Electricity supply in most states in the North west has remained unstable, affecting businesses and economic activities, and leading to protests by consumers in some states.
Two companies are responsible for power distribution in the seven states in the zone, and both are blaming the Federal Government and customers for the low level of supply.
Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company holds the franchise for Kaduna, Zamfara, Kebbi and Sokoto states, while Kano Electricity Distribution Company is supplying power to Katsina, Jigawa and Kano states.
The low level supply of power led to violent protests in Birnin Kebbi in August after the supply dropped significantly from about 22 hours daily to under six hours.
However, various respondents, in a survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), say there is a fundamental problem with power supply, distribution and payment of electricity bills in the zone.
In Kano, Mr Ibrahim Sani-Shawai, Head of Corporate Communications, Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO’s) said non-payment of bills by customers in its franchise areas of Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states had forced the company to set up a special task force to recover its money.
Sani-Shawai told NAN that the task force would be supported by judicial officials and the police, and would investigate and prosecute cases bordering on electricity theft.
“The task force will be saddled with the responsibility of prosecution of erring customers with regard to cases of energy theft, meter by-pass and other offences.
“The team has already arrived Kano and are making assessment after which, a tribunal will be inaugurated.
“It is our wish that customers will regularly pay their bills and not pile up debts that may become difficult to pay, which the tribunal frowns at.
“It is better to pay and avoid having issues to be treated by the tribunal, as this will compel the concerned customer to run around to pay all the debts at once which may be too burdening for them financially”.
The KEDCO spokesperson said, “When a customer fails to pay bills, it is indirectly frustrating the power sector development in the country as well as the efforts to sustain power sector reforms.”
According to him, the company plans to hold consumers consultative meetings to discuss issues affecting power supply.
“It’s aimed at reviewing the current state of infrastructure reflecting a baseline situation, strategies and projected improvement trajectory covering the priority areas.”
He listed the priority areas as: loss reduction, reliability and availability of power, metering, customer satisfaction, new connection and network expansion, safety and social responsibility as well as projection of how the tariff will look like in the next five years, from 2020-2024″.
On their part, electricity consumers in Kano have appealed to Federal Government to provide alternative power sources to bridge existing gaps and ensure effective and efficient power supply in the country.
Some of the customers said high level corruption has led to instability in the system, making consumers to lose hope in the electricity distribution companies.
A consumer at Wudilawa quarters in Kano municipality, Malam Maikano Abdulkareem, said the current power situation in the country had remained the same for years.
“The present administration had created high hope in us, yet, it remained a political campaign tool and the situation continues to deteriorate over the years, even after the sector was privatised.
“Unfortunately, the private sector has also failed to manage the situation, although at first they came up with new policies to manage the system,” he said.
Abdulkareem explained that even if the government retrieved the power holding companies, the problems might persist.
He stressed that if the government could venture into renewable energy, in addition to existing power plants, the situation might improve.
An Electrical Engineer, Usman Hamisu, said exploring alternative sources of energy would rescue the system.
He said, “There are many problems associated with the system and the country’s increasing demand has prevented the restoration of sustainable power supply.
“Many developing countries have alternative sources of power such as solar and wind energy, so they have a stable and sustainable power system.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, has urged Electricity Distribution Companies to stop extorting electricity consumers.
The Commission’s Executive Director, Mr. Babatunde Irukera spoke at a town hall meeting with consumers, electricity distribution company and other stakeholders in Kano.
He said that current estimated billing system was often unreasonable, causing friction between service providers and consumers.
“The estimated billing should be reasonable. They should stop extorting the consumers. It’s a priority for this Commission to address this issue.
“Key issues remain estimated billing, slow rate of metering, consumers having to purchase assets belonging to the Distribution Company, among others.
“It’s important that we go from place to place to bring the consumers, distribution company and stakeholders to address the key issues and promote higher level of sensitivity by the distribution companies”, he said.
Irukera added that DISCOs should listen to consumers complains and address the problems.
In his remarks, Alhaji Abubakar Yusuf, KEDCO Chief Customer Relation Officer, said they act promptly to consumers complaints.
Yusuf defended estimated billing system, saying it depends on the availability of power supply.
According to him, if the supply goes up, the bill will go up and if it drops, the bill will reduce.
In Kebbi, where recent epileptic supply led to violent protest, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Culture, Alhaji Shu’aibu Aliero, urged Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company to improve its services.
“In order to address the challenges of electricity, the company should also improve the timely distribution of bills and collection of payment for electricity to consumers in the state,” he said.
Aliero also called on consumers in the state to endeavor to pay their electricity bills promptly to ensure steady power supply.
“The distribution companies pay for what is delivered to them by the Transmission Commission of Nigeria and where they are unable to collect from customers, the supply may not be maintained,” he said.
Mr Dogara Sa’idu, the Business Manager of power company in the state, attributed the challenges of power distribution and generation to the inability of the consumers to settle their bills.
“The incessant load shedding of electricity in the state is due largely to lack of payment of bills by some electricity consumers.
“In the month of June, for instance, the state received 33,978.78 megawatt hours of electricity at the total cost of over N853.8 million but got over N211.38 million from consumers, leaving over N641.70 million unpaid.
“For the month of July, the state received 31,108.85 megawatt hours of electricity at the cost of N748.502 million but received payment of over N211.547 million and left over N534.905 million unpaid,” he explained.
Sa’idu stated that the company could not continue to provide electricity at a loss.
He added that from 36,567.22 megawatts hour supplied in January, the company received only 34,591.21 in August because of its inability to pay, as customers were not settling their bills.
“Failure by customers to pay is now making it difficult for KEDCO to supply all electricity that is required in all parts of the state,” he said.
Abdulaziz Abdullahi, Head, Corporate Communication, Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, says liquidity issues remain the biggest problem to power supply in the country.
“The issue of liquidity is the biggest constraint facing the power sector and it has led to a lot of setbacks in our operations, particularly in the distribution level.
“I say this because we are not yet operating a cost reflective tariff as were agreed by the federal government when it set up the 2015 tariff review.
“The tariff review was based on the reflective tariff, that hasn’t happened; that tariff review was supposed to be a minor six months review of that tariff and then a major one year review.
“Their reviews were brought to take care of the issues relating to inflation, exchange rate, fluctuations and micro economic factors.
“Unfortunately, since that MITO 2015 came into effect in January 2016, no single review has been done.
“Neither the minor review which is supposed to take place every six months nor the major review after every one year has been done,“ he said.
Abdullahi said the effect led to huge shortfall between the cost of buying electricity from the Generation Companies and the cost at which the power is being distributed to consumers.
“We buy at an average of N63:00 and we sell at an average of N26:00; the difference is unfortunate, and the government has not done anything to bridge that difference which is always reflecting in our books, which has brought us into this liquidity crisis we are in.
“The second issue is payments by customers. In Kaduna for instance, our collection rate per month is just about 30 to 35 percent and even at the N26:00 we are selling, people are still not willing to pay.
“We still record losses even from the N26:00 average price of electricity which is the reason we have the liquidity problem and why we can’t invest as we should in terms of buying enough transformers, upgrade of our networks among other challenges.
“We are doing the best we can in the circumstance we have found ourselves, if this liquidity crisis had been addressed, we would definitely have done more.
“Now we have a bigger challenge which the NERC has said we have to be remitting our bills, money we pay into transmission companies giving energy to us, we have to be paying it 100 percent.
“We used to have latitude of not paying it in full, now they are saying we must be paying it in full, which is another challenge that is compounding our problems.
“We hope that the government realizes the situation it has partly created and I hope moving forward the right things would be done.
“Now I see the government has taken a right major step which would help it to implement the agreement which it has signed with Siemens Company of Germany.
“The agreement entails that Siemens will come and do a lot of refurbishing of our networks and if being done, it would take a lot of the burden off us in terms of fixing our networks.
“It is a welcome development and we hope the federal government will see it through,“ he said.
On the issue of over billing of customers under the estimated billing system, he said part of the problem was that there was a lot of energy theft in the system.
“If a transformer is billed on N1 million and what you are being billed is a little but higher than what you are expecting, chances are that on that transformer there are a lot of people who are stealing energy; they are not captured in our data base.
“The few who are paying will be paying for the many who are stealing. That is why it’s very important for customers to expose those who they see stealing energy, if they don’t do that, they will have to bear the burden.
“When the bill comes out, we know the energy being sent to that transformer and that is the energy we will bill.
“If there are more people who used it or who are captured, then the spread will be less than if there are more people who are stealing than those who are paying, it means those who are paying will bear the burden of those people who are stealing.”
Abdullahi said the company was doing its best to track and expose those stealing energy, “but unfortunately it is not something that we can do alone, some of these people hang it in the night, there are places where welders don’t work until at night.
“They live in the community but nobody says anything and then when the bills come out, they would be crying, that is a responsibility everyone ought to take seriously so that when the bills come, there would at least be a degree of fairness in it.
“In any case, if someone gets a bill and he disputes it, he feels he has not consumed the energy that he is billed, he has the right to complain and seek redress.
“What the NERC rule says is that if you dispute any bill, for example if you dispute the bill of August, but paid the bill of July, you should pay the amount you paid in July pending when the difference is resolved.
“If the fault is ours, it will be corrected, but if it’s proven to you that your consumption is high for that month, then you have to pay, at least you have that leverage to seek redress.
“Metering can also solve the problem, we also welcome it, and the federal government has brought out a new policy, the meter access provider policy.
“They themselves selected independent meter providers and issued those licenses and allocated them to various distribution companies and they are supposed to work with us to meet up the customers demand.”
He said that the metering of houses had commenced in Kaduna.
“We are encouraging people on it, we have about four in Kaduna franchise, we have integrated power which is supposed to serve Barnawa and Makera, Rigasa and Doka areas.
“We are encouraging customers to visit our sites or come to our office and get the forms and fill them and assessment of their premises will be taken to determine the kind of meter that will be suitable for the premises, whether it’s a single phase or two phases.
“After that, they will go and pay for whichever of the two meters and within 10 days they would be metered; the process has started, though it is slow, but we are hoping that people will key into it,” he said.
According to him, the contractual agreement of the company and the federal government will elapse in December 2020.
Meanwhile, a cross section of consumers who spoke to NAN expressed their dissatisfaction with the poor and erratic power supply in the Kaduna State.
Consumers say irregular power supply has caused them losses in their businesses.
Mr Yakubu Usman, a businessman and a resident of Tudun Wada, Kaduna, said that he was not satisfied with KEDCO’s service, stressing that his business of grinding and chaffing cereals had declined so much in profit for the past six months.
Usman said that he had earlier in 2019 complained to KEDCO on the over billing of his shop, but nothing had been done amidst unstable power supply.
“KEDCO always complains of insufficient payment by customers in Tudun Wada, we are businessmen, we pay often as and when due because we need power to survive in our businesses, but the power seems to be deteriorating on daily basis.
“KEDCO should provide us with prepaid meters and make the power supply standard and available; those who do not recharge their meters would have themselves to blame.
“We are paying for the service and not getting value for what we are paying for, we should not face general penalties for others default,” Usman said.
He advised the federal government to review its policies to include state governments as stakeholders and investors in the DISCOs to ensure uninterrupted service delivery.
“KEDCO should set up task forces that would monitor its appliances against theft and unauthorized tampering by unscrupulous elements in our various areas.
“It should also develop maintenance culture, it would better the situation of power irregularities and strengthen the life span of equipment and sophisticated materials providing their services,” he suggested.
For Bashir Idris, government must review its set tariff regime for the DISCOs to be able to get out of the liquidity problems and address the shortage in supply.
He said consumers should be sensitized to embrace the metering system to address energy theft in some areas.
Idris also called on government to encourage more investors into the sector to make it more competitive.
“This is one of the greatest obstacles that prevent the private sector from participating in the development of Nigeria’s electric generating industry.
“If the sector is further liberalized more private funds would come into the distribution business and that would bring about competition and power outage would be addressed.”