By Oguntoye Opeyemi
Most Nigerians will commend the performance, so far, of the honourable minister since the beginning of his tenure as the minister for works, housing and power and his antecedent in the transformation that took place in Lagos state when he held sway as governor.
The pace set, aligning it with what his predecessor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu achieved, bringing out the beauty in Lagos is still fresh in our memory. The sustenance of Tinubu’s legacy especially on the Lagos State Traffic Management (LASTMA) which was set up in the year 2000, that finally dealt with the major challenges faced in the transportation sector of the state, saw governors running to Lagos to learn the methods to be used in their states.
Then the question; can the same be replicated in the power industry? I recognise the fact that the minister have been doing well with power generation knowing fully well that most of our generating plants have not been maintained for years, most especially the hydro power plants which many countries are making use of and getting the required energy output from them to boost their economy in various sector.
The same hydro plants have been neglected for years under the past administration are now receiving serious attention, even brazil gets over 60 GW from the same hydro system.
But a major aspect which you are not paying enough attention and the past administration also did not perform too well on and which might possibly crumble all your effort in the long run is the law that protects the investors against the parasites who are bent on destroying the industry; who sees power as a national cake which must not be paid for.
Sometimes in October 2013, Jonathan Kendall, a managing partner of Reno Energy consulting in Rio de Janeiro says more than 8bn reais ( $3.7bn ) worth of power is stolen each year, mostly in major cities. “The stealing of energy in Brazil is completely out of control “Kendall said. I pray things will not be out of control in Nigeria power sector and that’s the main reason for writing my piece. These is nothing wrong in building many power plants, constructing new transmission lines and having sleepless night to transform the power sector but if law to stop the energy theft is not looked into, the same people will tell it to your face that you haven’t done anything. For several years, countries like Brazil, India were busy planning, building generating plants to meet up the demands for electricity in their countries.
Sir, I can tell you today that Brazil have not less than 135GW installed capacity of generating set from combination of hydro, gas, coal, wind etc. But the income from the power generated with respect to the one consume by the people is not encouraging. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who resides in kwara state. She told me of a storey building in her neighbourhood that hasn’t pay for electricity in years. You won’t be surprise you that many houses in our cities are consuming energy for free.
Let me reiterate sir, if we attain the level of Singapore in power supply today, in few months, many generation company will pack up because of incurred debt. Sometimes around December last year, we had interaction with a community that didn’t have supply for almost nine years and we asked them question, “ if you have power in your village today, how much do you think you will be billed “ she happily replied that she shouldn’t be charged more than N500.
Most Nigerians do not have business with generation, transmission, NBET, NIGERIA electricity system operator, market operators and the likes, care less about how they operate but just want power supply whether legally or illegally. The major fear is that when you do not take the necessary action in curbing the parasite that can collapse the same building you are raising with your sleepless night, knowing fully their exist danger , it will be a great regret at the end.
In Canada, under their criminal code, section 326, “everyone commits theft that fraudulently, maliciously or without colour of right; abstract, consumes or uses electricity or gas or causes it to be wasted or diverted. If found guilty of an indication offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or of an offence punishable on summary of conviction, where value of subject matter of the offences does not exceed $5,000”.
The only way the industry can work is if we have adequate funding which is dependent on either the investors or people pay what they consumed from the distribution company but as it stands today, many investors are scared of the power industry because of many reasons related to recovery of energy produced/consumed.
The law works in Canada because they have a visible law which is effective and most importantly has a huge fine attached in exchange for going to prison, thereby making it hard for people to steal energy knowing the great danger in doing such evil act .
It is the same in the united states of America, theft of utility services; inference of commission of theft; penalties under 2006 Lousina law “ on the first conviction, the offender shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than six months or both. Or on a second or subsequent conviction, regardless of whether the second or subsequent offense occurred before or after an earlier conviction, the offender shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars and not more than three hundred dollars.
The benefit of this law from these countries is majorly to protect the investors, improve the power generation and supply adequate energy to the people. Many plants from various generation company are been shut down not because of non-availability of gas due to lack of funding to procure gas and maintain the damaged ones.
In Nigeria, we have a unique and laughable law against energy theft, from the electric power sector reform act ( EPSRA ) S.9 , we can all read it up and laugh it out because it’s not visible and effective. So many go ahead to do whatever they like with power. Death penalty is quoted in the EPSRA Law, which from the inception haven’t seen anyone convicted and yet, thousand engaged in the act of energy theft in this country.
The effect of energy theft didn’t stop on the investors nor government but on us all, ranging from frequent power outage, power surge, accidents and all.
The privatisation of power is a laudable achievements which had turned around the workforce in the industry and allowed brilliant brains to join forces with the active existing old staff in the industry, no doubts, the internal structure has been revived. Nigerians see the name change, they still believe food vendor is still the same. So, they see power as a free commodity and sees no crime in stealing the energy. If we do not register it in their thought now, we will find ourselves in the same situation with Brazil where ATC & C loses will be our nightmare.
*Opeyemi can be reached via 08065164570 or Twitter - @Equityoyo