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Hostilities, Lawsuits Threatening Regular Power Supply In PH

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The Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED) is seen since early 2020 to have taken bold steps aimed at subduing its challenges including perennial revenue loss and inadequate load from the national grid. The Disco is seen to rather initiate homegrown solutions so as to boost power supply in its four states of Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross River.
This is said to be to support industrialisation and economic growth which only adequate power supply can push. PHED’s new Managing Director, Henry Ajagbawa, a professional chartered accountant with a doctorate degree to his belt, had informed newsmen that the Disco has worked hard with other partners to build a sub-station at Rumosi near Port Harcourt to boost power available for distribution, something that is not its duty.
The PHED under Ajagbawa has also confronted revenue loss by hiring over 355 workers to man the transformers and contend with customers to extract PHED’s revenue through effective bill distribution, monitoring and supervision. Revenue is said to have risen first from N1.8bn per month to N2.2bn and now N2.7bn. The loss per month has reduced to about N2.5bn.
The measures that plugged various loopholes through persons within and outside were diverting revenue or even stealing power seem to have annoyed some categories of persons. Now, apparently out of frustration, some have resorted to open physical attacks on PHED technicians (linesmen) trying to disconnect erring lines while some bypass consumers have rather taken to lawsuits to restore their stealing projects.
Most citizens have hailed this push by most Discos including the PHED seen to be working hard with the Federal Government in a renewed push to bring adequate power supply to Nigerians as a key factor for industrialization and economic growth.
The power sector is relatively one of the most challenged in Nigeria. The defunct NEPA, like many government owned and managed entities, was unable to make much inroad in resolving them which led to its unbundling and the subsequent privatization of the sector. GENCOS, TCN AND DICOS make up the present power sector in Nigeria today.
Since inception, the electricity distribution companies (Discos), in collaboration with the Federal Government, have made concerted efforts to sanitize the power sector and are determined to provide adequate power supply to Nigerians as power is considered a key factor for industrialization and economic growth.
This drive is, however, being hampered in Port Harcourt by a disturbing trend of hostility ranging from outright violence against PHED workers to lawsuits. More worrisome is the fact that most of these actions are carried out by people who are caught in criminal act relating to  illegal connection, meter bypass or non payment of bills; persons that ought to be apprehended and prosecuted by law enforcement agents.
The most pervasive of these crimes is meter bypass, one that is embraced by most prepaid meter users. The very rich and elites are not left out in this act although they can well afford to pay for energy consumption. Sadly, this category of persons are conversant with the consequences of their action but still indulge in the act and would rather secure court injunctions against the company and pay their way through to evade prosecution rather than pay their bills.
The effect of this is that Discos lose a lot of money and are therefore unable to meet their obligations to the Gencos and the TCN for power generation and transmission. For instance, the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Plc (PHED) loses monthly revenue of N2.5 billion to energy theft alone. This, no doubt, impairs their operations and results in inadequate power supply.
Furthermore, it also hampers the Discos ability to replace obsolete items with new ones for effective distribution of power. The cost of procurement, installation, maintenance and repairs of their infrastructure is huge and so the loss of income to energy theft significantly affects their efficiency.
Consequently, anyone, no matter the status or social standing, who encourages energy theft, either by omission or commission, should be considered an enemy of the society because their action or inaction has far-reaching effect on the Nigerian economy and the nation’s collective goodwill. It is an economic sabotage.
Violence against staff is another menace bedeviling the Discos. Staff members, in many instances, have been attacked by the public/thugs for merely carrying out their duties. A recent case in point is the one involving a former Commissioner in Bayelsa State who unleashed his thugs on PHED staff. The staff members were beaten up and are still in the hospital where they are receiving treatment. Their crime is that they tried to carry out their duties to ensure service is delivered to Nigerians.
The new trend of attacks seems to come from those who can no longer easily steal electricity like before. Some even attack or visit vindictiveness on any electricity worker living in their midst who did not want to close his eye to bypass. A PHED engineer, Magnus Uchechukwu, suffered such and was eventually framed of murder charge and was detained for almost two months in the State CID by his co-tenants.
Another big challenge confronting the Discos is incessant court cases against them by the rich and elites in society. Cases abound where they secure all manner of injunctions which all but compel the Discos to supply them free energy. The question then is, who pays for that? Should Peter be robbed to pay Paul? Also, are the Discos obliged to pander to the whims and caprices of the rich and influential? The judiciary is complicit in this regard and their action undermines the Federal Government’s resolve to fix the power sector.
Fixing power is a collective effort but could be easily undermined. As much as the Discos are expected to operate in accordance with global best practices, the public, on the other hand, is required to shun illegal and pernicious acts that are inimical to the power sector transformation. Payment of bills is, in fact, sine qua non and a duty the public owes the society.
Harassment, intimidation and oppression of PHED staff are not a way to resolving issues. Observers point to the mechanism in place for conflict resolution in the sector where aggrieved customers are encouraged to exhaust the dispute resolution window before recourse to the courts. It means well in all related issues.
Observers said there should be a clarion call for the public to partner with the Discos for improved service delivery in the power sector to foster a complementary growth in the economy. Resort to physical violence and lawsuits is not in the best interest of the public.

Chukwu, a journalist, writes from Port Harcourt.

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Oil & Energy

BUA Group, A’Ibom Sign MoU For Refinery’s Access Road

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Bua Group has signed a memorandum of understanding, (MoU), with Akwa Ibom State Government, and the host communities in Ibeno Local Government Area, for the construction of access road to the proposed Bua Refinery and Petrochemical plant site in Ibeno, last week.
Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Power and Petroleum Development, Dr. John Etim, who presided over the signing of the MoU, applauded BUA for their commitment to the project, prompt documentation and the preparation of the site towards the construction of the refinery.
Etim said that the refinery project will bridge the gap between host communities and Akwa Ibom State, thereby bringing about more developments in the oil and gas sector of the State.
The Commissioner called on all parties concerned to be committed to the terms of agreement and to ensure that peace dominates their relationship, while appealing to the host communities to protect the facilities which is now in their custody
“The refinery and petrochemical project is in line with the Governor’s vision to industrialise the State, develop local capacity in key industries where value can be added and raw materials sourced locally.”
Speaking shortly after the MoU signing, the Chairman of Ibeno local government, Williams Mkpa, expressed delight over the development, describing it as a giant stride in the industrialisation vision of the Akwa Ibom State Government.
The paramount ruler of the area, Owong Effiong Archianga, assured the company of his people’s unalloyed support and cooperation to see to the actualisation of the project.

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Oil & Energy

CSO Urges Oil Communities To Challenge PIA In Court

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A Civil Society Organisation, Policy Alert, has faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s signing of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, urging communities to test the provisions of the Act before the courts.
President Buhari had signed the erstwhile Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, into law last Monday amidst protests from community groups and many other stakeholders that the Bill do not adequately cover the rights and interests of the host communities.
In a statement signed by its Communications and Stakeholders Engagement Officer, Mrs. Nneka Luke-Ndumere, Policy Alert, which is working for economic and ecological justice, described the presidential assent to the PIB as “grossly insensitive and problematic.
“It is sad that the bill has been assented to in the most controversial manner despite its many obvious flaws and its rejection by many stakeholders,” the statement read.
It added: “For example, the controversial provision for a direct payment of 30 percent profit oil and profit gas to the Frontier Exploration Fund potentially shortchanges the oil producing states and local governments of some of its thirteen percent derivation as it bypasses the requirement in section 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides that all revenues be channeled through the federation account.
“This is most unfair, viewed against the ceding of only three percent of previous years’ operating expenses to the Host Communities Development Trust Fund and the punitive provision to charge costs of any damage to facilities against the community’s Fund, among other obnoxious provisions.
“That Mr. President has gone ahead to give assent to these vexing provisions only reinforces the politics of exclusion and expropriation that has for long characterised the relationship between the Nigerian state and the oil producing communities.
“We are also concerned that the host communities’ component of the legislation flies in the face of one of its stated objectives to address tensions between host communities and companies as it has all the ingredients for escalating rather than abating such conflicts.
“At a time when fossil fuel investments are being deprioritised elsewhere as a result of the global energy transition, it is unfortunate that this Act failed to provide a bridge between the current era of fossil fuel dependency and the low-carbon energy future that Nigeria aspires to within the framework of government’s much vaunted commitments under the Paris Agreement.”
The statement also said: “Granted, the new legal framework introduces some predictability and clarity to the governance and fiscal arrangements in the oil and gas industry. We are also not oblivious to certain clauses that respond to some of our earlier demands, such as those providing that the Board of Trustees of the Host Communities Development Trust will now be determined in consultation with the host communities, with  membership drawn from community members. But that is just as far as it goes.
“As a tool for improved benefit sharing to host communities, the Act falls flat on its face. It actually ridicules the exertions of the host communities and advocacy groups that have clamoured over the years for a law that yields some space for participation, direct socio-economic benefits and environmental remediation for oil-rich communities.
“The theatre of action will now have to move to the communities and the courts of law. As implementation of the Act gets underway over the next 12 months, we urge host communities and civil society groups to begin to seek interpretation of some of its more controversial provisions before the courts.”

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Oil & Energy

Kyari Tasks Greenfield Refinery On Fuel Importation

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The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari, has charged members of the Board of the NNPC Greenfield Refinery Limited (NGRL), to explore all available options to bring an end to the current challenge of petroleum products importation.
Mallam Kyari gave the charge Thursday while inaugurating the Board of the newly incorporated subsidiary of the Corporation, NNPC Greenfield Refinery Limited (NGRL), at the NNPC Towers, Abuja.
The NNPC Greenfield Refinery Limited is a subsidiary of the Corporation set up in December 2020 with a mandate to oversee the establishment and operation of new refineries.
The GMD, who is also the Chairman of the NGRL Board, challenged members of the Board to focus on profitability in order to remain afloat and avoid liquidation.
“As a business, this is a big opportunity for us and this company’s balance sheet must change positively. Going forward, with the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), I can tell you that if you continue to post negative for three years, you are out. So, there is really no excuse”, Mallam Kyari stated.
He urged the Board and Management Team of the new company to set up a proper structure with the required skills, technology and financing to drive the company’s operations, adding that he was optimistic that the company would be able to achieve its mandate.
“Our company must grow and we can’t do well except we are able to process our production whether it is the liquid or gas. If we don’t monetise it then we have done nothing. This is really a new chapter and we are committed to making it work,” he said.
The NNPC helmsman stated that all the Corporation’s initiatives in the areas of new refineries, condensate refineries and equity acquisition in credible private refineries were geared towards ensuring energy security for the country.
In his remarks, the Alternate Chairman of the Board and Group Executive Director, Refinery and Petrochemicals, Engr. Mustapha Yakubu, declared that the operations of the company would be guided by the principles of cost effectiveness in line with the new Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), noting that profitability would be the key focus.
Speaking in similar vein, the Group General Manager, Greenfield Refineries and Project Division (GRPD) and Managing Director of the NGRL, Engr. Bege Talson, disclosed that the Division was working with third party investors to establish greenfield, modular and condensate refineries with a combined capacity of 250,000barrels per stream day (bpsd).

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