Growth in Akwa Ibom in terms of development
Engr Etido Inyang is the Board Chairman, Ibom Power Company Ltd with good insight in power sector development.
In this interview, he examines Governor Udom Emmanuel’s achievements in the sector, the hurdles Ibom Power Company is passing through to stay afloat and the political development in the state.
We understand that power distribution is in the Executive List. Is there no way the State can team up to improve electricity in the State?
We anticipated a lot of issues and resolutions in the power sector before the end of the year. When it all started last year, I think we were getting close to the answer. Then, you must understand that the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC is the controlling body; they are the regulators in the electricity sector in Nigeria.
On the issues of Distribution Companies ( DISCOs), you know in Ibom Power we are generating. We don’t have anything to do with distribution. Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHEDC is in charge of distribution and then Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) as the transmitters.
So when we produce, TCN picks it up, although we are producing currently into the National Grid, so it goes anywhere and we are being regulated by National Control Centre for power.
So, going back to NERC, we all realized that there was problem with the DISCOs in the country and they started suspending the DISCOs. To be honest with you, that was the right direction because most of them sat up. They amended their ways because you see power in the system being pumped more.
Either if is PHEDC of this world, Ikeja Distribution company, among others, all of them, what they do is rationing power. They are not picking the loads. For example, PHEDC here, there was a time they will have up to 200 megawatts at Afaha Ubeh here because that is where they pick up loads for Akwa Ibom basically.
Apart from that is in Itu and then Ikot Inyang in Ikot Ekpene. But we have not started picking up from there yet. There suppose to be a step down station there. You have 100 plus megawatts or 200 megawatts, yet, they are picking up like 20. 20 megawatts for the whole state does not take anything.
On a normal day, the valuation gives us 70 to 80 megawatts and you are picking only 20. So, it is not looking good at all. What then can we do? You have mentioned the issue of Exclusive list which means that electricity is controlled by Federal Government. If NERC had done what it should do; sanction the DISCOs that take pleasure in rationing power.
Sadly, that is not happening and it shows that they are not in control. Nobody is really looking into what the DISCOs are doing. They have a cabal as Discos. They pull it and say this is what we want. If not so, why would NERC backtrack from what they were supposed to do? Erring DISCOs were supposed to be sanctioned and that would serve as deterrent. Others would have sat up and the populace would have power.
Interestingly, the State Governor is pushing every time to change the narrative. We have gone to NERC before and they said yes, whatever you have to do, let us know. And the Governor said I am coming here so that you give me license let me run my power and distribute.
That is when with the issue of Power for All Initiative came in. They opted for Power for All initiative because it will now be in conjunction with PHEDC. That was the Governor’s vision. We hope when we come together, the power that is produced in Ibom Power will now be used in Akwa Ibom.
Akwa Ibom is the only State in the Federation that is about to redeploy that. It is a project that we had groundbreaking by the Vice President himself. The Governor had given the people the assurance that by the end of 2021, the Vice President will come back to commission that project.
We are working assiduously towards the realization of that vision. We have done our evaluation. We are working with the banks. It is basically the State Government, Ibom Power, PHEDC. The three of us are coming together to make sure that happens.
With evaluation, because of COVID-19, I won’t really put my hand to say before the end of the year. But I’m sure that it is happening by first quarter of next year if we miss the target of starting the project this last quarter that we are entering.
We have milestones that have been set up. We can achieve that within the next one year which the Vice President will commission by end of 2021. That’s the option which citizens can enjoy this power.
Also, there have been complaints about tariff rate that is coming up now. I would say that Nigeria needs to review its tariff. But is it time? No! A country that has its citizens in mind will definitely not review its tariff by this time when other countries are actually giving their citizens palliatives in every ramification.
You are not supposed to increase tariff now. I am not against increase in tariff. But I say the timing is wrong.
Do you really see the possibility of this partnership working?
We have been trying to get out of the partnership but we cannot. Even if we go now to register, NERC are the regulators. They have been backtracking. There must be focus from forward looking States like us to get licence and run power. But with the pressure and seriousness of His Excellency, I think we should succeed.
How do you juxtapose the fact that we have a metering company in Akwa Ibom State, yet meters are imported?
Remember that the first phase of the metering is to couple; mostly to bring in parts and couple it here. Initial confusion again was by NERC; buy or don’t buy meters. But now, that has been straightened out that meters have to be bought by every household that wants to own meters.
Now, with the collaboration we have with PHEDC, there is already a procedure that is written out. There is commitment from PHEDC to bring enough meters and it is in tranches. Whether it is 50,000 or 100,000 at a time, when once you finish that, you bring another set then we come in to making sure we give power.
If you want 100 megawatts, Ibom Power will give 100 megawatts every day. Then we sign on paper and they will sign. So everybody will be on stream. The particular situation will be that they won’t need to pick up power anymore. We will just ring-fence and enough power will drop here.
So, when once you have your meter, you’ll have power because 80 per cent will definitely be Pay-as-you-go. You won’t say there is no power. It is for you to buy your own credit and load. 80 percent of the meters that will come in within that time will be Pay-as-you-go.
What percent are we towards the realization of Power for All Initiative?
We may not put it in percentage. Where we are now is for a particular bank to bankroll it. We have three banks that we are talking to. When once we close that out, we commence.
As for the material, everything is on ground, the personnel are on ground. It is just the money part. But, I will like to say it on timing. As we are, if we have money, in this last quarter, we will start. If not, definitely, first quarter of next year will not elude us. With timeline, you will be able to evaluate that.
Is there anywhere the State Government can subsidize the price of the meters for the common man in the village understanding the fact that it is always very exorbitant?
Initially, that would have been possible especially at a time when NERC regulated that meters should be given for free. The State Government was ready to provide logistics to ensure that comes on stream. After that, there were some discussions around individual paying in installment.
After that, NERC came in and said look; it has to be this rate for this particular size of meter, this for the three phase meters and then community meters. This is what they are supposed to be paying and that becomes a policy.
So, all the metering companies are now sticking to that because it has to do with their importations. They are driving their commercial based issues before even going to it. They have taken the final price now and are carrying out importation for it to come in.
But for the communities to have individual meters like doing one house at a time, you know some people may not even consume so much electricity within so many years. So, why do you go to pay N50, 000 for meters?
There is what is called the community meters where like a street in the rural area can say give us one meter and everyone connects from there to pay every month. That is equally done and it is in practice already.
What has really halted the distribution of meters when at first some were distributed free?
NERC gave that particular direction. Now, they have come out to say that you have to pay. Nigeria is putting everything on consumers.
What stage are we towards making the second phase of Ibom Power work? Also, Federal government owed the State. What stage of payment are we?
The greatest beneficiary of The Power For All initiative is Ibom power because before now, we will remit 100 percent of invoice for example N100 million but we will only be paid N20 million. 80 per cent is not being paid because DISCOs are picking only 20 per cent of the power.
So, nationally, NBET will now pay only 20 per cent of your invoice. But over the time, they have tried to pay and they are paying but they have not completed the payment. They will just pay you in tranches. That is why you hear that Federal government has put in a lot of money to Generating Companies (GenCos). That is the deferential because we have to pay the gas company.
Without the gas company, you cannot generate power and yet you are paying 20 per cent. Let me use something reasonable. You give an invoice of N500 million yet you are given N100 million and gas invoice will be N350 million for example. Where will you get the money to pay for the gas.
It was very bad in terms of commercial business for Power Company in the country, if not that federal government is now paying for that deficit. So, what are DISCOs doing? They are only paying 20 per cent.
So, I think the new tariff will now come with responsibility of: You must remit, you must go and meter, and you must pick up load. That is the only way this is going to make sense. We feel the brunch.
So, where are we going to have money to buy gas for you and we generate and send it to the national grid and all you are paying us is 20 per cent. Remember, there are legacies debts to be paid by all the Power Plants.
And currently, the challenges we have is that even when we generate with one turbine 150 megawatts, we cannot send out all the power because Federal Government has not done their own bid of providing the line; the ITU- Aba line to be able to take up load.
When once you want to load this 150 megawatts, they will call you from the control centre that the national grid is fluctuating and cannot take the load, drop to 80, drop to 50 and some days we go to 40 megawatts and you are producing power, manpower, the generator is going down but you are on 40 megawatts because National cannot pick your load.
Does this suggest that with these challenges, there is no need to make the second phase of Ibom power work?
The second phase comes with a new line, right of way, it is just to complete it.
With all these challenges, why then is the State Government still launching the power for All Initiative?
It is the only solution for Ibom Power to stay alive. It is the only solution for the DISCOs to stay alive to their responsibilities and give time for the vision of His Excellency to come alive; which is getting entrepreneurs to come into the state.
Someone mentioned that the Ekim line taking power to the industries aid the industries to be doing very well and that is delightful because for months, they have not experienced any power failure in that line. It means the likes of the Flour Mill, Syringe Industry, there is a plastic industry there at Mkpat Enin and they are enjoying.
So, when you have industries relocate from Aba among other neighbouring states into the State because of constant power that is when everybody will see that it is one of what I should call a catalyst in industrialization.
Ibom Power had owed banks so much especially Diamond Bank. What have you done to defray those debts?
We have been paying a lot of debt. We met N2.5 billion for Diamond Bank and now it is N600 and something million left. I don’t want to mention other debts.
Within our three and half years there, we have paid a lot of debt. In gas, we met so much in billions; we have paid to some extent. We are owing Afreximbank. We have paid to an extent.
Where are you buying your gas from?
From Ako gas at Uquo in Esit Eket. They have a line gas to Ibom power. That was the first line gas in Nigeria. There are certain things we want they come down. We are having discussions with them so that we can have a favourable relationship and rate from them. So, we are having discussions with them.
Since you came into office, what policy thrust have you injected into Ibom Power in line with Governor Udom Emmanuel’s completion agenda ?
We have done a lot of drive. The Engineers are up to their beat. We are going through training. We are ensuring that safety quality is maintained. You see, when you come into a plant and service quality is not maintained, you’ll will have combustion inspection, like now, within few months, we are going on major inspection.
That will be the first time and it is geared for the Plant to be optimal in operation and ready for Power For All. Once we commence, we won’t stop. Major inspection is done once or twice in a lifetime of a plant. But we have run it for 10 years. So, we need to. Ours is also monitored.
We have done combustion inspection before and other quality service. The quality of Engineers, the training they have gotten through, we turned around the management team, the Human Resource team has its own performance system where performance are being crosschecked among others.
Akwa Ibom State is 33, in your assessment, are we reflective of our age?
Akwa Ibom at 33 for me has done very well. I still remember I anchored Akwa Ibom State at 30 in terms of writing, evaluating and making sure we put Akwa Ibom State in perspective at 30. I tell you, series of government over the years have contributed their quota.
I still remember that Governor Udom Emmanuel has taken a lead when it comes to electricity. Maybe in the whole of Akwa Ibom State, there would have been only one substation. And now we have about three substations and other infrastructure have really expanded.
Going to the rural areas, some villages have been highlighted not to have power. So, Rural Development Ministry is working on that.
When you look at Infrastructure Development, this administration has dealt with a lot of roads in the hinterlands, trying to open from the city into the hinterland. In healthcare, Governor Emmanuel has done a lot. In COVID-19, we are congratulated to be outstanding in that sphere.
For the Anniversary, we are going to commission Immanuel Hospital in Eket. I entered there, I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was somewhere else. Should we mention other World Class Medical facilities?
When you put all of these together, this is comparing ourselves with ourselves. If you ask me whether there is growth, I will tell you that there is exponential growth in terms of development in Akwa Ibom State.
And then you compare ourselves with Katsina that is 33 years with us, that is where you see the disparity. Where are we today, where is katsina today? Everybody in Akwa Ibom State have come together.
There is one thing about Akwa Ibom State; you can see the unity among the people. In politics, unity is upheld especially in the tripod that power has to move from here to there. You see unity in the fact that we need to live and let others live. When this brother finishes, this other brother will take up in terms of the Senatorial District.
That is growth. That is what will equally help us when we have unity in all spheres. I want to give a serious kudos to Akwa Ibomites for allowing peace to reign and allowing God to lead us in all ramifications.
What’s the level of Ibom Power‘s relationship with the host community?
The issue of Ibom Power with host community needs a lot of explanation. First, the host community at some point may take us as investors that are just coming from the moon. It is different when the State government is the owner. You know the management reports to the Board and the Board to the Government.
o, if it was an investor that is trying to make money out of the State, it is a different ball game. If this is a plant or company owned by the State Government, we expect a lot of cooperation more than what we are getting.
Like what happened the last time, it was barely from something else which they said that we should give them power. It is not done anywhere in the country.
Power producing companies like Ibom Power cannot give power for free to the host community. This is because there will be intrusion of all companies relocating to that area to tap free power from there. We tried to explain this to them that it cannot happen.
Yes, you need power within. The Government has provided a transformer for a substation there. That does not mean that you’ll not pay the power when we provide that. It is just that the COVID-19 came and revenue accruing to the state is low and government has slowed down.
But the transformer is there and it is just to build in substation and then distribute. Ikot Abasi has power. The problem there is the case of asking Ibom Power to pay for power for them. It is a little misunderstanding but it was resolved.
And then employment, we have a list of employment of immediate community, Ikot Abasi as a whole. You can’t compare. Staff ratio is more like 60/40. Aside from that, we communicate and mingle with the host community. At times, when they want to come hard on us, like the last time that happened, some people were misinformed but we are glad it was resolved.
In the run up to the LG elections, we saw most incumbent LG chairmen given the opportunity to return. As a party man, are you satisfied with the performance of Local Government Chairman at Akwa Ibom at 33, what are your expectations of the incoming LG Chairmen?
The evaluation of Local Government Chairmen will take concerted effort because I don’t have an overview of the whole state. But if I speak for my Local Government, I will say he is doing well and that is why he is going back. We see that it was the stakeholders that accepted that he should go back and we observe rotation.
But going forward, in terms of the new set, there is a lot of awareness in governance. I know that some people really took pains to emerge. They thought it was going to be easy. I believe that we will get to the next step in terms of performance. So, people should be aware that there is a lot of expectations on them now.
Since that awareness is there, I believe people are really going to do well in the local government administration.
What is frustrating the completion of the substation at Ibom Airport which started in Obong Attah’s era?
There is a substation but it was not completed. The contractor did not finish it. There was a dedicated line. One thing is to have a substation and you now bring the power there. During the administration of Governor Akpabio, there was no dedicated line and what you need at an Airport is a dedicated line so that when planes are landing in the night power will not go off.
We don’t want that to happen. That dedicated line, His Excellency Governor Udom Emmanuel has done it. He has fixed the power station there but I think the contractor is the one holding it. They are suppose to finish part of their job so that we can now merge it with the line. But I know the SA Power is working on it to be resolved. So, it is not a case of frustrating the project.
I know during Akpabio’s time, there was no enough money to complete it. They didn’t put in enough money. If N100 million was needed, complete N100 million was not paid all to the extent of completion.
And now, even if we had completed it then, they needed a dedicated line for power to come in. At some point, they have done the ring-fencing of the power distribution and brought it to that power substation. So, I just believe a little bit of pressure on the contractor, he will complete the work.