Energy

FG may suspend distribution of free four million meters

Phase 1 of the National Mass Metering Programme slated for distribution in August, funded by the Federal Government has been halted following allegations of fraud against some of the Meter Asset Providers by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

An anonymous source told The PUNCH that power distribution companies were yet to be furnished with meters which indicates that the Phase 1 meter distribution is on hold.

NMMP is an initiative of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, in alias with the Presidential Power Task Force, launched in August 2020 to allow the CBN to fund the acquisition of meters on behalf of DisCos by paying directly to the MAPs.

The free metering programme commenced with Phase 0 where one million meters were supposed to have been distributed.

CBN, however, on July 20, prayed the Kogi Federal High Court in Lokoja to freeze accounts belonging to 157 MAPs for allegedly diverting funds meant for the procurement of prepaid meters.

In its subpoena, CBN demanded the commercial banks ban the account of 10 companies that received power sector intervention funds under the NMMP for 180 days pending the outcome of its investigation.

In relation to the court case, it was learnt on Sunday that the free mass programme had also been suspended till further notice.

A source told The Punch that the DisCos had accused some MAPs of not supplying them with enough meters during the last visits by the CBN to the DisCos’ offices.

“The CBN visited the DisCos to audit their books and see what they used the intervention funds given to them for. It was during the visits that it was discovered that some of the MAPs had failed to deliver enough meters for distribution. Before the NMMP commenced; what we were told by the MAPs was that they had enough local capacity to meet demands. But after the CBN signed the contract with them and disbursed money to them, they failed to meet their target. They saw free money,” one of our sources had hinted.

The lawsuit filed by the CBN partly said, “The Central Bank of Nigeria reviewed the activities of 12, including the defendants herein Meter Asset Providers (MAPs) alleged to have diverted the Central Bank of Nigeria’s power sector intervention funds under the National Mass Metering Programme.

“The review was aimed at ascertaining the flow of the funds made available to the MAPs, covering the period between January 1, 2020, to March 15, 2022. The preliminary review revealed that the defendants diverted a substantial portion of the funds for other uses through related entities and individuals/companies connected to the electricity distribution companies (DisCos) and the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).”

The apex bank had invested to the tune of N254.4 billion in its intervention support programme through the Nigeria Electricity Market Stabilization Facility – Phase 2, NEMSF-2 to the power sector.

In the last Monetary Policy Committee meeting, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele said it disbursed about N47.8 billion for about 865,956 meters across the country.

“Under the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP), the Bank disbursed N47.82 billion for the procurement and installation of 865,956 meters across the country,” Emefiele said.

The spokesperson for CBN, Osita Nwanisobi, declined to comment on the matter when contacted.

The NERC, on its part, said it created the initiative in response to President Buhari’s order that Nigerians must be metered. “The President has directed that there should be a nationwide mass-metering program in an effort by the Federal Government to put a stop to estimated and arbitrary billing for electricity.”

The Commission had recently spoken of the success of Phase 0 and revealed it had shortlisted 45 companies for the next phase. It added that; “We are hoping that before the end of August, we will begin to see meters from our local manufacturers going to the electricity Distribution Companies and then to end-user customers.”

Both calls and messages put through to the General Manager/Head of Public Affairs Department, NERC, Usman Abba Arabi, were not responded to at the time of filing this report.

One of the accused MAPs, Mojec Meter Asset Management Company Ltd, told The PUNCH that it fully discharged its obligations of manufacturing, supplies, and installation of meters for all eight DisCos it was assigned. The company also pointed out that it was issued certificates of completion by all the eight DisCo clients as proof of execution of its contractual obligations on the initiative, according to Corporate Communications Manager, MOJEC International Group, Olufunso Adeolu.

“Mojec is ready to release all meter serial numbers produced in its factories, together with records of waybills of all in-Country volumes of meters it delivered to the various DisCos under the initiative,” Adeolu added.

The PUNCH was unable to get comments from other accused MAPs until the time of filing the report.

Metering Expert, Okunade Sesan, said that it was better for the NMMP to be scrapped so that citizens would be allowed to buy their own meters.

“The CBN refusing to disburse funds for the next phase of the metering is going to cause a setback. It would even be better for electricity consumers to take their fate into their hands and buy their meters. Then, NERC can arrange for monthly refunds through electricity units,” he said.

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