MAKE IT SO

Nigeria 2015 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Benjamin Ezra Dikki, Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), on electricity reforms and the sectors ripe for privatization in Nigeria.

Benjamin Ezra Dikki
BIOGRAPHY
Benjamin Ezra Dikki was born on December 30, 1958, in Kebbi State in Northwestern Nigeria. He holds an Accounting Degree and an MBA from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and became a licensed stockbroker in June 1993, as well as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers (CIS). He has attended several courses and seminars in Nigeria and abroad, including Harvard Business School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in Jos. He joined the BPE as a Director in December 2004 and has traversed many departments, serving as Director of Power and Communications, Finance and Management Support, Transport and Aviation, Communications and Capital Markets, ICT, and Oil and Gas.

How would you assess the success of the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN)?

The unbundling of PHCN was the outcome of the federal government's reform initiatives, and was part of its transformation agenda. It followed a pattern that had already been developed for telecommunications. The reform initiatives abrogated the monopoly law, liberalized the sector, and created a regulatory agency. The reforms will be considered successful if they delineate three major strategic rules: policy formulation, regulation, and operations in the sector. What we formerly had in place was the NEPA Act, which created a monopoly for the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) authorizing it to undertake all activities within the sector, from generation to transmission and distribution. If electricity didn't reach my area, and I decided to provide cables, poles, and transformers to take the power to my community, those assets became the assets of NEPA, according to the monopoly act. Therefore, the primary significance of the reform was its abrogation of the NEPA Act. That is why we had to establish the PHCN as a transition vehicle to allow the unbundling of NEPA into successor companies, where the main objective of the unbundling was to foster competition. It was critical to ensure full revenue collection in the value chain as failure to do so would leave the sector with no chance of survival. When NEPA was an integrated company with transmission, generation, and distribution under one entity, those who generated power did not care if they collected the proceeds from the end user. The generation department generated the power and brought it to the grid, while the transmission people were indifferent as to whether X amount of power was lost and, by extension, in distribution, the operators did not care if they collected the full value of the power transmitted. As a result, over the years, there were huge revenue leakages in the value chain. The government covered any shortfall, and any further investment to improve the system had to come from its budget. Now, with the reform, the generation and distribution components of the business have been separated, and only transmission remains in government hands. The power generation part of NEPA was broken down into six power generation companies, and many independent power producers have invested in the sector. In the distribution sector, monopoly pricing has been abolished thanks to the newly competitive nature of the sector, and the former distribution giant has been broken down into 11 distribution companies based in different regions and areas. Now, we can surmise which distribution companies are engaged in best practices, and ensure that the others play according to the same rules and apply the same standards to their operations. Generation is straightforward; you install a generator and crank up the power. But because of the risk of power losses in transmission and distribution, we decided to introduce an intervening party, the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trader, which signs power-purchase agreements with the generation companies. The aim was to avoid disincentivizing power generating companies from investing in the power generation sector. The Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trader basically guarantees that whatever power a company generates is bought and paid for in full. Meanwhile, the distribution companies were not sold on the basis of price, but on the commitment made to reduce aggregate technical and financial collection losses. After the unbundling, a regulatory agency was also set up, which has the power to grant and revoke licenses. This controls and ensures good behavior in terms of environmental issues, the appropriateness of technologies employed, safety standards, and more. Most importantly, it provides a one-stop shop for anyone who wants to enter the generation or distribution sector. Another issue that the reforms addressed was pricing. Previously, under NEPA, the government had been subsidizing power for the public sector. It was, therefore, not economically viable for any private sector entity to invest its own capital and set up a generation or distribution plant. One of the major challenges prior to privatization was to figure out a tariff that was cost-reflective and that could yield an adequate rate of return on the investments of those wishing to enter the sector. This was done through the introduction of the Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO 2) in 2012. It provided the added confidence that investors needed to invest in the power sector.

In what other sectors do you see opportunities for liberalization?

Our next focus area will be the transportation sector; the inefficiency of which today means that transport costs account for an average of 30% of all costs on transported goods and products. As with the NEPA Act, we have the Railway Act, the Inland Waterways Act, and the Ports and Harbor Act, all of which restrict operations and grant monopoly rights in those sectors. Meanwhile, in the pipeline, we have a railway draft reform bill, an inland waterways draft reform bill, a roads reform bill, and a ports and harbor reform bill. We will also establish a regulatory agency called the National Transport Commission to provide intermodal regulation and promote intermodal development, such as ensuring that major airports have railway links. Another focus area besides transport is the reform of the housing sector. It is estimated that the middle class alone demands a minimum of 17 million housing units. Right now, we are looking at what policies and legal and regulatory frameworks we need to put in place to encourage massive private sector housing investment. We are also working on the privatization of development finance institutions, such as the Bank of Industry and the Bank of Agriculture, in which privatization has already begun. Also, under the leadership of the Minister of Finance, we are working on the establishment of a wholesale development bank. There is also the Abuja Commodities and Stock Exchange project, through which we intend to introduce a warehouse depository system. Currently, the Abuja Commodities and Stock Exchange only has a trading platform; therefore, we have gone into advanced discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture, which has warehouses and silos located nationwide. It is set to cede a number of those silos to the Abuja Commodities and Stock Exchange for privatization. Two factors have been hindering the development of agriculture in Nigeria: one, the instability and unpredictability of prices; and two, the lack of a defined buyer. This initiative will thus seek to introduce a stable system for pricing and for identifying certain buyers. Another crucial sector is the minerals and mining sector. Nigeria has large mineral deposits that are virtually untapped. Coal, gold, columbite, and limestone are all present, but today we extract only oil and gas. Now, however, we are working on removing the obstacles that seem to be holding investors back from entering those sectors. Refineries are also up for privatization, pending an amicable resolution of labor issues. We are also looking at a concession of the Nigerian Gas Company and the Nigerian pipelines, which transport gas and petroleum products. The other sectors that I wanted to mention are tourism and sports. Nigeria has considerable potential to become a tourist destination when you consider that, among others we have both game and national parks. These have not been major revenue earners as yet; therefore, we are looking at how we might transform these assets into profitable ventures that will attract private investors. In terms of sports, we have stadia all over the country and a population of 160 million that loves football.