Cruel diversion The Nation Newspaper

If it gets proven that some firms diverted the intervention fund they received from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide meters for Nigerian electricity consumers, it would be a most cruel diversion.

The apex bank lately approached the Federal High Court in Lokoja, Kogi State, to freeze 157 accounts of Meter Asset Providers (MAPs) over alleged diversion of a N37billion grant it provided for supply of prepaid meters to electricity consumers under the Federal Government’s National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP). With electricity supply in the country acutely fitful already, it was an unkind cut to compound the woes of consumers with alleged diversion of funds meant to meter them so they pay for only what they consume.

In the suit it instituted on 20th July, the CBN sought an order on commercial banks to freeze for 180 days the accounts of 10 companies that received power sector intervention fund under the NMMP, pending the outcome of its investigation. It listed the affected firms as Mojec Meter Asset Management Company Limited, Integrated Power Nigeria Limited, Holley Metering Limited, Protogy Global Services Limited and Turbo Energy Limited. Others are G Unit Engineering Limited, Koby Global Engineering Services Limited, FLT Energy Systems Limited, Smart Meters Asset Provider Company Limited and Cresthill Engineering Limited.

In its suit, the Central Bank stated that it reviewed the activities of 12 firms alleged to have diverted the intervention funds, including the ones being litigated against. “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 said, adding: “The diversion of the power sector intervention funds under the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) provided by the applicant’s banks has further occasioned grave instability in the power sector and sustained the estimated billing regime which the Federal Government is making frantic efforts to make a thing of the past.”

The CBN further stated: “The diversion of the said funds through the bank accounts of the defendants has continually undermined the applicant’s bank intervention system of supporting various sectors of the Nigerian economy. The diversion of the said funds and sustained instability in the power sector is capable of causing significant economic and financial loss to investors, as well as the entire systems and the Nigerian economy in general, if not curtailed.”

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had in 2018 introduced the MAP programme by which DisCos engaged third-party investors to provide electricity consumers prepaid meters at a cost. That programme managed to reach only about 4,000 homes by 2020 when government rolled out the NMMP to bridge the wide metering gap in the electricity supply industry. ‘Phase 0’ of the NMMP, by which consumers got prepaid meters at no cost, reached more than 800,000 homes before it was pulled. NERC Chairman Garuba Sanusi announced late in June that free distribution of meters will resume under ‘Phase 1’ of the NMMP scheduled to begin late August. Meanwhile, the 2021 third-quarter report of the agency showed that of more than 11million registered electricity customers as of September 2021, only 4.7million (42.93 percent) had been metered.

It was in aid of the NMMP that the CBN granted the intervention fund alleged to have been diverted. And the apex bank specified that the diversion occurred through complicity of individuals and corporates connected with the DisCos and the defunct PHCN. This underscores the tendency whereby some interests would just milk this country dry, even amidst the gravest of bedevilling crises. We urge that CBN’s investigation be carried through and heavy recompense of the law dealt culprits. It should be ascertained whether there was due diligence undertaken before those firms were picked as beneficiaries of the intervention fund. Any firm found not to have the competency purported while seeking the grant should be prosecuted for false claim. Much of the time, funds like this are accessed by nepotistic connection; hence, complicit insiders should also be prosecuted if we would plug the drainpipe on national commonwealth.

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