Babatunde Fashola, minister of power, works and housing, says the current administration will not succumb to alleged blackmail by electricity distribution companies (DISCOs).
In a statement issued by Hakeem Bello, his media aide, the minister said the companies were threatening the government over outstanding debts, which ministries, departments and agencies (MDA), were owing them.
Fashola alleged that the DISCOs had so far failed to provide details of such debts for verification, insisting that only pay verified debts would be paid.
He also advised the DISCOs to pursue the debt issue in their capacities as distribution companies and not “under the aegis of any association”, pointing out that although the constitution guaranteed freedom of association, the privatisation exercise that led to the transfer of the distribution assets of power was not held between the government and any association, but 11 individual companies.
The minister, who spoke at the opening session of the 10th monthly meeting with power sector operators in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, expressed disappointment that the companies had placed advertorials under the aegis of the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distribution Companies.
Describing the advertorials titled, ‘MDA debts not yet paid’ with other headlines such as ‘MDA pay your debts so that we can serve Nigerians better’, as a blackmail against the federal government, Fashola said: “Let me say without any equivocation that government will not succumb to this blackmail, at least not the federal government of Nigeria.”
He said in their adverts, they failed to tell Nigerians of various meetings seeking solution to the debt problem, and that at the last monthly meeting with them in Sokoto an online platform was provided by government to enable them submit the details of the debts with ease to which none of the DISCOs had complied by the agreed deadline.
“I think that advert should have told the Nigerian public that at our meeting in Sokoto, we provided an online platform where we asked all the DISCOs to submit details of their debts to that platform so that we can verify it,” he said.
“I think that advert should have told Nigerians how many DISCOshave complied with that instruction. That advert should also have told Nigerians how much was owed and to which DISCO.
“It is important to remind Nigerians that the privatisation exercise did not vest the DISCOs in an association instead it was vested in 11 individual companies.
“So while I respect the rights of association; indeed our Constitution allows freedom of association. But the Nigerian government will not pay its debts estimated to be about N100 Billion under the aegis of an association. That is not how to resolve debts. Every DISCO knows how much power it supplied. Debts are not calculated by estimates. It is either N100Billion or less than N100Billion but not an estimate.”
Also faulting the DISCOs on the grounds that the advertorials contained no information as to how many of them had supplied details of their audited account for the last three years, Fashola said the information would be more meaningful for Nigerians to know how many DISCOs were complying with the regulations set by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
“That advert should also have told the Nigerian Public how many DISCOs have gone to court to frustrate the attempt by NERC to hold them to their contracts so that they can pay the GenCos who have been sacrificing, the Gas producers, who have not received any money but have continued to act patriotically,” he said.
“It lies with those who work in the private sector as well, it lies with every Nigerian. If the DISCOs want payment, we will pay but you have to prove that the debt is owed and you have to prove the quantum.”
While stating that he would respond on behalf of government to provide the other side of the information, any time the DISCOsgo to the public without giving them the full information, Fashola added: “Let them do whatever they think is appropriate within the framework of their contract in order to get on with this job.”