You said IBEDC is the best distribution company in Nigeria, can you buttress that?
It is not a statement from me. It is a statement that is backed up by law. As you are aware, we have the regulatory agency which benchmark every Distribution Company (DISCO) and rank us every quarter. In the last ranking, we came first. In ranking us, they looked at our operations, innovations, customer service and issue that borders on Health, Safety and Environment (HSE), infrastructure development and payment within the business environment, the market. All these things put together makes us number one.
Why do you think you had that kind of success?
We couldn’t have had anything less than that. If you look at our logo, it says ‘We will make life better for everybody.’ We cannot have that kind of logo and be left behind, because then we cannot say we are making life better for everybody. It is a mandate that we have from our Board. It is something that we take very seriously, especially, customer service. This is because good customer service would give you better result. If you have bad customer service, people would use their mouth to destroy you and they would not take your services seriously.
So, do you mean your customers are satisfied with your services?
Of course, go anywhere in Ibadan and find out. But it would be very shallow, for me to say everybody is happy, because while we are talking, some areas may have low supply for many reasons, not because the fault is ours. Those ones won’t say they are happy. But we try to meet our customers’ needs and I think we are not doing badly in that.
As a DISCO, there are lots of peculiar challenges among 11 of you. How is Ibadan coping and managing to weather these challenges?
There isn’t too many peculiarities or challenges, most challenges are what you would find in many other DISCO- metering plan not adequately funded or executed; customers enumeration that you would want to do, funding is limiting you; generally, liquidity and people not wanting to pay their bills. It is general to all us. And since we have a lot of rural areas, rural dwellers or rural classification in our bills, R1 and R2, they constitute 60 per cent of our energy need and they are most difficult. They are the people you would have to chase back and forth to get them to pay. Some would just not pay; some don’t even have money to pay anyway. Peculiar problem will include the fact that we are almost buried in a civil service state and if you look at most of the states that we are resident, some have not received salaries for three, four and five months, so payment of electricity is a different thing. They would say they do not have and cannot pay. It is one of our problems.
NERC has issued an instruction on CAPMI….?
They asked us to discontinue the CAPMI that was in existence even before the sale of the electricity companies. They didn’t say they are against the CAPMI as a programme, but that the CAPMI is not even made for this type of business venture, so we should discontinue it and create a new system purely by ourselves.
What does the former CAPMI entails?
The former CAPMI said people can buy meters by themselves; because of the liquidity in the system, they buy meters, but you must install the meters within 45 days. This is because people were saying they would wait for long periods, yet no meter. So if you want meters within 45 days, you pay within the CAPMI.
The law mandates us that when the meter is installed, each time the person gets a bill; he must see evidence that he is getting a refund. Refund in terms of energy. For example, if you vend for 500, they may give you 700 watts, until we liquidate your money, with interest.
Is Ibadan already taken off with the new CAPMI?
No, the present CAPMI ends by the end of this month, so really, one cannot be talking about a new CAPMI. But definitely, we need to start a new programme, with effect from this month. By beginning of October, we are coming out with our own type of arrangement. I don‘t want to say CAPMI, because CAPMI has been abolished, but whatever name we give to it, it would be structured close to what we have in CAPMI. But it would be a willing buyer, willing seller. You cannot be cajoled to it; you voluntarily accept to go into it.
So would it help in addressing the billing or the metering system?
No, it is supposed to help in the liquidity area, such that there is money for the meter, even though it is like borrowing the money to us, therefore, getting the meter should not be much of a problem to us, like when we need to look for both the money and the meter. Now, we only need to look for the meter, not the money.
How do you source the meters? Do you use locally manufactured meters?
As a matter of policy, under CAPMI, not necessarily because in CAPMI, we get contractors willing to supply us meters, we don’t tie their hands that it is must be locally made. But meters that we buy on our own are 100 per cent manufactured in Nigeria.
That means you are promoting local content?
If we don’t promote it, who would promote it for us? That means we would be taking all our money every time to China or Portugal. We insist that if you are not manufacturing in Nigeria, we won’t buy meter from you. Even from next year, any type of CAPMI-related issues that we are doing, if you are not manufacturing in Nigeria, we will insist that you do. We are not saying that you cannot operate without us, but you must go and source meters from local manufacturers, because that is our own way of promoting local products.
What about transformers?
There is no one that is making transformers in Nigeria today…
There is a company over there…
You know, transformer is a higher level of technology. I have not seen anyone that is really producing it. People keep coming to make claims, but if we are satisfied with them, we would insist on patronizing local manufacturers. If any local company can meet our demand, we won’t go anywhere for it.
How does power generation in Nigeria today affects you?
I am into this business and I understand it perfectly. I don’t join people saying it is one megawatt today and all that, because, really to me, it doesn’t make sense. What people need is energy. How much energy do you have? Energy is power over time. So because you may say at one o’ clock, you are supplying 3,000MW, one minute or two minutes after that, anything can happen. You might scale up. Energy per unit time is power; per one time, kilowatts, just one shot. But over time, you find that there is a variation.
Yes, we are all struggling with it, and that is why we are going into partnership with those who want to do embedded generation, whereby people would generate power within our franchise, but with a difference. We are not just buying the power from them; we target the power to some of our big customers. That would relieve us from servicing the big customers and we would use the remaining power for other people. This embedded power would definitely be more expensive than normal power.
Are you saying embedded generation is the solution to our power crisis?
All over the world, embedded power is not the answer to anything. It is a temporary solution to the nation’s power problem, pending the time the system would grow. Embedded can never be a solution. It is just to help in the face of scarcity, it provides a service for a couple of years, pending the time that the country would grow, or when companies would grow their system.
Generally, what do you think is your customers’ impression of IBEDC?
Fantastic! Go there and interview them. It is fantastic. We have good customer relations and we meet with them, and we have zero tolerance for people being rude to their customers, or people who go out to cheat their customers.
You don’t have issues of uncaptured metering system?
That one would always remain. Even in the United States, you still have issues of meter or of people still trying to bypass meters. That is why our structure of metering is different from many others. We put meters on the pole and they still go there to bypass it. That is why we have reduced the number of prepayment that we do. Because we spend so much money on prepayment, yet they still bypass, which means we still need staff to go there and monitor. That is why we go for the cheap post-paid meter. The type we buy now has electronic reading devices. I can stay in a street and take 10 to 15 meter readings at a go and move on. I don’t need to go to anybody’s house. It would eliminate interference of people wanting to write N1, 000 but end up writing N10, 000 and vice versa.
What about the issue of vandalism?
It is there, it is part if the system. Vandalism is just something that we have to live with. They cut gas pipeline and others.
…But how do you cope with these kinds of challenges, and still be the best?
Best doesn’t mean we are the best worldwide. I mean, we can’t sing our praises and say we are the best worldwide. They say when you are in the city of the blind; the one-eyed man is a superstar. We still have a lot of challenges and we need to grow; we need to improve on our services. It is just a way of telling us that we are doing well, but we have not reached there. It is just a path for us to move on and be better.
Do you think we are getting it right in terms of power?
I won’t stay here and tell anybody we are getting it right totally. But IBEDC is trying to get it right, because that is the only thing I can tell you. I can’t tell what is happening in other DISCOs, what they are doing or their challenges. For IBEDC, we have started on the right path, and we are climbing up, we are moving and we will get there.