In their bid to provide two-month free electricity to vulnerable Nigerians during the lockdown of most parts of the country, the federal government and the House of Representatives and stakeholders in the power sector have set up a committee to work out the modalities.
The free electricity initiative is being championed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, as part of the stimulus package aimed at alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a meeting with the with delegation of the executive arm of government and stakeholders in the power sector, Gbajabiamila said that the joint panel’s mandate is to work out the modalities for the proposed two-month bill waiver for the most vulnerable Nigerians.
He said that the committee is expected to identify the group of Nigerians to benefit from the free power initiative; the number of households connected to the national grid as well as advise on the way forward for regular power supply to Nigerians after the COVID-19 crisis.
Gbajabiamila explained that 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 adequate electricity.
The meeting was attended by 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, and representatives of distribution companies (DisCos.
The speaker, however, said that his previous engagements on the issue with some critical stakeholders had been very encouraging.
He 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. “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 beneficiaries are 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,” he said.
Gabajabiamila, however, expressed disappointment over the non-existence of the Power Consumer Assistance Fund by NERC.
He said that 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, Gbajabiamila, who cited 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,” he said.
In his remarks, Mamman said that the executive arm is ready to play its part in the success of the proposal, adding that “we will give all the support as well as technical advice toward the realisation of this objective. We are ready whenever our input is needed.”
On his part, Kyari (NNPC GMD), who noted that the issue of gas supply to the GenCos is critical to power supply in the country, said that 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.
He said that the actual beneficiaries of the two-month free supply palliative had to be ascertained 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.
Kyari said that though 100 per cent uninterrupted power supply is impossible because not enough is generated due to the COVID-19 crisis, he promised that gas supply would not be an issue, as 100 per cent supply is guaranteed once the debt issue is addressed.
The DisCos promised to deliver on the issue as soon as all the details were worked out and agreed on.