The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) on Monday chaired the third monthly meeting of key operators in the nation’s power industry during which he said he was optimistic that problems affecting the sector can be solved if everyone understands how his action or inaction affects the system.
In furthering his determination to identify, discuss and find practical solutions to issues facing the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry, the Minister initiated the monthly meeting of operators in the electricity industry with two earlier editions taking place in Abuja and Lagos respectively.
Fashola, speaking during the opening session and later with journalists after the meeting, which took place at the Ugwuaji Transmission Station in Enugu, reiterated his conviction that the problems affecting the sector were not insurmountable.
Asked by one of the journalists about his word to Nigerians in the light of certain recent developments in the sector, Fashola declared: “My word to Nigerians is that this problem can be solved. It is a problem that has challenged us for a long time. Not only am I going around to understand what the problems are, I am at Ugwuaji now in Enugu State, I am going around to understand what I am supposed to manage. I have been briefed on paper, in files and in memos and I am going from power plant to power plant, from transmission site to transmission site. What I have seen convinces me that this problem can be solved.”
“I am optimistic that it can be solved, it just needs for us as a people to understand the system better and how it works. I am going to dedicate some of my time to breaking down the technical issues that have sounded so complex over the decades, so that the average Nigerian can understand how the system works.”
According to the Minister, actions taken by some groups or individuals often have grave consequences for the collective. “So if people break down pipelines, you know that you have weakened the system. No matter how angry you are a broken pipeline is going to affect you, because you won’t have power. If people feel that the best way to secure employment for their colleagues in the union is to shut down a gas or power plant, the truth is that you are going to hurt more people than the people you intend to protect”, he said.
The Minister explained that the third edition of the monthly power sector operators meeting was as usual held to resolve pressing issues in the sector adding that each time the meeting was held the issues addressed had added value to the businesses of the participants and stakeholders in the power value chain.
According to the Minister, “We have subjected our meetings to some of the stress tests and the result was a unanimous Yes. So in terms of specifics, the meeting addressed problems of gas, it addressed problems of financial stability the problem of volatility of foreign exchange in the sector as to how that affects the ability of the GenCos and the DisCos to implement their foreign technical service agreements with their foreign partners as to how to remit money and pay as well as the difficulty of pricing of local gas consumption in dollars instead of in Naira.
Noting that these were some of the problems that people do not see but which ultimately affect the quality of service, the Minister said the metering issue was also discussed with a resolution that in the interest of customers, people could not take money from consumers without supplying the meters.
Saying that reports at the meeting showed that most of the distribution companies had largely supplied the meters, the Minister declared, “I have made it clear with the regulators that a situation where people paid for meters and those meters were not supplied for me undermines trust and trust is necessary in the system”.
In a communique issued at the end of the meeting, the stakeholders resolved to reinvigorate their effort towards customer engagement through the launch of Customer Care Units for adequate resolution of power sector issues in line with the standards set up by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) also gave a commitment to strengthen transmission capacity to more than 5000 MW by the end of the year while Port Harcourt DisCo, Ibom Power and Odukpani plants said they are developing an action plan to direct extra power from both plants to Calabar in order to maximize the generation capacity of the plants.
Also, in line with resolutions in previous meetings, the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) reported that it has commenced the safety ranking of DisCos accordingly while DisCos renewed their commitment to aggressive metering and made commitments to ensure that customers under the Credited Advanced Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) Scheme are metered as quickly as possible.
The Central Bank of Nigeria also gave commitment to resume disbursement of CBN Nigerian Electricity Market Stabilization Facility (NEMSF) upon finalizing the structure and payment model with NERC and other stakeholders ; while TCN made submission on the progress of ongoing work to improve transmission infrastructure across the country.
Earlier at the opening of the meeting, Fashola emphasized the importance of quality customer service in the Power Sector saying it was the only way to engender compliance with regards to bill payment among consumers of power nationwide.
The Minister said consumers needed to understand the intricacies of power generation, transmission and supply including why they could not get service at a particular point in time noting that their first line of comfort would be to know that somebody was aware that there was a problem in the first place.
“I would again reiterate that you, the owners of the assets, the DisCos and the GenCos, must step up and take responsibility for your business”, Fashola said adding that like the telecoms operators, the power agencies must drive their customer outlets, manage customer complaints, regularly adding other services related to power generation and distribution.
The Minister further urged, “You are the ones to do all the advertising, messaging and explanations about, what is going on? So you must perform that task very quickly”.
“You are not different from other brands in their services and therefore, branding, communication, education, information and service quality are what all of you must take responsibility for in your various units of operation”, he said.
According to the Minister, Government would continue to play the regulatory role in the business of power generation and distribution while it is the duty of the GenCos and DisCos to render services in such a way as to create harmony and cooperation between themselves and the consumers.
While noting that other companies involved in providing services to the public are not without problems, Fashola said that most of such problems were solved at various operational levels within the companies, while pointing out the fact that certain complaints within the power sector could be resolved by the various units without getting to the Ministry in Abuja.
“So when complaints come to us from Warri, Calabar, Maiduguri etc. that there is no power, I believe that the first responders must be your people”, he said.
The Minister said after being aware that someone within the sector was aware of the problem of the consumer, the next relevant line of comfort was how soon such a problem could be resolved adding that Nigerians have always demonstrated a reasonable disposition towards such problems.