Jos — Mohammed Gidado Modibbo is the Managing Director, Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JEDC) covering Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe and Benue states. In this interview, he denied the sacking of about 2000 staff by his company and also speaks on the controversy surrounding its metering programme.
Some months ago your company was ordered to suspend installation of meters after a request to the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency by some groups, has the issue been resolved?
Yes, some months back there was a protest filed by Coalition of Plateau Communities requesting that meters we were installing be checked because of the reading by the meters. Also in April this year, the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) which is saddle with the responsibilities of certifying the meters that we imported, requested that we suspend all metering activities until the meters are certified by the test station in Kaduna.
The agency directed that all the meters that have been procured by our company in the past one year be submitted to Kaduna for test. We complied with the directive and we are happy to report that in August, the agency responsible for testing of the meters told us that there was absolutely nothing wrong with our meters. They are certified okay and we have been given the go ahead to continue with the installation of meters.
What did you do after you got the green light to install the meters?
Since then we have done a number of things. We engaged the various communities and our customers in order to ensure that they are well educated on why we needed to install meters.
Secondly, we brought to their attention that the meters that have been procured were tested by the appropriate Nigerian government agency which has given us the green light to resume metering.
We had on October 4 called for elaborate consultation where we interacted with major stakeholders of the society and we spoke to traditional rulers, legislative and executive arms of government and various civil society organisations. We educated them on the need to embrace this new system of metering. Now we are happy to announce that with all of these communication and interactions with our customers, we started the installation on 19th October, 2017 and we officially resumed our mass metering programme across the four states under our franchise areas, which include, Bauchi, Gombe, Benue and Plateau.
Before the exercise was suspended, how many meters were you able to install?
Before the exercise was suspended, we had installed about 26,000 meters and I assure you that within next two or three months we are going to install an additional 40, 000 meters to cover the gap and the time we lost over the last five months trying to resolve the issues with our customers and the regulators of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency.
The rate of bypass of meters is said to be very high, what is your company is doing to checkmate tampering with meters?
Customers should ensure they avoid anything that would lead to bypass or tampering of their meters. We have in the last three months embarked on a massive prosecution of those that have tampered with meters, and we are going to step up on that because the rate at which people tamper with their meters is very high. We are not going to accept a situation where something is supplied and it is not paid for.
What are the advantages of these meters that your company wants to install free for its customers?
With these meters, the customers can regulate the consumption of light, unlike the estimated billing or post-paid where they hardly notice their units. They can manage their own consumption and it makes them to pay for what they consumed. To the distribution companies, it releases the load on our equipment, and it also spreads the energy across to the other areas where demand is high.
There were cases in which some customers paid their bills yet get disconnected because they are said to have made the payment to fraudsters. What is your company doing to ensure that payment is done into the right channel?
Our customers would now pay their bills through Point of Sales (POS) agents, USSD Short Codes, and mobile applications and online sites, conveniently 24/7 from the comfort of their living rooms.
All these are efforts to disabuse the minds of customers from paying cash to our staff, because whenever cash is paid to people, the tendency that your money is diverted is very high. These channels of payment would check fraud and non-reflection of what they have paid for. They can also go to all the commercial banks to make their payment.
There is also the rumour that JEDC has sacked about 2000 staff. What is the true situation?
On a continuous basis, JEDC reviewed its staffing policy to align with needs of the company. It is true that we disengaged some of our staff, but we didn't disengage up to 2000 staff. We didn't disengage even close to 1000. As we do the disengagement, we equally engage. And if you look at the history of this company, in the past four years, the number of people that we have engaged is far more than the number we have disengaged.
Can you be specific on the staff you have disengaged?
I don't want to give a number that is incorrect because, in the past three years, apparently over every week we have cases of disengagement. It is possible we have disengaged some people today. It is an ongoing exercise, it is a daily exercise. We may have disengaged about 500 in the last six months and in the last two we equally may have engaged more than 1,600
I want you to know that before the disengagement, we had an interaction with labour unions and we told them we are not going to continue with people that would contribute below 10% into the system. And I told all those that were disengaged to come to me and say 'I was disengaged wrongly because I have been performing and these are my results'. I assure you if that staff is right, we are going to review and reverse the decision.
Those disengaged were staff that have worked for over 30 years; some were over 60 years in the system, some with low productivity. Some were engaged in fraud.
What is your call to the general public?
I wish to appeal to the general public that should any one of them have any query or issue to resolve after this metering, our doors are open; we welcome any suggestions or recommendations, and we would urge them to understand with us that this is a major requirement for us to put the issue of power problem behind in this country.
Without efficient management of electricity and collection of revenue, no matter how much government sinks in the sector, it would collapse. People must cultivate the habit of paying for what they consume; this is the product that is produce at a cost, and it is sent to us, we are only retailers of electricity, we purchase this power from Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) and NBET purchased the power from GenCos.
The GenCos also buy gas to produce power, it is a product being generated at a cost, and being sold to consumers. When we get involved in practices that would impede the ability of GenCos to generate revenue that is required to pay off these bills, then we are not only affecting the distribution of electricity, we are affecting the value chain of electricity production at large.