there is something he knows that he should tell Nigerians. It is important because when people see you with a kind of pre-conceived notion coming to play it affects your relationship with them.
Today, some of us feel that the reforms were not properly done and you say it must go ahead, whether it was properly done or not. But ordinarily we feel that we should have equally been able to meet with him and tell him those lies even if he doesn’t believe us for him to cross-check the truth before making such comment. But I think there is some level of disappointment from some of us based on that comment from Fashola and we are going to treat him with suspicion.
Besides the issue as it affects the power sector, I know that Chris Ngige was Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Power. What did he do before now?
Priority to power
What was his relationship with the investors or the DISCOs before now? So, we will still go there to ask him that if you were here this thing has not been completed, what is happening, please complete it.
Separating Power ministry from others: I don’t even want to comment on that, because if the Federal Government wants to give priority to power, you can’t mix it with any other thing. Before now, you merged with power and steel. Even if you had asked for ministry of energy nobody will contest it.
I don’t want to engage them yet on the choice of power and works and housing. But I think it is not proper because if you look at even works alone, no minister can even see all the roads in Nigeria, and they are bad.
Nigerians don’t have houses so, by the time you bring power and whatever, I am not sure the person will have enough time for power. Even for housing alone, in the 36 states, to attend to their housing needs, is difficult.