By Stephen Ubanna
Barely three months after president Muhammadu Buhari, ordered the closure of the Borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of the Republic of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, another problem appears to have cropped up that may force the Katsina state born Nigerian President to take further drastic action, particular, against Benin Republic, Togo and Niger.
It has to do with the problem on of recovering the multi-million dollars outstanding power supply debt from these West African countries . The Value News learnt that over the years the countries had discussed at the highest level of government on the terms of payment to avoid power disconnection currently suffered by Nigeria Electricity Consumers.
The terms of payment was said to have been negotiated between the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company, NBET, plc and Commnaute Elctrique Du B’enin , CEB, a bi-national electricity company established by Togo and Benin. A Similar agreement on the appropriate Commercial terms for sale of electricity was also said to have been reached between NBET and the Societ’e Nigeriene Eltricite , NIGELEC of Niger.
The deal based on the cost of service and price cap incentive regulation mechanism was said to have been communicated to the Presidency by Marilyn Amobi , the NBBET, Managing Director .
Note that Nigeria, under a bilateral agreement , sells electricity to CEB and NIGELEC, daily, at an agreed Commercial terms. The re-negotiation of the existing structural and governance regime in the country’s electricity market may have pushed up the electricity debt of these countries to over $100 million over the years.
Investigation s by The Magazine shows that the countries were initially servicing their debts, though not as much as the NBET officials would have wanted it in order to reduce their debts .
Business watchers believe that the Presidential directive to the revenue generating agencies to step up their revenue generating drive may have forced the agency to remember the debt owed the country by Benin, To and Niger over the sales of power to them. The countries were said to have been given an option to pay their outstanding debts running into millions of dollar or face disconnection.
Indeed, NBET, officials were said to have been given the mandate by the President to do every thing within their powers to recover the debts on electricity supply to these West African countries or disconnect them.
Recall that Babatunde Fashola, a former governor of the tax rich Lagos state and minister of Works and Housing , had said in 2018, that the electricity debt of these countries was so worrisome that the President issued letters to them , threatening that the country may be forced to taking the extreme action of disconnecting those who fail to comply with the payment agreement. The letter to Presidents Patrick Talon of Benin Republic and Issoufou Mohammad of Niger was said to have been endorsed by t him to show the importance attached to it.
The failure of the neighbouring West African countries , which according to Usman Mohammed, Managing Director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, NTCN, to pay the more than $100 million owed the country may have encouraged the government to insist on disconnecting them .
Mohammed , who had kept the issue of the debts owed by the two West African countries to Nigeria’’ a closely guided secret may have been forced to speak out due to their lack of Cooperation ocountries to pay.
According to him, Benin Republic alone owed the country $14 million while Niger owed less than $2 million, thus bringing the total debt owed the two countries to about $16 million. Perhaps, acting on the instruction of the President, Mohammed was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that ‘’if the countries fail to adhere to the payment agreement reached with the government , it will not hesitate but to go ahead with the disconnection of their light.
A source confirmed that NTCN, had reduced power supply to them, stressing that debtor Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, normal electricity supply could only be restored to them if they could settle all their outstanding debts.
This may have informed why CEB, the Benin/Togo Power Company, embarrassed the Nigerian visiting ministers ,to Seme/Krake joint Border , between Nigeria and Benin, recently to evaluate the performance of the going Border drills. The CEB, may have deliberately taken the light , from the ECOWAS building, forcing the ministers, Babagana Munguno, a retired Major Genenral and National security Adviser and Coordinator of the Border Drills including the invited guests and the Journalists covering the visit to sweat profusely.
The situation was so bad that Lai Mohammed, the minister of Communication and Culture, could not read out his prepared speech as the ministerial team were forced to leave the ECOWAS Conference room to take fresh breeze outside and also see things by themselves.
the opportunity provided for them to leave the ECOWAS Conference room, exposed them to the hundreds of truck laden goods trapped at both the Nigeria and Benin Republic sides of the Border, running into billions of naira. The Beninese Immigration and Customs officials may have sensed trouble ahead as they were aid to have out to the CEB officials who were said to have quickly restored electricity to the COWAS building a few hours later.
Energy experts would want the Nigerian government to thread with caution in handling the $16 million dollars power supply outstanding debts from Benin Republic, Togo and Niger, to avoid giving to France, the former Colonial master to these countries to step in order to push Nigeria out of these countries from being the supplier of electricity.
There is no gain saying the fact that Nigeria supplies electricity to these ECOWAS member countries , which were said to be enjoying reliable power supply than the supplier because some of the rivers that sustain the country’s main source of power supply, Kainji, flow from these countries.
It was gathered that in exchange for not damming their rivers and preventing it from flowing into Kainji Dam in Niger state and in addition to Shiroro Dam, in Taraba state, the’’ countries got a mandatory supply of electricity from Nigeria, a member of the ECOWAS economic bloc’’.
Political analysts believe that past and present political leaders of the country had opportunity of finding alternative means of power supply or at least reaching a bilateral agreement with these countries to ensure that the flow of water from their rivers to the Kainji doesn’t give off a hostage situation vibes, as the country has found itself over the years.
This is evident going by the epileptic power supply situation in the country. Fashola, the minister of Works and Housing may had painted a gory state ofthe situation when he said, ‘’we don’t have light but the people who lent us resources to get the light and sell to them do’’.
This may have informed why the French speaking countries, particular, Benin Republic, are reluctant to settle their power supply indebtedness to Nigeria because they believe they are the one holding the ‘’Yam and the knife’’.
They may be waiting for the Nigerian government to carry out its threat of disconnecting them from the national grid before giving the nod to France electricity Companies which may be interested in the Country’s power sector to come and Dam their rivers, t stop it from flowing into Nigeria Dams which may worsen the country’s epileptic electricity supply situation.
France has a strong hold on the Beninese economy. Take for instance the Bollore port, which is controlled by a french investor, which handles over 50% of the Bulk cargo imports into the country, particular, the Asian country Thai par boiled rice, which are smuggled into the country through unapproved routes.
Many would want Buhari, of the ruling All progressive Congress, APC, government to prove Benin Republic wrong by developing the country’s gas sector to to reduce the dependence on the Kainji and Shiroro Dam for electricity supply in the country. The delay by the three french speaking countries in the West African sub-region in settling their power supply debts as at when due speaks volume. They may planning a revenge against Nigeria over the Border closure by distabilising the country’s power sector: Dam their rivers to prevent the flow of water to Kaiji and Shiroro Dams