THE Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has confirmed a court order unfreezing the bank accounts of 157 meter asset providers (MAPs), which it had initiated frozen over fraud concerns.
The CBN had, on July 20, asked the Federal High Court in Lokoja, Kogi State, to freeze 10 accounts being operated by the 157 providers for the meter provision programme over an allegation that the companies diverted funds meant for the procurement of prepaid meters.
The apex bank had, in a suit, requested the respective commercial banks to restrict the accounts of the companies that received power sector intervention funds under the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) for 180 days pending the outcome of its investigation.
But the CBN said yesterday that the accounts had, however, been unfrozen.
“The freezing order has been lifted and the MAPS have been invited for further performance monitoring. Discos are not stopped from processing requests for meters. The programme is still ongoing,” the Director of Corporate Communications at the CBN, Osita Nwanisobi, told THE ICIR.
The NMMP phase 1 project was scheduled to take off on August 1.
The current brouhaha between the CBN and the MAPs has raised concerns over continuity in the government’s scheme, which is intended to close gap of about eight million unmetered power consumers in the country.
Many of such consumers are compelled to be using the estimated billing system, which comes with exploitation by distribution companies.
The Executive Director and Convener, PowerUp Nigeria, an electricity consumer rights and policy advocacy organisation, Adetayo Adegbemle, told THE ICIR that the unfreezing of the MAP account has not settled the issues raised regarding the meter fund diversion.
Adegbemle said, “There are still unanswered questions about the fund diversion allegations. It is only the Central Bank that can answer that question for now.”
The MAP policy came into force in 2018 as an interventionist programme to allow third parties close the metering gap for electricity consumers.
The programme is concurrently running alongside the Federal Government’s mass metering programme, which seeks to provide meters free for unmetered electricity consumers and enhance a credible electricity market.
A former chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC), Sam Amadi, told THE ICIR that there was poor coordination in the government’s mass metering policy.
“The mass metering programme is not well coordinated. Discos are using it for revenue management and enhancement instead of using it to close the metering gap.
“Discos are focusing on increasing revenue rather than on efficient meter delivery,” Amadi said.
He urged the government to think up different strategies that would enable it address the myriads of problems confronting the sector.
It would be noted that despite privatisation of power delivery in November 2013, Nigeria’s power sector has been bedevilled with several problems, a situation that has led to various forms of government’s intervention and subsidy in the sector.
For instance, the government embarked on a mass metering programme for power consumers with facility support from the World Bank to the tune of $750 million.
Experts in the power sector say the situation is pushing the government into avoidable debts.
“The government is starved of resources and yet intervening in numerous aspects like mass metering with borrowed facility from the World Bank. This does not speak well of a sector privatised for eight years running,” the president, Nigerian Consumer Protection Network, Kunle Kola Olubiyo, told THE ICIR.
Olubiyo stressed that if the government continued with its interventions in the sector without a proper exit strategy, the essence of the power sector privatisation would be defeated.
He suggested that the Discos should dilute their stakes in the capital market so that Nigerians could invest in them to attract more funding for their projects and power sector investments.
Also, a former commissioner in NERC, Frank Okafor, told THE ICIR that Nigeria needed to close about an eight million metering gap, which he said was continuing to grow as housing infrastructure kept expanding.
Okafor, however, noted that the government was working towards expanding its options in closing the metering gap in order to ensure a credible electricity sector.
Harrison Edeh is a journalist with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, always determined to drive advocacy for good governance through holding public officials and businesses accountable.