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Discos and historic electricity debtors

The news in the Thisday newspaper of May 9 on how much some Nigerian public institutions owe Nigerian electricity distributor companies called discos   was quite disturbing. The amount ran into about N98bn. The report noted that the debtors, called historic debtors, cut across the three tiers of government namely local, state and even the Federal government and included the security and military apparatus of government.   That certainly is a very bothersome development, which simply does not augur well for any hope of having constant power supply in Nigeria or for any meaningful    economic development   to occur, when institutions, which should set the pace for others to follow, are the leading defaulters on payment of electricity bills.
Worse still is the obvious situation of these public institutions being the very ones expected   to act to prevail on ordinary and corporate debtors to pay their electricity bills in case of default on payment of such bills. What sort of moral authority would such public institutions and security outfits have to prevail or induce electricity debtors to pay their bills when they too owe similar bills they have not paid?  Certainly, a huge moral deficit has been created for such local, state or local   governments that have not paid their electricity bills. Obviously, such defaulters in high places in both power and the corridors of power have contributed immensely to the parlous state of electricity supply in the nation and the   odium   of poor performance that attended the image of both NEPA and PHCN both predecessors of the discos in the delivery of electricity in Nigeria
Given the huge investments of the discos to come   on stream in electricity delivery because of privatization, it is certainly unrealistic, if not downright   wicked to expect the discos to carry a debt burden that preceded privatization without some financial help from government in recognition of the existence of such debt burden on the discos.  Now that government itself is involved at all, tiers it is as if it was a   government policy not to pay electricity bills at all levels which definitely cannot be the case. Alternatively, are we mistaken on this matter in if government has decreed not to pay electricity bills when it privatized the power industry in this nation thus contributing immensely to the huge historic debt burden inflicted on the discos? Certainly, an answer needs to be provided at the highest echelons of government to solve this riddle finely but mischievously hidden in an enigma of unbelievable government default of electricity bills
The obvious comparison is for government at all levels to consider how it will feel if citizens in each local government, state and the nation at large, fail to pay taxes. Of course they are taken to court and if found guilty are jailed .Now   how can the discos who are partners with government perform successfully their task of delivering electricity when consumers including government don’t pay the equivalent of taxes which are electricity tariffs and which in this case are cost reflective and putting that weight of delivery on the shoulders of the discos? Certainly something is rotten in the state of public institutions perception of their electricity bills and government at all tiers must do their duty in this regard to prove that like all of us   who pay our taxes and electricity bills, they too are worthy to be called solid individual or corporate citizens.
This is a clear-cut case of civil irresponsibility that should be nipped in the bud before it becomes the norm in our society and nation generally. Public institutions have always had priority over individuals or even busy corporate companies and the private sector at large in the allocation of electricity even before the coming of the discos and right till now.  So why cant they justify   their importance by simply   footing the bill of their electricity consumption?
This   none payment of electricity bills by agents of government at all tiers cast deep aspersion on the integrity and sense of accountability of such institutions in the governance of this nation. This is another act of blatant corruption and misuse of public funds since such public institutions must have budgeted for electricity usage and delivery. This certainly is another Pandora’s box in the Buhari government ’s fight against corruption.  Government should simply ask its institutions of all shapes and sizes, and at all levels to pay what they owe the discos or be ready to face another Dasukigate, this time in the power sector.

Komolafe, an engineer, writes from Ogun State

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