Engr. Ernest Ndukwe was formerly Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria’s Telecommunications regulatory agency. He speaks on expectations from the new investors in the power sector and the need for consumers’ patience and support in this interview with James Emejo
What is your assessment of the ongoing privatisation of public sector facilities in the country?
Privatisation of government enterprises and utilities should be good for the country and it is a welcome development. It is in fact a worldwide trend which has led to improved efficiencies in service delivery generally.
By privatisation, government immediately and drastically reduces its funding of inefficient enterprises and divert such resources to fund other areas of social needs such as security services, health care, education and so on.
With specific reference to electricity, what is your opinion on the possibility of improved power supply through the privatisation process?
Government has now taken the bold steps required to see that this is realised. Without efficient and constant power supply, Nigeria cannot achieve her full potential.
Developing economies similar to ours depend on small and medium scale businesses for mass employment generation. This can be achieved in Nigeria with the millions of small and medium scale industries and enterprises that will naturally evolve from the availability of steady and efficient public electric power supply. Government should continue in the path it has mapped out and must ensure that the activities of those trying to sabotage the system are checked.
There were lots of controversies over the sale of some Generating (GENCOs) and Distribution companies (DISCOs). What is your take on this?
I find the controversies absolutely unnecessary. A close look at the issues will reveal that some of the companies that lost out in the process are not accepting defeat. In a contest of this nature only one company can succeed and those who lost have the option of either joining forces with the successful company or finding something else to do.
Do you have any advice on how best
to make the privatised companies more efficient?
The secret of success in a business of this nature lies in having a good corporate structure in place, staffed by experienced and well motivated professionals. The companies must of necessity also have the capacity to invest in the expansion of the facilities and supporting technologies.
For the Discos, they must be able to invest in new distribution infrastructure as well as modern billing platforms that are efficient and consumer friendly. Government on the other hand must keep its own side of the bargain by guaranteeing right of way.
For the Gencos, of feedstock such as gas, LPFO, etc on a steady basis is critical to the success of the plants.
As a prominent Nigerian from the South East, what are your expectations from Interstate Electrics-the core investor in the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company?
I see a very bright future for Electricity supply and distribution in the South East and indeed the whole country. Interstate Electric has all it takes to perform. I read a comment in the press by someone who claims that he was not partisan but went ahead to claim that “Interstate Electrics, to the best of (his) Knowledge, has not demonstrated the capacity to perform”. One wonders how he arrived at this conclusion and which of the bidders has demonstrated capacity to perform.
All the companies are new consortium arrangements with international technical partners. With the high profile background of their Consultants and the consortium technical partners, I personally believe that Interstate Electrics has all it takes to perform well and should be given all the support.
What advice would you give to electricity consumers and stakeholders on supporting the GENCOs and the DISCOs?
I will enjoin all Nigerians to support in full the privatisation effort of the Federal Government. The President means well and has demonstrated commendable bold resolve to see that the processes succeed. For the consumers like me, who are looking forward to a new dawn of efficient and steady electric power supply, I recommend that we give the new companies all the support they require to deliver on their mandate.
I also want consumers and all well meaning look out for the “wolves in sheep clothing” who are still working so hard to scuttle the on-going process. These are people with selfish vested interests who may be gaining from the old order and want the status quo to remain.
Regarding service delivery by the new companies, the regulatory body NERC also has a critical role to play in making them accountable and in building the confidence of the users by ensuring that billings are accurate and eliminating the regime of “estimated bills”. I am certain that many consumers may not care about tariff levels provided that they are only billed for what is consumed. I can control my consumption to match my pocket as long as electricity is always available whenever I need it. With a good regulatory environment in place consumers will benefit tremendously from the improvement that will accrue from the privatisation process.
How would you assess the present state of communications in Nigeria in relation to new developments in the power sector?
Electric power is a critical infrastructure even for the Communications sector. With the anticipated improvement in power supply from the ongoing privatisation process, the Communications sector will be a major beneficiary.
Network roll out will be faster and cheaper. Equipment and systems reliability will also be greatly enhanced. On a more general scale it is hoped that we will have more people and businesses connected to the grid. When I last checked a few months ago only about 40% of the population is connected to the electricity grid in Nigeria.
This scenario brings to memory the situation we found ourselves only a few years, in 2000 when Nigeria only had 0.4% telephone density before the reform in the communications sector. The telephone density as at July 2013 stood at 82%; indeed a major revolution was achieved.
By the same token, we can expect that with a successful reform of the Electric Power sector, the ongoing privatisation and other initiatives such as the pro-poor energy initiative, close to 100% connection to the grid could be achieved in the next 10 years; and this time with electricity supplied to the consumer at a much higher level of efficiency and reliability.
Any other opinion on the state of the Nation?
My Christian beliefs and upbringing requires me to be optimistic and to continually pray for our leaders and those in authority. That God will give us leaders that think more of the common good and less of selfish gains.
For the Aviation sector which has been in the news recently, I have a few suggestions. We should limit the number of airlines operating in the country to just three or four. And no airline should be allowed to operate unless it has a fleet of at least 15 airplanes. This will reduce the tendency to cut corners.
Also aviation is an industry that requires a lot of investment in new and fuel efficient airplanes and I do not see anything wrong in allowing some reputable international airlines to come and operate as Nigerian registered airlines for local flights.
The aviation industry is so critical and central to supporting commercial activities in the country that we can hardly afford to play with it.
I have many suggestions in this area but I will leave it for another day.