The electricity tariff hike is already taking its toll on the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, as the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC), the private power distribution firm in charge of power supply to the institution, has disconnected the university from its supply.
Since January 5, the entire university campus, including the academic areas, staff quarters and hostels have been thrown into darkness as a result of the disconnection.
While parts of the academic area are supplied irregular light from the university’s central generator, residents of the staff quarters and officials in charge of the hostels have been without light in the last four days.
The university management has blamed IBEDC for the development, saying the distribution company unjustly hiked its bills for the months of October and December 2020.
But the electricity company has denied the allegation, saying the university was billed based on the approved template by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
The vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, had earlier warned that if the new tariff regime is not reversed, most academic institutions would be disconnected from public power supply.
He said the new bills are clearly unfordable for the academic institutions and that these institutions must look out for sustainable alternatives towards ensuring smooth academic and non-academic activities whenever the institutions are reopened.
The Nigerian universities have been shut since March, 2020, when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on a prolonged industrial action, paralysing activities on the campuses nationwide.
Though ASUU has since suspended its strike in December 2020, the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has necessitated the continued shutdown of the institutions.
Meanwhile, workers at the OAU have begun to count their losses, saying the power outage has further compounded their pains as researchers.
Reasons for the disconnection
According to the power distribution company, based on the number of hours the light is supplied to the campus, OAU belongs to “Band A” and it is charged N56.78 per kilowatt “because it gets power supply for an average of 20 hours per day.”
Based on the new categorisation, the company said a bill of N44,243,136.02 was sent to the university for the month of October but that the institution only paid N25 million, leaving a balance of N19 million.
Findings by this newspaper revealed that following federal government’s intervention that the new tariff regime should be halted, the university received an old rate of about N32 million for the month of November, which was paid promptly.
However, for the month of December, IBEDC billed the university a total of N56,350,743.20 which the institution claimed was not only arbitrary but also illegal.
According to the university’s vice-chancellor, Eyitope Ogunbodede, the management of the institution was not aware when the embargo placed on the implementation of the new tariff regime was lifted, and so could not afford to pay the new bills.
But according to IBEDC spokesperson, Busolami Tunwase, based on the company’s calculation, the university is owing the company a total N43 million.
Speaking on the phone with our reporter, Ms Tunwase said; “IBEDC never closes its channels of communication to the institution. Various letters were sent and meetings held, and we are still willing to sit with the university management over this again.”
New rate unaffordable –VC
The university’s vice-chancellor has kicked against the new tariff regime, insisting that the institution cannot afford to spend such huge resources on power supply alone.
Speaking on the phone with our reporter, Mr Ogunbodede said the total money annually released as overhead cost to run the university is less than N100 million.
He said; “Honestly, the last bill they brought is N56 million and students are not on campus. Imagine if students were to be on the campus, then we would be paying far above N100 million per month. The overhead for the whole year in our budget is less than 100 million. Not one month, but for the whole year.
“So, by the time we start paying 100 million for electricity per month, there’s no way the university will be able to cope with that. They are claiming they put us on commercial rate, why must a university be put on a commercial rate?”
Workers’ union counts losses
Reacting to the development in a telephone chat with our reporter, the chairman of the university’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Adeola Egbedokun, said the fact that students are not on the campus does not mean that academic works including researches, result processes, among other activities are not ongoing.
Describing the situation as unfortunate, Mr Egbedokun said most of these duties have been stalled since the issue of power outage started.
He said; “I must also mention that it has been extremely challenging for academic staff members to cope with the situation, since all resources and works are 100 per cent tied to electricity. Colleagues in the Chemical, Health and Biological sciences must be under serious pressure in terms of their specimens that must be kept under a specific cooling temperature. Internet supply have been truncated thus result processing officers and HoDs cannot perform their tasks.
“In fact, course lecturers cannot load results because of this challenge. Even in the staff quarters, many must have stocked their freezers for their families but this power cut would have seriously troubled them. The various businesses are not spared. We have an unbearable situation at hand, considering the economic situation of the country; salaries are either not paid or mutilated, the value of naira is crashing every hour and running on generator is too expensive. Really, it is not a friendly situation at all.”
He said his union had engaged the university management on the matter and that modalities towards restoring the power supply is currently being pursued.
Varsity in search of solution
Mr Ogunbode told PREMIUM TIMES that the university has set up a committee to address the challenge and that the committee is currently weighing options available towards an enduring solution.
He said; “We have set up a committee to look into the matter. The remedies to take are that; we need to reduce our electricity consumption, we need to look for an alternative source of power and number we need to look at our gas project. So, if we spend the N56 million payment per month on solar, it will go a long way. As a university, we are rethinking our electricity supply.”
The vice-chancellor also addressed the issue of water crisis on campus. He confirmed the claim that lecturers had to dig personal boreholes in their official quarters and blamed the development on the analogue system installed at the university’s dam, which was constructed in 1981.
Mr Ogunbodede, however, thanked the federal ministry of water resources for coming to the university’s aid, saying the water supply system has been digitised and that new pipes are currently being laid to replace the old ones.
“Now as I’m speaking, all the pumping machines have been changed to digital but we also need to change the pipe because when you pump under high pressure some of the pipes will burst. Regarding this, we have concluded a project to lay the pipes and the ministry is also supporting us. In fact, we have even put tanks on top of the hill, so that water can drop to some other parts of the campus. The issue of water is better now and we aren’t discouraging those that have boreholes already,” the vice-chancellor said.
The vice-chancellor added that the university spends as much as N2 million every two weeks to purchase alum to prepare the water for supply. He said running universities in Nigeria is a big task for the administrators.
As universities groan, financial scandal rocks NERC
While customers of the power distribution companies including individuals and academic institutions continue to groan under the heavy weight of increased tariff regime, the board of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has been accused of being profligate with the commission’s finances.
A recent report by PREMIUM TIMES has exposed how the commission’s board members have illegally paid themselves billions as salaries, severance entitlements and purchased exotic cars, which were allegedly registered in their names.
The immediate past chairman of the commission, James Momoh, confirmed to this newspaper that the allegations may not be totally untrue. He said the men of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had sought explanations on the matter and that his board provided answers. He added that all decisions taken by the board concerning the allegations were jointly taken by all the members of the board.
It is noteworthy that the NERC, by the law establishing it, is funded through 1.5 per cent of charges paid to the distribution companies by electricity customers.
However, many weeks after the report by this newspaper, no relevant arm of the country’s government has deemed it necessary to query the commission.
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