By Christiana Ekpa
The House of Representatives and stakeholders in the power sector on Wednesday agreed to set up a joint implementation committee on the proposed two-month free power supply to the poor and vulnerable Nigerians as part of the stimulus package aimed at alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Speaker of the House, Rep Femi Gbajabiamila said the joint panel’s mandate is to work out modalities for the proposed two-month bill waiver for the most vulnerable people in the country.
According to him, the panel is also expected to identify the group of Nigerians to benefit from the free power supply, the number of households connected to the national grid as well as find the way forward for regular power supply to Nigerians after the COVID-19 crisis.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Gbajabiamila said the essence of the meeting was to proffer means of alleviating the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 on Nigerians during and after the crisis period through the supply of power.
At the meeting were the Minister of Power, Mamman Sale; the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), James Momoh; Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari; Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), Marilyn Amobi, as well as representatives of Distribution Companies.
Also at the meeting were the Leader of the House, Alhassan Ado Doguwa; Chief Whip, Rep. Mohammed Tahir Monguno; Deputy Leader, Rep. Peter Akpatason; Deputy Chief Whip, Rep. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha; Minority Leader, Rep. Ndudi Elumelu, and the Chairman, House Committee on Power, Rep. Magaji Da’u Aliyu, among others.
Saying that his previous engagements on the issue with some critical power sector stakeholders have been very encouraging, the Speaker said, “We are here to find out how we go about it. I’m happy that in my previous engagements with the NNPC GMD, he was very interested.”
He said: “Whatever the issues are within the power supply chain, they have to be dealt with and set aside, but how we deal with the issue at stake is why we are here today.
“This is not about technicalities or blaming any part of the power supply value chain; it is just about how we find a solution.
“The objective is very simple: we are asking people to stay at home for several days or weeks, so we need to make their stay at home comfortable. We need to help the poorest of the poorest at this time in Nigeria.
“How we go about it is why we are here today. So, the mandate is very simple with all the stakeholders here. I believe that the best stimulus that we can give our people right now is the supply of electricity to the very vulnerable households.
“Even if we agree that this proposal as an investment scheme according to the power sector stakeholders, I think we need to keep our eyes on the ball. What is that ball? Get to the end-user, who is the beneficiary of that investment scheme
“I wouldn’t want to look at it as the DisCos or GenCos or even the Transmission Company as the beneficiaries. For me, the ultimate beneficiary is the Nigerian people.
“If that is what the investment scheme takes, to supply power, it may not be 100 per cent, but let’s say 70 or 80 per cent, then we would have succeeded.
“So, we set up a group that will look into all the possibilities and implications and come up with a solution, so that the Nigerian poor can be taken care of during this period”.
The Speaker, however, expressed his disappointment over the non-existence of the Power Consumer Assistance Fund by NERC.
He said the Fund would have served the purpose it was meant for, at this point, if it were in existence.
After being informed that the fund has not been set up, the Speaker citing Section 83 of the Electricity Power Sector Act said, “We have broken the law because the law mandated it; it is not optional. It is the Act that mandated its establishment.
“If that had been set up, way back, perhaps we would have had the fund with which to assist this proposal. This is the kind of time that this fund was anticipating.
“I think we should look into setting up this fund because we don’t know when next this kind of issue may come up”.
In his remarks, the Minister of Power, Mamman, said the Executive arm is ready to contribute its part to the success of the proposal, saying, “We will give all the support as well as technical advice toward the realization of this objective. We are ready whenever our input is needed”.
On his part, the NNPC GMD, Kyari, who noted that the issue of gas supply to the GenCos is critical to power supply in the country, said the proposal is workable if the issue of who is to carry the burden of cost and margins in the supply value chain is settled and agreed on by all the parties.
Saying that note had to be taken of the actual beneficiaries of the two-month free supply palliative because not every Nigerian falls into the category of the poorest, Kyari pointed out that the existence of the industrial sector should be of concern at the end of the crisis period.
Kyari said though 100 per cent uninterrupted power supply is impossible because not enough is generated due to the COVID-19 crisis, he assured that gas supply would not be an issue, as 100 per cent supply is guaranteed once the debt issue is addressed.
The DisCos assured that they can deliver the mandate as soon as all the details were worked out and agreed on.