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Developing minds, developing nations – Part 2

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Disco

Continued from yesterday

The reason is obvious – arbitrary billing fills their purse with ill-gotten wealth. While in other towns and villages where analogue or post-payment meters are still being used in Nigeria, DISCOS would bring in outrageous bills without considering the supply and consumption sides of the billing equation. In an economy such as ours, and in agreement with our culture of pre-payment economy, why does government allow those DISCOS to continue with this robbery?

Unless President Buhari has come to accept this enslaving treatment of Nigerians by the GENCOS and DISCOS, who have lately treated us to a comedy of trading blames as just, it is time to reverse this “privatisation.” The cost of reversal cannot outweigh this oppression and the cost of failure. I wish to alert the president that public unrest or violence will be provoked if the Federal Government did not rein in those taunting wolves. Nigerians will have every right to resist this exploitation. We are fed up with this nonsense!

Some years ago, the telecommunications sector was “liberalised.” The Federal Government did not “privatise” landlines. Even then, the beautiful phone boots that dotted our campuses, street corners and public buildings, where a caller could walk in with their pre-loaded call cards, swipe and make calls, have vanished only because Nigeria “liberalised” her telecommunications sector. Again, it is evidence of a mind that has refused to be exercised with imagination. Who now owns the Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL)? It is now moribund because we must allow the private sector to thrive. What thinking is this? Must the private sector thrive at the expense of public enterprise? President Buhari must make revival of NITEL (with its mobile subsidiary MTEL) one of his signature accomplishments before 2019.

Strengthened in their conviction that the contemporary black man does not exercise his mind, but waits for others to do the thinking for him, the exploiters are now asking for “privatisation” of government’s medical centres! It seems, for now, President Buhari is not buying this. To prevent another heist of our commonwealth, the president should reverse the “privatisation” of our electricity infrastructure, while allowing liberalisation. This will send a strong message. We must keep our electricity distribution infrastructure to remain as public property, to be placed on lease to companies that will not exploit consumers (a similar management agreement the Federal Government has signed for the management of the TCN is contemplated here). GENCOS that have not generated more electricity than the installed capacities of the companies they bought should lose ownership of those companies, but should be given licences to build electricity plants of their choosing.

Do we need DISCOS that have not added new and adequate transformers in neighbourhoods since they took over in 2013 and now engage in perennial load-shedding because “the transformer cannot take the load in your neighbourhood”? I was amazed when a Jos DISCO manager in Gboko, Benue State, said to me: “The transformers in Gboko were installed in the 1970s. They cannot sustain the load required of them now. Rich men in Gboko should consider buying transformers.” What baloney! Here is another incident: For some days we got no electricity supply in our neighbourhood in Gboko. I drove to a Jos DISCO office and asked the manager what the reason was. He told me, “My brother, I have sat here all day drinking my beer and wondering what to do. Your transformer has a fault that requires a spare part that we don’t have in the store; we have nothing in the store. We do not have even an operating vehicle either, and I have to use my personal truck over there (he pointed to it). This company is now a private one, and customers don’t have to pay for such repairs.” I asked him how much it would cost, and he told me. I drove to an ATM, made some withdrawals and gave him the money to fix the problem.

Yet another unfortunate experience after this one. For weeks we got no electricity supply, only to be told that our transformer (the same one in Gboko) was “vandalised.” We were taxed to raise more than N200,000 to fix it and build a fence around the transformer! Later, I learned that some other neighbourhoods in Gboko had the same experience. I further learned that some staff of the Jos DISCO “vandalised” the transformers. For more than two years now, the Jos DISCO has kept us on “load-shedding” menu (they are only obligated to consider us every other day), and yet brings in outrageous bills every month, which have suddenly gone up by more than 100 per cent since the beginning of this year! This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

The Federal Government should not allow monopoly by the six GENCOS and 11 DISCOS in Nigeria, who have demonstrated undeniable incompetence, duplicity, and inability to tell the truth. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is dead on its mission, I think. It does not protect Nigerians. Electricity is too important to our national development to be left in the hands of unserious people or companies. It is time to wield the big stick. I hope our mind will be enlarged to see this. I am, naturally, an optimist. But let me say here and now that I am not interested in more baloney, whether from government officials or GENCOS and DISCOS about what they are doing to improve electricity. I want nothing less than predictability, equity, and value for money, to start with.

To be continued

Shilgba contributed the piece via shilgba@yahoo.com


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