Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, on Friday, said that the Federal Government would begin the prosecution of energy thieves soon. He said that this would begin when the ministry concluded its ongoing audit to tackle issue of metering.
Fashola made this known at an Interactive Session with members of 21 Civil Society Organisations and the media in Lagos.
Some of the civil society groups included Centre for Democracy and Social Economic Rights, Alliance for Good Governance, Grassroots Democratic Initiative and Centre for Social Economic and Human Rights.
He said that some influential people in the country were not paying for power, adding that plans were on to prosecute them and drag them into the energy payment net. Fashola, however, said that government would fix the problems facing the power sector before applying sanction on energy thieves. Fashola explained that the ministry in dealing with problems of the privatisation of the power sector had sought the help of the World Bank whose Private Sector arm does not lend money to government.
The arms lends and provides guarantee to private companies only. He said that the Distribution Companies and Generation Companies proposal did not fit into the World Bank project because they were home grown solutions to problem of power. He said that the role of private sector in the power project was to help government carry out its functions better to boost the economy. “When you look at the contributions of government to the GDP in Nigeria it’s nine, 10 per cent, the contribution of private sector is 90 per cent,” he said.
The minister said that several developed countries did not subsidise utilities but privatised sectors for efficiency. He explained that contrary to public perception, tariff could sometime be reviewed downward depending on the market forces. He explained legal angles to some Civil Society Groups who had earlier taken government to court on issues of tariff. “You cannot sue somebody who has no power. The regulator is Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and it is an agency that should act independently.
“What is the business of the Minister of Communication with your cell phone,” he asked. He encouraged members of the public to blow the whistle on energy thieves, noting that this would help the Discos in the discharge of their function. “NERC is working on metering regulation, the power sector has been privatised, but it is a largely regulated sector by NERC. “And so, for you to do anything, you must follow regulations,” he said.
The Minister said that NERC was currently working on mini grids, deregulation of eligible customers and were waiting for the regulation of metering.
“Everybody assumes that Discos would supply meters, Discos do not have the capital to do so and their work is not really meter supply, their work is power supply. “They need the meter just to measure and to bill us. “So the regulation that are coming now would open metering to private sector people who would either come and serve as private meter service providers or meter franchise holders,” he said. He said that the market was evolving for people and investors to choose to either be franchise holders or service providers for community metering.
Fashola said that there were several logistic problems associated with ongoing audit of houses to capture them in the right metering category.
He added that when the privatisation of the sector was earlier done there were only about 6.5 million houses on the data base which showed that some people consumed electricity without payment.
The minister also revealed that the Federal Government had concluded plans to award contract for reconstruction and rehabilitation of 69 highways nationwide. Fashola said that 25 roads would receive attention soon as bid processes to deliver the Sukuk bond were almost completed.
“Each zone of the country is getting N16.67 billion and they are going to those major arterial roads that take us from the Ports to the Sahel.
“We have lost some time because we have to follow due process. Since the Sukuk was agreed we had to follow due diligence,” he said.
He said that with the dry season ahead, a lot of construction would be witnessed nationwide.
He said that 44 other roads captured during a nationwide tour of roads were also under procurement process. “If we complete the procurement we would award the contract to cover six zones of the country,” he said. The minister expressed hope that all the 69 roads to receive attention would become motorable within a short time. Fashola sought public support in the fight against illegal mining of sand on road edges and other forms of road abuses. He expressed worry against activities of illegal sand miners who dig up road verges (edges) to cause rapid road degeneration and collapse of federal highways. He said that it was unfortunate that some people took pleasure in “destroying our common assets” and appealed to members of the public to join in the surveillance. He said gadgets like cell phones could be used to get evidence of such acts to ensure perpetrators were brought to book, adding that there was a law against road abuses that needed enforcement. “We have set up a Right of Way (RoW) Recovery Committee and I know that it has started working. “We are trying to recover all the RoW that used to belong to the Federal Government across the country breaking them into zones.
“It is a lot of work, but there was no budget for it, so, all of the costs are being compiled and then we are hopeful that in 2018 we would be able to do something if we get the project approved. The minister explained that vegetation control was also ongoing as part of its Row recovery plan.
He added that the government was ready to hand over more roads to states governments who were willing to take them over.
Speaking on the Ota-Abeokuta Road, he said that the project was going to be redefined because the road was not initially in the 2018 budget and the contractors made some additional claims. He said that the road would be stabilised before the end of the year.
Speaking on affordable mass housing for Nigerians, Fashola said that government was working on avoiding mistakes of previous housing projects that saw the houses abandoned. He explained that some houses constructed by some past administrations were not occupied because they did not take into cognisance the issues of culture of the people, climate and location of projects. “All across the country you will see houses but they are not occupied,” he said. He explained in 2016, the government took time to sample opinions of Nigerians across the country on what type of houses they wanted and how much they could pay. He said that governors were approached for land at suitable locations to make the houses attractive for intending house owners.
“At this moment we are constructing in 33 states, when we finish then we would subject that design to affordability test. When we find it works then we will subject it to acceptability test,” he said. “This is the first time that Nigeria is undertaking a national housing scheme after Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s housing scheme. “There has been other interventions, previous governments have been building houses but a national housing scheme, this is the second time. Shagari’s was the first.”