Power supply: Benin And Niger Play Into Buhari’s Hand

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.

Patrick Talon: President Of Benin Republic

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’’.

president. Issofou Mohammad: Niger Owe Nigeria About $ 2million dollars In Power Supply

 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

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