By Elizabeth Chukwuma
While Nigeria Electricity Consumers over the years enjoying unstable power supply, the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company, NBET, the market operator of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, at the instance of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, have been making bulk purchase to satisfythe neighbouring West African countries of Niger, Benin Republic, and Togo. The Nigerian government may have given the nod to NIBET to export electricity to these countries to prevent Benin and Togo, from daming their own part of the River Niger, where the country have the Kainji and Shiroro Dams for generating electricity.
The NERC and the NBET, may have adopted the trading approach as a way to generate foreign exchange but it has turned out to be a drain on the country’s resources. Instead of the three West African countries classified as International Customers in the nation’s power sector to settle their bill as at when due, they have allowed the officials of NBET, to chase them around to recover the huge debt owed the country.
Informed NERC , sources told The Value News that between January , 2019, and now, officials of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company had made several attempts to get the Niger’s Power firm , Societe Nigerienne Electricity, Communaute Electrique du Benin and and Compagnie Energie Electrique du Togo, CEET, to pay the over N97 billion owed Nigeria.
Indeed, the latest report of the NBET, shows that’’ the Special and International Class of Customers did not make any effort to service their debts’’ despite repeated pressures being mounted on them from several quarters to do so in order to sustain Electricity supply . Past and present minister of Power,Abubakar Aliyu, were said to have taken up the matter with their Counterparts in these countries benefiting from the export of electricity to ensure timely settlement of their bills for the electricity purchased from Nigerian but that was how far they could go.
The debt owed Nigeria by the three West African countries may have become too embarrassing that the NERC, Authorities had to speak out, perhaps to draw the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General, to take up the issue with Presidents, Patrice Talon of Benin Republic, Mohammed Bazoum of Niger and Faure EGnassingbe of Togo to facilitate the payment of the debt
. The Katsina born Nigerian President may not be in a hurry to force the countries which economies are in a sorry state because of the adverse effects of the Asian country of China emerged coronavirus, popular, COVID 19, to settle their Electricity supply bills to avoid spoiling the robust relationship that have been existing with the countries over the years.
The aggrieved NERC, officials, had said in its recently released second quarter Report of 2021, that Niger, Benin and Togo and some other Special Customers which were issued a total of N770 million by NBET, did not make any payment, let alone settling the first quarter outstanding payment that runs into billions of naira.
A NBET official who spoke to the Magazine, had said that that the three West African countries and other Special Customers also owed the country a total of N29.97 for the Electricity supplied them from January to September 2019, alone. NBET, it was said to have sent an invoice to Nigerienne de’electricite to pay a total bill of N3.01 billion in the first quarter of 2019, N3.69 billion , in the second quarter and N4.1 billion in the third quarter but the country had failed to make any payment but accumulating more debts.
Asimilar invoice were said to have also been sent to Commmunaute Electrique du Benin and the power firm in Togo to pay N9.74 billion for power supplied in the first quarter of 2019, N16 billion in the second quarter and N27 billion in the third quarter.
It was learnt that when the debt became too pronounced and NIBET threatened to stop further electricity export to the countries until the backlog of debts were cleared, Niger and Benin Republic, paid $5.27 million and $1.39 million in the first quarter of 2020, respectively, to defray part of their outstanding debt of N13.22 million on the invoice issued them for electricity supply from January to March 2020.
Nnaemeka Ewelukwa, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, CEO, is optimistic that‘’ the outstanding Electricity bills owed the country by these member countries of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, would be paid ‘’ when things begin to look up for the economies of these countries, as the COVID 19 had played a great role in the non-remittance of Funds experienced by NBET’’.
As a prelude recovering the huge debt owed the country by the three West African countries and the other Special NBET Customers, the NERC, had set a’’ minimum remittance threshold, MRTs, for the 11 Discos, having adjusted their Tariff shortfall’’. The Commission had said that the 11 Discos need ‘’to improve on their performance as none of them were said to have met the minimum remittance threshold.
The Commission noted that whereas that the 11 Distribution Companies, were expected to remit N130.66 billion to NBET in line with the minimum remittance threshold order, they merely remitted N91.31 billion or 44.03% of the N207.43 billion invoice from NBET in the first quarter of 2021. It stated that in the second quarter of 2021, a total invoice of N259.70 billion was issued to the 11 Discos, for energy received from NBET and for service charge by IMO, but out of which the sum of N130.11 billion was settled
.According to the NERC, the liquidity challenge currently being faced by NBET, was partly informed by ‘’the non- implementation of cost effective tariffs, high technical and Commercial losses exacerbated by energy theft and consumers apathy to payments under the widely prevailing practice of estimated billing’’.
The Commission noted that the situation was made worse by ‘’the severity of the liquidity challenge in NESI, as reflected in the settlement rates of energy invoices issued by NBET to each of the Discos as well as the non-payment by the Special and International Customers’’.