The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) made an interesting revelation in its just-released Second Quarter Report 2021.
The regulatory commission disclosed that the Republics of Benin, Niger and Togo made no payment for the electricity supplied to them from Nigeria in the second quarter of 2021.
It further revealed that the power firms of the three nations and some other special customers were issued a total bill of N770 million by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading company and the Market Operator of the Transmission Company of Nigeria.
It, however, noted that nothing was paid by the neighbouring countries and other special customers for the power supplied to them from Nigeria during the period.
The neighbouring countries’ power firms include Societe Nigerienne d’electricite (NIGELEC) in Niger Republic; Societe Beninoise d’Energie Electrique (SBEE) in the Benin Republic, and Compagnie Energie Electrique du Togo (CEET) in Togo.
This newspaper is not unmindful of the reason these neighbouring countries enjoy power from Nigeria. We know that power, when generated, must be used as it is not easily stored. Moreso, the cost of its generation is such that it requires prudent distribution for maximum profit.
With our transmission and distribution infrastructure and other facilities not as big as they should be, the excess generated power is diverted to these neighbouring countries at a cost.
Recently, the government announced plans to sell about 2,000 MW of ‘unutilised’ stranded electricity from Nigeria to four West African countries of Niger, Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso through the proposed $570 million 875 km, and 330 kv Northcore Power Transmission Line project.
Besides, this system in itself is not a bad idea especially when one considers the strategic diplomatic edge Nigeria should draw from this arrangement.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, the default-in-payment scenario depicted in the NERC report smacks of a lapse in this arrangement which weighs more on the Nigerian people.
First, the revelation from this report seems to confirm a long-held notion about the quality of Nigeria’s engagement with its neighbours.
That Nigerians bear the cost of electric bills of neighbouring countries is not just rife but common knowledge. For years, the aforementioned neighbouring countries have always enjoyed a better power supply than Nigeria, where the electricity is generated from. And this is despite the fact that they have been serial debtors.
Although all countries have felt the economic challenge posed by COVID-19, however, when the habitual debtor status of these countries is considered, the recent economic down would smack of yet another convenient excuse not to pay what they owe.
For decades, the calls for payment of power supplied to international customers which runs into substantial millions, have heightened. As recently as 2019, managing director of Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Usman Mohammed, stated that Nigeria would not hesitate to disconnect the neighbouring nations if they continued to owe.
He, however, insisted that the government had been making efforts to collect the money from its power customers, adding that the initial debts from the countries were as high as $100 million.
And so when the 2021 NERC report emerged, it reinvigorated such concern, especially as electricity tariff has been more on the rise in recent times.
Also, it is amazing that a country neck-deep in debts can still afford to be lackadaisical about collecting its revenue. We consider it unacceptable that while Nigeria seeks funds from every part of the world for infrastructural development, it would not be firm enough to demand payment for its power supply from other countries.
What is even more disheartening is the disregard that Nigerians suffer at the hands of these smaller countries despite the unbalanced generosity Nigeria shows to them.
Of course, this newspaper readily condemns any untoward behaviour by some Nigerians in those countries as they do not represent who Nigerians are.
But the constant abuse of our law-abiding citizens in some of these countries is a clear but sad reflection of how they abuse our largeheartedness as a people and a regional power.
Historically, the world knows that it is in Nigeria’s nature to readily offer help to not just its neighbours but to all people in distress, black or white. And this is not just because we are the largest black nation or regional power, but because it is in our nature to be generous. Nevertheless, we cannot afford to keep being taken for granted.
Clearly, the task of redefining how we are perceived by our neighbours begins with us at the level of how the government and other critical stakeholders project themselves.
It is from this perspective that we call on the federal government and other strategic stakeholders in the power sector to revisit this awkward situation with our neighbours.
Indeed, Nigeria cannot continue to play big brother to these African countries who have failed to regard us as such when it matters. On the business end, we believe the terms of trade must be respected and adhered to in the interest of all involved.
Consequently,it is time Nigeria discontinued the notion of playing Father Christmas to other countries while its citizens wallow in pain and neglect.