- Customers owe N49.58bn unpaid electricity bills
From Yakubu Mustapha, Minna
The Niger State government and the management of Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) Plc have resolved to work out modalities for improved electricity supply across Niger State.
This resolution was passed at an expanded meeting of the Niger State Council on Quality and Constant Electricity Supply, held yesterday Minna, the Niger State capital.
Welcoming all stakeholders to the meeting, the Niger State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Muhammad Ketso, who doubles as chairman of the Council, said the current administration in the state is passionate about improving electricity, stressing that the people of Niger are also yearning for improvement in power supply and thus the necessity to convene the meeting to device a way forward.
The meeting, therefore, resolved to among others, set up of a joint Niger Stakeholders-AEDC Committee to develop a comprehensive mechanism that will ensure sustainable improvement of electricity supply across the state in line with the correspondent increase in the level of payment by both large and small user customers.
The 15-member committee, to be chaired by the Niger State Commissioner for Works, Alhaji Ibrahim Balarabe, is to comprise of three representatives from the state government, three from AEDC, two from the youth groups, and one each from NERC, TCN, the security agencies and the media.
Earlier in his presentation during the meeting, the Managing Director/CEO of AEDC, Engr. Ernest Mupwaya, acknowledged the desire of the people of Niger State to have significant improvement in power supply, but emphasized that such increase in electricity supply must be matched by an equal level of payment to ensure that the company is sustainable, so that it can keep the distribution stream alive.
Painting a vivid scenario to buttress his point on the company’s operations in Niger State since takeover of operations by the current management in 2013, the AEDC CEO explained that since 2016 the company has been delivering 20% of the entire electricity allocated to it daily from the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to Niger Region. He regretted, however, that of the average N1.5 billion electricity supply bill delivered to its Niger Region monthly, only about N450 million is collected as revenue.
Engr. Mupwaya further explained that on a year-on-year basis, AEDC is incurring an average annual debt accumulation of N11.48 billion, stressing that the total debt being owed the company by both big and small customers in the Region currently stands at N49.58 billion.
According Engr. Mupwaya, in its determination to address the yearnings of its customers in Niger, Nasarawa and Kogi states, as well as the FCT, the company had provide and installed at least 120,000 meters last year alone at the cost of over N4 billion, stressing that AEDC is prepared to do more with improved payment for electricity delivered to its customers not only in Niger State but also across its coverage area which include the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Kogi and Nasarawa states.
“However, because we know that our customers in Niger State, just as in the FCT, Kogi and Nasarawa states, are anxious to have meters, we are considering putting bulk meters at transformer points so that clusters of customers such as villages or estates would be billed in accordance with readings taken from such meters”, he said, adding that the arrangements would be such that the meter readings will be taken in the presence of each group of customers being served by a transformer or their selected representatives.
According to him: “This bulk metering will be a stopgap arrangement because manufacturing and installation of individual meters would take some time, and we’ve noticed that one of the key desires of our customers is to be sure that their billing is being done accurately”.
The AEDC CEO further explained that the company is resorting to the bulk metering of communities or estates due to certain realities in the power sector in Nigeria which reveal that it may take some time before every electricity consumer will have a meter. “This is because, meters can’t be provided overnight due to the high number of meters to be installed, the huge capital required, as well as the liquidity challenge affecting the power sector because we’re yet to have a cost reflective tariff in place”, Engr. Mupwaya stressed.
He added that the funding challenge of the power sector is further compounded by the high foreign exchange rate, high inflation, as well as the fact that the tariff of the distribution companies (Discos) is not hedged.
Engr. Mupwaya also used the opportunity to announce AEDC’s plans to engage youths from the various communities where bulk meters are installed to help the company in cash collection at a fee. “This idea, which was well received when we announced about seven months ago in Bida, is a veritable means of empowering our youths and thereby reduce unemployment”, he further revealed.
He also used the opportunity of the Council’s meeting to solicit the cooperation of customers in the state towards regular settlement of electricity bills, reiterating that the response of customers in Niger Region in terms of bills payment has not been encouraging.
The MD also appealed for cooperation of the people of Niger State with the company in its efforts to curb the rising spate of vandalism, which he said has become a big menace and urged members of the public to always raise alarm whenever they notice suspicious movements around electricity facilities.
The representative of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) at the meeting, Engr. A. B. Mohammed drew attention of all stakeholders on the need to recognize that the power sector in Nigeria today is deregulated, stressing therefore, that “this makes it imperative for customers to pay their bills while the Disco also make efforts to improve on the services it provides to the customers”.
Participants at the meeting acknowledged the challenges facing AEDC as a distribution company and expressed sympathy with the management, even as they appeal to the company to do more in its efforts to ensure incremental increase in power supply.
Other members of the Council in attendance at the meeting include the Secretary to the Niger State Government, Hon. Ibrahim Isa Ladan; the Commissioner for Works, Alhaji Ibrahim Balarabe; the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works, Architect Umar Mohammed Bawa; the Director of Electrical Services in the State Ministry of Works, Engr. Is’haq Mohammed Lapai, as well as representatives of the NERC, the TCN as well as the Hydropower Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPPADEC).