Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd has paid only N1m in electricity bills in nine quarters of reporting on the electricity industry by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission.

The inactive company has been billed for power supplies worth at least N3.71bn within this window, although there are discrepancies in the data published by the commission, SaharaReporters has gathered.

Since its commissioning in 1983 by then President Shehu Shagari, the steel mill has stayed idle but has still managed to pile a substantial deficit on the overburdened electricity industry.

The government-owned entity is designated in the regulator’s reports as a special customer and distinguished from other distribution companies along with Nigeria’s two foreign electricity buyers – CEB which supplies 200mw of power to Benin Republic and Nigelec which transmits 100mw of energy to Niger Republic. 

These three companies failed to make any remittance to the government in nine of the ten reports released by NERC, covering the third quarter of 2017 till the fourth quarter of 2019.

2017 Records

The first NERC publication on the Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) was for the third quarter of 2017. In this period, the commission failed to break down the monies owed by Ajaokuta and its foreign co-debtors but said:

“During the third quarter, the total invoice issued to international customers (CEB/SAKETE and NIGELEC) and the special customers (Ajaokuta) stood at ₦21 billion. However, no payment was received from these customers during the quarter under review.

“On account of the bilateral nature of the export of energy to the Republics of Niger and Benin, efforts are being made at the appropriate levels to ensure that the utilities pay for the energy supplied from Nigeria.” Although it grouped the steel mill’s spending with the other two, the regulator only addressed the deficit owed by the foreign firm and said nothing about retrieving its monies from the derelict entity.

In the last three months of the year, the pattern was repeated. The unpaid bills owed by Ajaokuta was not separated from the debt incurred by the utility firms buying power from Nigeria on behalf of Niger and Benin Republics in its summary of invoices sent to distribution companies and remittances received from them. 

“The total NBET’s and MO’s invoices to international customers (i.e. CEB and NIGELEC) and special customer (i.e., Ajaokuta Steel) during the fourth quarter stood at ₦31.1billion. However, no payment was received from the international and special customers for the period,” the Q4 2017 report said.

This time, however, there was a table detailing the invoice sent to Ajaokuta, CEB and Nigelec by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET) which purchases power from the generation companies and the market operator, the business arm of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) that serves as the wholesaler in the industry.

The data in that table differs from what the commission summed up as N31.1bn though.

 

In the table, NBET is recorded to have given Ajaokuta N250m in Q4. The data shows MO gave Ajaokuta an invoice of N50m in the quarter as well.

NERC recorded NBET and MO as giving CEB invoices of 8.15bn in the last quarter of the year in view, while Nigelec received invoices that summed up to N3.06bn in the final three months of 2017. These bills do not add up to the N31.1bn NERC listed in the summary before its invoice and remittance table in the final three months of 2017.

In August of this year, the former Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said the two foreign customers paid $159m or N48.50bn, based on the then official conversion rate of N305 to a dollar. Three months later, the minister said another $64.63m or N19.71bn had been paid, totalling N68.20bn in defrayed debts to NBET and the market operator.

The payments left a balance of $18m or N5.49bn. In this period, there was no recorded payment of electricity bills by the ‘special customer.’ The monies paid by Nigelec and CEB were also not recorded in either the third or fourth quarter report for that year.

2018 Record

In the first three months of this year, the steel mill in Ajaokuta was given a bill of 1.63bn by NBET and MO. The commission, again, complained about the fugitive foreign customers but failed to speak of the N1.63bn owed it by the government’s steel corporation. The service charge to the corporation by the Market Operator – N1.38bn, surprisingly outstripped the actual N250m worth of electricity alleged to have been consumed.

There was no variation in the amount the report said the steel mill and the two foreign firms owed in the first quarter of 2018. The calculation of the figures invoiced by NBET and the Market Operator to the three companies in the table below the above quote tallied up to N12.23bn.

In the second quarter, Ajaokuta accumulated an electricity bill of N250m from NBET and a service charge of N50m from the MO. The commission’s figures were in alignment in the period spanning April to June 2018, which saw the three companies incur a debt of N13.30bn to Nigerian’s electricity supply industry.

The discrepancy in figures returned in Q3 2018. NERC said in its summary of its DISCO – distribution companies’ quarterly remittance table that Ajaokuta was billed N316m by NBET and MO. It is during this period the firm graciously paid N1m of its debts.

“The total market (NBET’s and MO’s) invoices issued to Ajaokuta Steel Co. Ltd (classified as a special customer) and the international customers (i.e., Communaute Electrique du Benin (CEB) and Societe Nigerienne d’electricite – NIGELEC) during the third quarter of 2018, were ₦316million and ₦12.11billion respectively,” the report said.

“However, while ₦1million was received from Ajaokuta Steel Co. Ltd, no payment was received from the international customers,” NERC concluded, saying nothing about the unpaid bills piling up in Ajaokuta’s name. Inside the invoice and remittance table, the ‘special’ catatonic ‘customer,’ was billed N270m for the electricity consumed and N50m as service charge from the TCN’s Market Operator— N320m, a contrast of N4m from what the commission said the steel company was invoiced. The N12.11bn summation for the foreign customers added up, however.

 

In the final three months of the year, NERC said Ajaokuta consumed another N300m worth of electricity it failed to pay for. Its foreign co-debtors received power worth N12.40bn and combined to pay 9.62bn to cover all its debts.

“The total market (NBET’s & MO’s) invoices issued to the special customer (Ajaokuta Steel Co. Ltd) and the international customers (i.e., Societe Nigerienne d’electricite – NIGELEC and Communaute Electrique du Benin -CEB) during the fourth quarter of 2018 were ₦300million and ₦12.4billion respectively,” the report said.

“However, while $31.5million (₦9.618million) was received from the international customers as part payment of their total debt, no payment was received from the Ajaokuta steel Co. Ltd. The Nigerian government has continued to engage governments of neighbouring countries benefitting from the export supply to ensure timely payments for the electricity purchased from Nigeria.”

2019 Record

The trend of unpaid bills persisted in 2019. Ajaokuta received an invoice of N260m from NBET and N40m from the MO but paid nothing.

The electricity companies from Benin and Niger Republics received invoices worth N12.75bn and remitted no cent. The figures from NERC, in the summary of invoices sent to the three companies and the remittance table, rhymed in Q1 2019.

In Q2 2019, the scribes of NERC gaffed again. Above the summary of the invoice and remittance table for distribution companies, the commission said Ajaokuta received N0.32bn or N320m from NBET and the MO. 

In the table itself, Ajaokuta is said to have collected a payment request of N280m from NBET and N50m from the Market Operator, which comes up to N330m. Neither Ajaokuta nor the two West African electricity utility firms honoured the invoice.

The commission again gave different figures when summing up the invoices given to Ajaokuta and the two other international firms in Q3 2019. It said the steel mill was invoiced N210m, which was accurate with the breakdown it presented in the invoice and remittance table. NBET billed it N180m, while the MO charged it N30m. It said Nigelec and CEB were billed N6.38bn, the figures in the table read N6.37 when totalled though.

In the final quarter of 2019, which was released in June 2020, NBET did not send any invoice to the steel company. Still, the Market Operator charged it N30m.

Only Nigelec, which supplies electricity to Niger Republic, received an invoice for the electricity consumed in the three months leading up to 2020. The sum of electricity it was billed for was the same as the service charge it received from the Market Operator – N1.03bn each, summing up to N2.06bn, according to the table on invoice and remittance in its Q4 report. The NERC scribes said in the summary above the table that the sum was N2.07bn, an increase of N10m.

The former MD of TCN, Usman Mohammed, told Channels Television that both Nigelec and CEB owed NBET and MO $16m or N4.88bn, a reality that was not reflected in NERC’s reports. 

He, however, said that CEB and Nigelec would be disconnected until they paid up. In two full years of reporting, Nigelec and Ceb received invoices worth N80.14bn according to the data in the quarterly invoice and remittance table published by NERC in its eight reports spanning the 24 months but paid approximately N9.62bn, living a deficit of N70bn unpaid to NESI.

A source conversant with the power industry, who didn’t want his name mentioned, told SaharaReporters the area around the obsolete Ajaokuta Steel Company LTD has been in perpetual darkness for a long while and had become a den for kidnapping. The source said it was for distribution companies to keep issuing bills to post-paid customers consuming any kilowatt of energy.

The Federal Government reached a legal settlement with the last of the firms it unsuccessfully tried to concession the company to in 2016, creating a panel for its resuscitation. With the set-up of a panel in May 2020 to handle the upgrading and operation of the steel mill, perhaps the controversy surrounding the unpaid electricity bills would be resolved.

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