There is no gainsaying covid-19 has been creating major disruptions leading to economic crisis all over the world. Africa is actually very unique continent that its own issues are peculiar.
So, CIO Africa Leadership Series webinar hosted recently by CIO MasterClass Africa; for Chief Information Officers (CIO) particularly in Africa with the theme – COVID – 19: “The CIO’s Leadership Moment” – Prospects, Challenges and its implication for the African Continent – with the general direction on “leadership, strategy and operational level”, looked at CIOs role in normal times vis – a – viz the new normal defined by COVID – 19.
The Convener, CIO MasterClass Africa is Engr. Ifeanyi Frank Ogochukwu, a former CIO of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency and the Chief Technology Strategist for Debbie Mishael Consulting – an African premier consulting, implementation and training firm moderated this webinar.
The Panel composition include;
- Managing Director/CEO, Rack Centre, Dr. Ayotunde Coker;
- Member, Universal Service Advisory Council, Communication Authority of Kenya (Government & ICT4D Consultant), Nixon Mageka Gecheo ;
- Head of IT, Equity Bank, Rwanda, Carole Karema Jeni;
- Group CIO, Flour Mills Nigeria Plc; Serge Yao;
- MD/CSA, Twelve Dot & Twelve Dot Labs, Canada, Faud Khan and
- CIO, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Charles Ayeteni.
Setting the ball rolling, the moderator sought to know from the panelists how a CIO can mitigate all of the crisis and help the organization actually able to get out of the various problems that have been created due to the pandemic.
The questions were coming in torrents: How did you and how did your organization handle the impact of Covid-19? And how are you able to support your customers? And of course, most of your frontline customers are CIO’s representing their firms in terms of business continuity, provisioning and service scaling, Disaster Recovery and so on?
First to respond was Dr. Ayotunde Coker, the Managing Director/CEO of Rack Center, a premium carrier neutral Tier III Data Center in Africa with multiple awards (both internationally and locally) to their credit.
Dr. Coker has got about 30 years’ international experience spread across Europe, United States of America, Asia and Africa: he worked in the UK and Europe for about 28 years for Ford of Europe, Senior Management Consultant for Cap Gemini UK, he was CEO of eMCSaatchi UK, Director Egg Bank UK, the first European Internet Bank, Chief Technology Officer UK Criminal Justice, and Group IT Director, UK Ministry of Justice, Chair of the UK Government Enterprise Architecture Board in 2007.
When he came back to Nigeria. He became the Group CIO of Access Bank and then also the MD of Emerging Markets Payments, West Africa. Today, he is the MD of Rack Center. So, he has been a CIO now he is a Chief Executive.
Dr. Coker, also a fellow of the Institute of Directors in Nigeria (IoD), said that Covid-19 has been really quite a revelation for the world.
Here is his submission:
“Being a colocation Data Center, for us Risk Management is key. Because, we have lots of very large businesses, very large installations that run on Rack Center live. So, we have very strict processes for Risk Management, Enterprise Risk Management, Business Continuity Planning. We provide Business continuity capabilities and offices and stuff for some customers but fundamentally disaster recovery and sustenance capacity and capability is fundamental to what we do. It’s absolutely key.
“We went live 2013 October and we’ve run a hundred percent uptime ever since so we have to maintain that track record and expectations that customers that are with us have peace of mind and they can just focus on their own core Business.
“Specifically, for Covid…we set up a Covid-19 Critical Response Team of all the leadership, health and safety, security, service management and so on and that was in place by Thursday, I think was this Thursday the 27th of February, the good thing about that was also in the weekend leading up to that we were able to stock up with all of the hand sanitizers, all of them masks that were required. We stocked up with PPE because we planned escalation levels, because we have a core of the facility the Data Center environment, power generation and so on and the support facilities, the core of the facilities absolutely key and we felt that if for instance Covid escalated, as you know, a very serious local pandemic, we needed to be able to ensure that also the core of the facility was held as a sterile environment. But that was part of our escalation planning on a level one, three to five. And immediately we started the process based on what we knew fromEbola: surfaces being clean, very, very regularly.
“We have the Standard Operating Procedure. We didn’t need one week to put in this SOPs. We modified the SOP for what we knew for Covid by a couple of days myself and my leadership team we had approvedall of the new standard SOPs and so on we do things like having more flexibility to how we handle petty cash. You know, it’s absolutely up to the detail level. You know, that we look at things about statutorily renewals that we need to do if suddenly offices were shuts. We make sure that we renew everything, so, in the first few days, we went through all of that stuff. We also make sure that we had separation immediately.
“This is now coming into the very first week in March from all of our staff nobody shook hands, you know, we started thinking about working from home, you know, fortunately our structures allow us to work from home.
“The only thing that we wanted to make sure that the high-intensity work from home absolutely every part of the facility could be monitored by VPN.
“So, the Command Center staff were able to access and monitor every aspect of the facility from home. So essentially, we had the distributed Command Center through the VPN.
“We have endpoint security anyway that we need to put in place but much most critically was the fact that we can’t just ask our staff to work from home and then that’s okay. So, we did an assessment of staff’s home circumstances and requirements. We don’t have hundred percent power in Nigeria, in Lagos.
“Anyway, so we gave staff allowances for running their diesel generator. So, they have a hundred percent power at home, we gave staff allowances, in fact, we provide connectivity, we just increased the level of connectivity staff have and very importantly ensure the let the quality of the connectivity and this is a level of kind of detail we went into and something we also do very, very regularly with the HR Head is to get a good as people feel the personal feeling from working from home. Immediately, we got that in place, I sent a note to all of our customers, all of our stakeholders, this is what we’re doing with Covid-19, these are the processes we put in place, you know, and so on so that gave them reassurance of exactly what washappening.
“Actually, interestingly I had to call from some customers who would say. Hey look, you know now this is very, very critical to us, I just wanted to talk to you to be sure that you know, you know, we are in support yeah and so on, some just make sure that you know, just we have paid you, you know, just a bit to make sure we paid you on time because we put in a lot of investments to ensure the BCP.
“So, it’s very important that the right thing is in place for the staff, continuity for customers all stakeholders, our entire supply chain was also put on notice we did the assessment of what spares would be would we need we brought spares way ahead because once up Critical environmental issue and everybody is running after spares for your power infrastructure and so on then you suddenly have shortages. So, we bought all of that and invested ahead of the curve.
“Another critical thing we did was in the power-sustenance, because then we weren’t sure how thingswere going to actually develop. We, then made sure that our backups and diesel supplies were absolutely filled up to the limit. We then got extra supplies of storage of diesel and so on to make sure that if there was a problem we would systemically we’ve done this analysis in our risk management.
“So, we also made sure that we had two levels of arrangements with that. We converted parts of the site. So, our Engineers could be on site. We have two different engineering teams that are totally separated, physical separation or social separation is around about 10 meters.
“Okay. So, we put all of these things in place and constantly as we learn to continue to re- assure all of our customers that this what was happening and you know where some customers had to actually because of serious logistics reasons had to even shut down their own data centers. They knew that they could run from our facility. So what we found was a significant amount of demand for the facility because pretty much customers were running live from, from Rack Center.
“So that’s how we managed to sustain the availability for customers.
“Finally as we continue to track everything, interestingly also our teams are separated in such a way most Engineers; you know for five Engineers absolutely have to be there physically everybody else work from home. They also work at different parts of the facility because we noticed that some hospitals where an anchor, you know, an infected person goes in there, they have an index, the place is shut down for two weeks, we couldn’t afford that kind of a shut down. So, first of all, we were identified as a critical facility so we could support that every staff that has to travel when we have the total lockdown had a letter from government, but also had a personal letter signed by me plus they had to have their pass which gave them limitless freedom and they also have to sign an indemnity that they would not misuse that privilege of being able to move because it would be an absolute disciplinary issue if you misuse that privilege. So, that’s kind of detail we went to and as we tracked all of this. Then, we started to see that the situation was escalating. So everybody that went into the core of the facility had to have PPE on, we also escalated to the point where no customer was allowed to come into the facility unless there was a request from Executive Director and it had to be approved personally by me for them to come into the facility only for very, very critical things.
“Some of our customers actually initially had people staying at hotels close to the facility and stuff. And then once we found that out, and we said why you don’t need to do that. You just call our Command Center and the people go to look at your facility.
“So, in conclusion with all of these we could reassure customers we escalated as required so that they knew they have the peace of mind or continuity of their businesses, Some businesses are to ramp up on the use of IT, Banks for instance, Payment Processing organizations, you know, and so on they had the reassurance that all of that was working and in critical situations as it’s usually especially the Telcos.
“We have around about 38 Telcos interconnected with us, and some of these equipment they have to just go poop. It’s the way Telco sophistication with Telco equipment is, we have to allow them to come in and fix it and then leave that way you sustain the continuity of the environment.
“So specifically, from the Rack Center point of view that’s what we did, the interesting thing actually of being the CEO of a company like Rack Center and having been a CIO over the years is I can empathize with what CIOs are going through.
“I can empathize with the discussions we need to have, I can empathize with what they’re probably going through within their organizations and guide my staff as they engaging with all of our customers, the technical staff, the CIOs, to be clear that we can reassure them and they can reassure their own stakeholders in their companies of exactly what is happening and how we can work with them end to end.
To be continued tomorrow with submission by Charles Ayeteni, the CIO of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
INTERVIEW: Kade Keyo has a single vision: To help create more sustainable society – founder, Tanho Attah
- When we created grow fund a few years ago, we designed it to help people build a route to a more stable, dependable financial future built on our own business infrastructure, regardless of where they were in their lives.
- On August 1, 2020 we launched sckadekeyo.com, a digital department to cater directly to the digital community
Business profile for Tanho Attah
Tanho Attah is the founder and CEO of KADE KEYO which focuses on creating sustainable solutions targeted at societal development. Tanho is a Philosopher, Scientist, Artist and Business man. Working over the past 18 years, he has been engaged in various fields involving the human experience which cuts across social ventures, for profit ventures and individual brand development processes.
He is quite interested in the full expression and experience of the human being and have dedicated his adult years to, first, understanding and then building a sustainable model that can give more people opportunities to live a better life.
As a philosopher, Tanho tries to observe the world, through the eyes of various people, including his, deducing what is truth, what is fiction and what is perception. Using the information gathered, it helps him resolve the complex issues surrounding our collective human society.
As an artist, he simply likes to enjoy himself through the use of various mediums to express his thoughts. Science is the process through which Tanho creates practical solutions to the complex problems that plague our society and the world at large.
Operating as a business man, the ingenious Tanho has worked many years actively building, promoting, creating and operating small and medium scale businesses. His experience ranges in a wide array of fields, consulting for Startup entrepreneurs, small scale businesses and brands, small tech-enabled startups like Mofeera.com, mobifoodng and Waracake.com, creating and operating in partnership, an event ticketing and listing solutions platform named giglinke.com (now defunct), helping business owners and Businesses develop strategies for growth, supervising implementation of developed strategies.
As a consultant, his core areas of expertise starts with understanding the nature of business itself. As he told TechEconomy.ng, this allows him to freely work into any field, contributing experience of how the business world works.
He has mainly worked directly with SMEs by choice but very open to interesting opportunities beyond this scope.
“I am a very reliable and experienced business solutions consultant whose focus is to accomplish the set goals within the desired time frame. Apart from developing many business proposals, plans and pitches, I have also helped clients through negotiation processes doing business with other businesses and individuals alike. I’m an active people person, who works to understand the core nature of the human being and how to best communicate the ideas being proposed”, Tanho said.
“As a team player, Tanho has both led and worked as part of teams. He is currently building a small team of business consultants at the firm, KADE KEYO whose primary objective is to create sustainable solutions targeted at societal development, one of which the teams believe is by helping SMEs scale, ensuring they understand the importance of both investing in and growing their business under a viable structure.
Also, Tanho has worked as an active consultant for humanitarian organizations such as Sickle Cell Advocacy and Management Initiative (SAMI), Science Ambassadors Foundation (SAF) and Joseph’s Place Mentoring Youths Africa (JPMY).
He is always looking forward to opportunities to express his abilities and providing the wealth of experience as an added advantage to any team looking to improve their business models, processes, strategies, products or services.
In this interview with the Editor, TechEconomy.ng, Tanho disclosed his plans for KADE KEYO:
Q: What really inspired you to start Kade Keyo
Tanho: Kade Keyo evolved from a previous business where we helped businesses and business brands with their business development, documentations, marketing, sales, pr and general business success needs. Prior to staring Kade Keyo, I was a promoter, brand manager and business consultant helping business and individual brands alike. After many years of working with a wide variety of clients in various industries, I realized something very critical: Too many small businesses failed and there was more that needed to be done to help more businesses thrive. So, we decided to create a new company that took a wholesome look at the businesss world and the individuals that run them. So, simply put, what inspired the birth of Kade Keyo is our society, that is why our company slogan is: Societal Solutions. We focus on creating solutions that in one way or another will help build our society, not just the business community.
Q: How has the company been received?
Tanho: The reception has been very mixed. On one hand, we have those who do not understand what we do and as such prefer to work with more straight forward companies offering similar services, but, for those who have engaged with us, we have had a 100% client satisfaction on some of our products, while we work every day to fix the issues we have had along the way, to ensure complete satisfaction with all of our clients. What we strive for as a company, is a situation where a client walks in, looks through or product/service list, gets served and is satisfied. As simple a process as going out to a fine restaurant or healthcare centre. We are still building our brand and we are certain that over time, more clients will understand what we do and see how what we do makes their lives and businesses much better.
Q: What is your vision for the company?
Tanho: I have one vision: To help create a more sustainable society that contributes to the quality of lives of the individuals that live within it, wherever we operate. In this regard, Kade Keyo’s design isn’t just for the benefit of our customers. We operate with a mindset to ensure that our employees have a very efficient way of work, without losing out on the important things in life. Our collective vision is to run a successful company, for the benefits of our society, our clients and for our employees.
Q: What are the solutions you have that SMEs, MSMEs and large enterprises can benefit from?
Tanho: Our basic business services are offered to all kinds of business operations, small, medium and large scale alike. These include, business redesign services, documentation, consultations, research and business model development, client representation and negotiations, business plan evaluations and reconstructions and pretty much anything to help a business owner improve their business. In the way of profit, we also advice some of our clients to purchase our partnership solutions for the benefit of their business as an income security process for their business, which simply means, in a case where their business does not do as well, they can share in our own profits as a business. One of our Products called Grow Fund offers this solution. Another active solution we have is a product called Business Fit, which is designed to actively engage with business owners in real time and not presentation format, so they can actively resolve real challenges they currently have. There is also a product we have called Sales Active, which helps business owners increase their sales by engaging with our Sales team.
Q: Which of these segments do you target the most: SMEs, MSMEs, or Large enterprises? Why?
Tanho: Our primary target falls within the SME and MSME sector. Being a small business as well, we understand how difficult it is to run a small business with all the challenges of running any business. As to the reason why, it is quite simple; small businesses provide the greatest hope for the development of any society. The more-small businesses succeed, the greater our hope of building our society. So we decided that if we can provide our technical business know-how to more small business owners, we can get closer to our goal of implementing solutions that help build society. Over time, we will be announcing more products and services directly tailored to businesses that all categories can take advantage of.
Q: What is the most critical initiative you are working on now and how do you plan on achieving it?
Tanho: Our most critical initiative, is a product called Grow Fund. This is primarily because grow fund has a wide variety of uses for our users. We know how difficult our environment is, even in healthy times, talk less of the impact of the Corona Virus pandemic. In its design, Grow Fund is designed as a system that helps our partners earn a stable, monthly income while growing their original Grow Fund units. We plan on expanding our partnerships to as many people as we can, starting with Lagos and expanding to more states using our teams and promotional channels as access points. With this product, we can achieve one of our societally motivated goals which is to help people earn more income. Although this sounds like a novel or simple enough idea, we actually accomplish this by sharing our company profits with our clients, while we work hard to keep growing our business. Regardless of our outcome, with Grow Fund, we always turn a profit for our partners. We believe, the more people we can reach, the more people can earn a stable income, month-in, month-out, all year round.
Q: For budding entrepreneurs or startups that tend to raise funds through VCs, what would you say VCs look out for before they can invest?
Tanho: The Venture Capitalist game as an institution is quite different from a Venture Capitalist as an investor. And any budding entrepreneur or startup should be aware of the fundamental differences. While the VC institutions look for structure, certain models in Pitch Decks, qualifications and trainings, Venture Capitalists or Private Investors look directly for something else entirely, they look for a profit. A VC institution will have its way of investing, events and information available to the entrepreneur or startup to study before applying for an investment. A wise startup or entrepreneur will do well to study along those lines. There are organizations who provide these kinds of platform, some of which include Leadspace, Impact Hub Lagos, Enterprise Development Centre, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund and others like that. Investment groups and Investors on the other hand look for the real deal, quality of entrepreneur or start up, quality of the business idea, proof of concept, sales; to them, it is more of a numbers game, where the answer is always profit.
Q: What is the fair equity share you can take as a VC while investing in a startup?
Tanho: In business there is almost no such thing as fairness, in my experience. It is simply based on what you can negotiate and what you think your value is worth, either as a business owner or an investor. I have taken on equity as low as 5% and as high as 50%, while I’ve also offered equity to my partners and investors within the same range. To me, it largely depends on the value you place on what you bring to the table, as well as what you are looking for in the end. I once had a young group of startup founders who turned down a lot of money for a 51% stake the investor was offering. I would have accepted that deal, considering all the sides. That being said, if the startup is very good and the numbers add up, even a 1% equity share could also be of great value.
Q: What are the red flags that can make you not to invest in a startup?
Tanho: Many investors invest for a variety of reasons, and what motivated the drive to invest in one startup does not necessarily have to be the same reason for another. Red flags are also the same. If I found a person with a great idea (which I have) but without proper sense of how a business works (which I also have), that could be a Red flag, if that person is unwilling to learn. In my experience, these days, anyone who reads an article or follows a blog that teaches entrepreneurship almost automatically believe they know how to run a business, that too for me, is a Red Flag. If I’m going to invest, I would invest for two reasons:
- You have proof of concept, business or idea (Actual business operations)
- You have proven beyond reasonable doubt that you know what you are doing (A solid presentation and technical know-how to back it up, which can apply to both actual running businesses or fresh startup ideas)
We are also constantly dealing with investors of our own so these are terms we apply to ourselves first before applying it to any startup or entrepreneur requesting investment. Every investor wants to know the same thing: my investment is safe and will yield me the results I am looking for.
Q: In this era of new normal, what are your forecasts with regards the startup ecosystem in Nigeria?
Tanho: There are a lot of entrepreneurs doing great things in the Nigerian startup ecosystem and the forecasts are almost easy to predict: Trends. The ecosystem has not really arrived at a point where it understands who or what it is in the sphere of startup ecosystems worldwide. What we currently do is adapt trends to our environment which is not really a smart thing to do as we operate a very different business climate. However, there will be the emergence of startups and entrepreneurs who understand what our environment requires and they will be the ones to set the trends in the era of this new normal. The good news is that more people will follow suit and that will create a ripple effect across the ecosystem. It is already clear to see how a lot of entrepreneurs and businesses are investing in Agriculture, just like us. A few other opportunities will continue to rise which include logistics and infrastructure, online payment and fintech systems, freelancer gig economy ventures, e-health and a general use of technology to adapt business. This will however, in my opinion be a mistake. Only largely because the consumers you serve will be the intelligent users of these services. A large segment of our country and economy still remain behind all of these great ideas and as such, innovation should ride in these directions; localized solutions. Hopefully, at some point, we can have systems built that create the proper structure for these localized solutions to thrive, where local communities and people can be adapted into the world of modern technology, but first, Food, Shelter, Clothing, Healthcare and Education are the fundamental issues that must be addressed for real impact to occur.
Q: What has surprised you the most since you started Kade Keyo?
Tanho: Grow Fund – My wife calls it the ‘Financial intelligence product of the century’. So recently, we have added a new member of staff to the team, and one of her clients on-boarded to the company acquired a Grow Fund partnership slot for her infant child. When we created grow fund a few years ago, we designed it to help people build a route to a more stable, dependable financial future built on our own business infrastructure, regardless of where they were in their lives. Unemployed people can acquire units with funds they have been given, people with dormant savings can grow their funds, husbands can acquire partnerships for their wives and vice versa, likewise, parents for their children, children for their retired parent, but by far the best use of Grow Fund I have seen, is a parent acquiring units for her infant. I believe, with more ideas like ours, a better future is possible for everyone as we believe everyone deserves the chance to live a good life. We want to help make that a possibility.
Q: What actually informed the coining of that name: Kade Keyo?
Tanho: Kade Keyo is a name coined from the middle names of both my wife and I. It represents her gentleness and my business aggressiveness, being soft and understanding enough to understand our clients, but strong enough to give them the growth they require.
Q: Where do you see the company in the next five years?
Tanho: We plan to remain a small teams company, so no matter how large we get, we will want to keep our teams small in order to stay locally relevant. In five years, we hope to have steady operations in more states of country, expanding to at least 1 new state every year, while staying strongly active in local communities. We launched a digital department to cater directly to the digital community from August 1, 2020 which can be found at www.sckadekeyo.com and social handles: @sckadekeyo. We will be multiplying our branches of operation with small teams over the coming weeks, months and years to come. We cannot say for certain what we would have accomplished in 5 years, but I envision a situation where our impact has been felt by a whole lot more people and our tag line: Societal Solutions has become more relevant, proven in our actions.
Peter: Thanks so much, Mr. Attah for your time.
Tanho: I must appreciate TechEconomy.ng for your efforts in promoting the startup ecosystem in Nigeria; giving small business a voice. Thanks.
FinTech: Yabx founder, Rajat Dayal shares plans for African digital micro lending market
Rajat Dayal is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Yabx, a fintech start-up in the digital micro-lending space. It has been incubated by Comviva, a global leader in mobile financial services and part of the $21 billion Mahindra Group.
Yabx’s vision is to simplify financial access to the over two billion unbanked populations in the emerging markets of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This is to be actualized via the mobile device, by leveraging an individual’s digital footprints.
Yabx has recently forayed into Malawi, Rwanda, Bangladesh and Colombia, whilst launching its operations in Tanzania and Uganda as well.
The start-up enables banks and financial institutions to create and manage digital products such as microloans, savings, overdrafts, loans for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), etc., tailored to the needs of the underserved segment.
It offers microloans, ranging from $15 to $300 for payment of utility bills, school fees, smartphone finance, SME credit etc., These loans are extended based on individual credit scores, which is determined by leveraging advanced analytics using data points generated from an individual’s mobile usage such as GSM, mobile money, call data records (CDR) and social data.
Led by a team of industry experts and entrepreneurs, Yabx currently operates out of Cape Town, Nairobi, The Hague and New Delhi.
The start-up has partnered with leading mobile operators in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia and is also executing proofs-of-concept (PoCs) in several countries. Yabx expects to go live with 14 projects across 10 countries by end-2020.
Having proven the viability of the model in developing nations, Yabx is now focusing on scaling its business and expanding into new countries in Africa.
The Founder and CEO, Rajat Dayal, in this interview with Peter Oluka, Editor, TechEconomy.ng, speaks on Yabx’s future plans for Africa and sundry issues. Excerpts:
Q: Briefly tell us how Yabx idea was conceived and incubated by Comviva
Rajat: To say that the digital payments space is witnessing explosive growth would be a bit of an understatement. With the aim of leveraging the available transaction data, we attempted to back-test the performance of our model with a bank’s existing loan portfolio. We were, in fact, pleasantly surprised to register that the model was performing at par with what was witnessed by the bank whilst utilizing bureau data.
Further, enhancing their digital presence was a priority for the majority of banks and financial services institutions we were in talks with. Largely, these players were losing ground to more innovative and nimble-footed fintechs. We were, therefore, approached by these entities, particularly keeping in mind our value proposition of end-to-end management of the client’s digital portfolio…
Our mission and vision (not just in Africa, but globally as well), is enabling banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs) to create a profitable, unsecured portfolio in markets where credit bureau coverage is limited. Our focus is on “innovating” to ensure end-to-end management of the workflow pertaining to small ticket loans. .
So far, we have built up a fairly extensive global footprint, spanning Asia, Africa and South America. A key learning that has emerged during this time is that East Africa appears to be a more congenial setting for our business. This is, of course, largely attributed to the more flexible regulations that permit banks to participate in the process of creating innovative products supporting financial inclusion.
Q: Most of your customers may not have secured credit before, how do you manage this?
Rajat: In a nutshell, we invest in new to credit segments; customers who have no prior experience with obtaining credit. The customer journey begins with introducing the customer to the finer nuances of the products on offer, the pricing, the terms and conditions; the importance of adhering to timelines pertaining to repayment and the repercussions of late repayment, etc. Permit me to cite an interesting example in this context. In Africa, it is noteworthy to mention that customers tend to ignore the fine print, as they are more preoccupied with obtaining the loan. To avoid the confusion that invariably ensues later, we ensure that the customer is aware of the whole concept right at the start.
Meanwhile, conversely, in the US, access to credit is not only simple but has played a significant role in fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.
The idea, therefore, is to work with our partner banks to provide financial access to small and medium sized businesses on a mission but with limited funds. Whilst, obviously, ensuring that the money is available to be recirculated to other individuals and businesses with similar ambitions. Simply put-the funds ought to be available to the right individual for appropriate purposes. After all, the loanee will be able to repay the loan only if they are able to generate additional income!
On this note, I would like to mention that we are executing multiple promising projects in Africa , with the bottom-line to ensure we account for a lion’s share of the $4 billion of micro-credit going through the East Africa deployment.
Q: Most of your target markets are dependent on USSD (a 2G technology) to access the credit. How are you deploying services to these people who also majorly dwell in the rural areas? The keyword here is: How will your services drive financial inclusion?
Rajat: The smartphone penetration in Africa is anywhere between 30 to 35 per cent, depending on certain geographies. Owing to the lack of smartphones, 90 per cent of the origination and fulfilment of our loans in Africa is executed through the unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) channel. This is how we begin our journey with the customer and, gradually upgrade them to smartphone users. Thereafter, offering a more engaging experience is simple. In fact, We are also empowering customers in one of the countries under discussion. We have introduced a handset financing project, in partnership with telecom operators and a banking partner. The idea is to provide affordable loans to customers to purchase smartphones. They can pay back the loan within six-months with monthly instalments And it doesn’t end there-this can be expanded to offering financing for white goods in Africa as well.
Q: Do you offer these loans in local currencies? When there is a default on the part of the lonee, what happens?
Rajat: We prefer to work with local lenders and local banks. Conversion of the dollar into local currency isn’t a challenge, as collections take place in the local currency itself.
Q: What has been the feedback from these partner-banks, or local lenders? Do you have records of defaults or people pay when they’re supposed to pay?
Rajat: The value we bring to the table primarily centres on selecting an appropriate set of customers for the banks we partner with. We assist our partner banks in creating a long term strategy for these newly acquired customers. We move promising customers higher in the value chain and offer them higher limits and easier terms pertaining to repayment. We have registered healthy delinquency numbers and have been able to maintain a profitable portfolio, which is extremely difficult in Africa. The banks we work with are extremely happy with our performance thus far.
Q: Okay, can you share with us the experience during the COVID-19 pandemic? At what rate were people requesting for these loans?
Rajat: This is a very important question. We conducted a study across our deployments with respect to COVID-19, which unearthed two key findings. While overall spending has declined, digital merchant payments have registered a 20-30 per cent increase. Of course, there are certain categories of merchants who haven’t been impacted and certain portfolios and categories that have grown in terms of the business.
One such example is healthcare, with drug stores registering a 10-15 per cent spike in their business. Here’s how despite customers not consuming medicines, they are thinking ahead and preparing for any eventuality. Similarly, groceries and essentials as a category has registered an increase of 30-40 per cent.
Also, electronic devices and smartphones, both in terms of usage and demand, have increased sharply, as customers are still required to access information in restrictive conditions. In terms of the default rates, no significant movement, either upward or downward, has been witnessed, at least in Africa which is, in fact, a matter of pride for us. It shows that we have been able to support the appropriate set of customers and businesses so they are able to use those loans to obviously generate positive cash flows.
Q: Let’s come closer to Nigeria. When are you launching in Nigeria? Or what are the issues you would expect the regulator – CBN – to address?
Rajat: Yes, we expect to foray into Nigeria soon and are currently studying the market closely. There are, naturally, a few things we’d have to be prepared for. For instance, the prevalence of a payment ecosystem.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the penetration of wallets is quite low, as opposed to East African countries-the larger ones each have 20-30 million mobile money customers!
Traditionally Nigeria has followed a bank led model; where banks are doing the lending themselves. However recently; there have been developments in the Mobile money space. The easing of regulations; entry of major telecoms offers a hope to shake up the industry and drive financial inclusion.
In sum; when the ecosystem is conducive to Digital lending; we will collaborate with partners (telcos & customer networks) to launch operations in Nigeria.
Q: What was the experience like during the incubation period at Comviva?
Rajat: Yabx was launched in 2018. I was given the freedom to assemble a team with prior experience in banking, telecom and consumer marketing. The idea was to collaborate to change the world. The business proposition wasn’t an easy one, so, naturally, only the best in the business would suffice. As we set out, extensive research was conducted on the regulations pertaining to banking and data sharing in the various markets we wanted to operate in . The process entailed examining existing offerings, conducting interviews with customers to understand what ails them and consulting with experts and firms to understand the lay of the land.
Our key differentiator is the ability to leverage alternate sources of data, for instance, telecom data, to under-write prospective customers. Our data science team worked with industry experts and faculty to study behavioral traits, in order to create features from these unconventional data sources.
It was (and remains) a fun task and I am proud of how far we have come.
Q: In summary, where have you deployed your services and the new frontiers you intend to launch too?
Rajat: We have deployed in five countries. In the next three months, we will be active in three more countries. By end-2020, our ambition is to go “live” in 13 countries.
Q: So, what is your plan for Africa in 2020 and beyond?
Rajat: On an annual basis, about $4 billion of capital is deployed in Africa just for microcredit, which is quite significant.These are all small ticket loans, ranging between, approximately $10, to $1,000, depending on the customer’s risk profile. .
Our plan for Africa is both vertical and horizontal. We aim at expanding horizontally to a few more countries. West Africa is definitely a part of our strategy. As mentioned before, though, we’re working with the regulator to ensure that the pricing and the product can be constructed fairly for customers and banks alike. We will thus be launching in two West African markets by the end of the year. Regarding the countries, we are already present in., our focus would be to grow those portfolios, by 15-20 per cent. The idea is to fulfil the aspirations of the partner banks in terms of growth.
Peter: Thank you, Rajat for sharing the interesting story of Yabx’s journey.
Rajat: Thank you so much to TechEconomy.ng for this great opportunity. We look forward to launching in the Nigerian market and shall keep you posted, needless to say!
Without cost reflective tariff, Nigerians won’t have stable power, says Nestoil Group COO Dr. Umeh
Years after unbundling the power sector, teething problems still exist making it impede economic growth. Government recently said it will allow for a cost reflective tariff but agitations made it back out.
This according to Dr Chukwueloka Umeh, the Chief Operating Officer of Nestoil Group and the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Century Power Group Limited is not the way to go if Nigerians are to have stable power.
He dissects other issues militating against growth of the sector in this interview with ICT and Energy Editor with Peter Oluka of TechEconomy.ng in attendance. Excerpt.
Q: Nigeria’s power sector, with all the investments sunk in still remains at the same stage like before. There have been issues especially around the recent postponed tariff increment with some users saying there should be improved power supply before tariff increment. Where is the sector today and you were once a rocket scientist, is it a rocket science that cannot be solved?
Dr. Umeh: I think you’ve given a very good introduction to the power sector and what we’re dealing with in Nigeria. And yes, I am a rocket scientist by training and by my trade before. And so I said to people, the problems in the Nigeria power sector is not rocket science and if it’s rocket science, you have rocket scientists that are able to deal with it. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t get it right. Well, there are several factors that I think a lot of folks don’t understand about our sector. You know, there’s a lot of conversation in the sector where we will say, yes, we’re willing to pay more money for electricity as long as we are sure we’ll get power 24/7 coming to our homes, our offices, our factories and whatever you have.
However, it’s a little bit of a chicken and egg situation. If you don’t pay enough, the power sector doesn’t get fixed. OK. If the power sector gets fixed and you don’t pay enough, it can’t be sustained. So there’s a little bit of dance to do around there. Before I jump into that, I want people to understand what we’re talking about, the power sector. We have a value chain that we speak of. If we focus right now only on gas fired power plants, we’re talking about gas production, gas transportation through pipelines or whatever means you have and the power generation companies, GENCOS, and then you transmit the power through transmission lines and finally get to distribution networks.
The distributors now take the power and distribute it to their customers’ homes, factories, and offices. This is the entire value chain. So gas flows from one site, all the way to the GENCOs to generate the power and then it flows all the way to the customers. Then the money flows from the customers all the way back to pay everyone along the value chain. So if any of these pieces is broken, the power sector doesn’t work. And it sounds very simple.
However, the amount of investment needed to make this value chain work is humongous. Let me pick one, for example. If you want to produce enough gas to fire a 495 megawatt power plant, you need to invest at least, if you are building a brand new processing plant, you need to invest at least $250 million in that plant to make it work. Now, I’m not even talking about the investment that the gas producer makes to drill in his fields to bring out the gas.
This is just the processing facility and then you need to run pipelines. So depending on where the plant is situated. If it is situated right next to the gas processing plant, it could cost anywhere from a couple of million dollars to get the gas to the GENCOs or hundreds of millions of dollars to build a long pipeline to get it where it’s going. Currently, the AKK pipeline is about to be built.
The AKK pipeline is over 600 kilometres long, and it costs several billions to build a pipeline. Someone is making that investment. Beyond that, someone is also going to make the investments to upgrade our transmission lines in the country.
That’s a whole lot of money. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, to build. And then finally, we get to the DISCOs. The DISCOs, when they were sold, what we were told was that the Discos have ATCL losses around 45 percent. That is the Aggregated Technical Commercial Collection (ATCL) losses.
Now, what we’re finding is that those DISCOs, some of them have ATCL losses above 60 percent. What that means is for example, if you give them 10 megawatts of power, for example, and they sell, they are able to collect only 40 percent money for the power that they’ve given. Everything else is gone and lost.
How can the DISCO survive? Imagine this in Naira and Kobo, Dollars and Cents. It’s not a business like that. Now that these guys are having to work on the regime where they are told how much they can sell their gas for, how much a GENCO can sell the power that it produces for, how much it can collect for willing charges over the transmission lines and then how much a DISCO can sell the power. It doesn’t work!
Q: That means it is an issue with the tariff system. Is the MYTO still working as at today, is it still relevant till now?
Dr. Umeh: Within the tariff structure that we have today, what we’re working with, the Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO). The MYTO was set up by Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to encourage investment and to make sure that customers are not getting price gouges. It’s a nice system in theory, but in practice it’s not working.
It was inside the MYTO that about 38 percent of the whole tariff goes to GENCOs, about eight percent goes to the transmission line, about 47, 48 percent goes to the DISCOs. And then there’s another six to seven percent that goes to the VAT, to the government and then services. When you break that down, the question is, how much is actually available for the entire value chain to work? It is quite small.
Today, residents are charged, I think maybe N26 now to N29 per kilowatts-hour. Businesses are charged anywhere from N30 to N46 depending on the Discos.
On paper, it sounds good, however, in reality, that’s not enough money for these businesses to run the value chain and make it work. So we need to go back to the drawing board and my argument has always been, let’s look at a sector that has worked in Nigeria, what a privatized sector has actually worked and the only example I have right now is the telecoms industry.
What did we do differently? The government completely divested from telecoms. What happened after that? MTN came to Nigeria and they put down infrastructure. I can argue that the tariff that MTN was charging that year was more expensive than the tariff that they are charging anywhere else in Africa. But what happened thereafter? Other businesses started coming to invest in telecoms.
So today, you have GLO, you have Airtel, and you have 9mobile and so on and so forth. And because they are competing, the tariff has gone way down because of competition between these different telcos. You can constantly see that they are driving to give better service, they are driving to give better tariffs to the end user. So the competition has made the price stay competitive so people can actually get a good service at a price that makes sense to them. It’s not the government telling them what to charge.
Are the businesses within the value chain charging what they need to charge to be able to provide good service? Are they charging the tariffs that made sense to be able to make the investment needed to have the infrastructure value?
But they also have competitors. And it is the competition that drives pricing. So if the same were to happen to the telecoms, companies will come to make required investments across the entire value chain to make it work. But this is not the case that is being put forward by the different regulators that the government has set up. The right reason is that they are stifling growth in the country. They are stifling growth across the energy industry.
Q: Can you throw more light on that area? How are the regulators stifling the sector?
Dr. Umeh: It is important we keep talking about it. Some years ago, NERC put out some regulations that were supposed to help renewable energy sources come up. So the estimation was that by 2020, this year, we will have about 2000 megawatts running mostly from solar. How many megawatts have we put in solar? So if we pull one over and over and we are not seeing the result, isn’t it time for us to start thinking completely differently? You can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
It does not work. It’s never worked. And it will never work. So I say to Nigerians, to the government, it’s time for us to take a very different approach. I know the government has the best interests at heart. Yes. However, it’s time for us to look in a different way. Stop looking at what they did in India or what they did in London or what they did in Argentina. We know what they did. The experts have come to tell us; we have written regulations by experts. A lot has been spent yet no solution in sight.
Q: What can be done to really revamp the sector and make it work??
Dr. Umeh: We spent millions and millions of dollars in this country. That’s why it’s still not the right way to get it done. We’ve created a power sector recovery program, PSRP. It’s not working. I argue that it’s time for us to do it differently, very differently. And within that argument, I say, guys, we need to completely, deregulate the sector. I’m not telling the government to close down all the regulators, you can keep them there.
They have created some nice regulations that we can actually use. Don’t scrap all of them because we can use them. However, we need to understand that it’s the brand new market that we’re trying to allow to grow. So put the horse before the cart.
Allow the sector to grow, then you can regulate it. In allowing the sector to grow, allow the private companies that are willing to make the investment to make their investments, charge what they need to charge, and then let competition drive the prices down.
Q: Let’s talk about regulations and regulators. How are they preventing the sector from growing and can you kindly give us an example of how they impede the sector?
Dr. Umeh: I am in generation and we have the plan that we designed from scratch from 2012 and 2015. We initiated a power purchase agreement with Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading plc. (NBET), the bulk trader at a certain tariff. Well, guess what? From 2015 till now, nothing has happened. Several of the regulations that we worked under have been changed, several of the agreements that we have initially have been changed. How do we invest money in an uncertain environment? You can’t.
The investor will not give you one dollar to invest but the money is there ready to be invested but nobody is going to give it to you in the uncertain environment that we are in.
You sign an agreement today, in two years it is obsolete and you can’t even enforce it. So the rule of law to enforce the agreements is not there. How can you invest? You borrow money on a certain day, when a dollar was N360 but today, a dollar is N460. So the investment you made has completely gone. The expected returns completely eroded. How can you plan? The MYTO however, is still at the same level. We were told that on July 1st, we were supposed to see a new tariff. Just before that day, what happened? The National Assembly supposedly got together with the DISCOs and said, oh, we’re not ready for that, let’s move into next year. So the increase that we were supposed to see in tariff has gone away.
But Nigerians still expect power to come, it is not going to come. I said this year in, year out, as long as we keep doing this, the way we are doing it now, we would never see any additions, any meaningful action to the power industry. That’s what we see today.
So every year, I can say the same thing, and every year, you’re going to see the same result. A new minister came in and said by the end of the year we will see 10,000 megawatts added to the grid, it hasn’t happened and it’s never going to happen unless we change the way we do things.
Q: Thank you for that incisive presentation, but it gets one worried that a couple of these issues that you have raised, that they keep reoccurring because the last time we had an interaction in Abuja, during the Nigeria Oil & Gas (NOG) conference, a couple of the issues you raise now are still partly or largely some of the issues still plaguing the sector. But away from that, in all of this, do you still see the relevance of NBET to the power sector because you discovered that there are still underpayments to GENCOs when they collect. That is a major issue because when you reconcile the figures, you will see a lot of difference between what they collect and disburse to GENCOs. Would it rather not have a situation where the payments are made directly to GENCOs rather than being routed through NBET?
Dr. Umeh: Thank you for that question. What I said now, I did say the same at last year’s NOG. If we don’t start doing things differently, we are going to come again this year and have the same problems. So it’s almost like I had a crystal ball and it’s happening again. And I’m saying to you, this is going to happen next year, too, unless we start doing things differently.
Now, the government comes up and creates certain regulations. NBET, when it was created was to be a transitional organization. And when the transition happens, supposedly happens, then NBET will be dissolved. Transition hasn’t happened as it hasn’t been dissolved. I wouldn’t blame NBET for underpaying the GENCOs, you know, because the reality is this, NBET is supposed to pay the GENCOs with the money it collects from the DISCOs.
So when the GENCOs send out electricity and it goes to the DISCOs, the DISCOs are not able to collect money for all the power that was sent to them, so the GENCOs can’t be completely paid. And a lot of this power is lost, technical losses. A lot of it is lost in collections. So the DISCOs are collecting money from the people that they metered. There are some people that are unmetered who are not paying. Some are paying bill on estimated billings, and also a lot of people are not metered. So guess what, that is power that is lost and they call that power theft. However, think about this situation, if a GENCO is allowed to deal directly with the DISCO, two private companies dealing with each other. If GENCO supplies power to Eko Disco, for example, 10 megawatts and Eko disco is not able to pay for 10 megawatts of power. However, Benin disco can pay, guess what, next month that GENCO will rout the power directly to Benin Disco and collect its money. So Eko Disco will be forced to go and make whatever investment it needs to make to be sure if they get power the following month, they will be able to pay for the entire power deployment, they’ll be able to pay for them and get power from this particular GENCO.
So it’s really business. And this is where the industry needs to move to. Well, within that, the DISCO will also argue that some of the power that it collects, it is not able to collect all the money because there’s power theft going on, some of the infrastructures that were sold under the privatization has become obsolete that they need to spend a lot of money to update them. And guess what? The rate of the dollar has got so high that the money that they had before is not enough anymore.
And the customs are charging them so much for anything they import and so forth. So because of that, instead of charging a resident a predictable N20, N26 per kilowatt-hour, they want to charge them what, N40 per kilowatt-hour to make sure that everything was ok, power is available. Guess what? That becomes a business discussion. And when, if they’re allowed to charge for that N46 per kilowatt hour to make sure that the residents or the house gets 24/7 power. Guess what happens next? It’s now up to that resident.
When you get the power, what do you do? You make sure you have what we call power responsibility. Today, you’ll find some houses that might have ten or 15 air conditioning units in them. All the ACs will be on, there’s only one person in the house.
You know why? Because they’re not paying a cost-reflective tariff. So if you are paying, instead of N26, you are paying N46, you will make sure that you put off all the ACs that you are actually not using so that you pay for what you’re actually using. If you have 3 refrigerators in your house and one freezer, that’s a lot of power and you don’t use all of them, guess what you do? You will use only one freezer and refrigerator.
You will make sure that they are energy efficient so that you will only pay for what you will use. It you use bulbs in your house that cost you a lot of money, you will install energy efficient bulbs.
So you are now energy responsible, even though you’re paying N46, which is the high tariff compared to what you’re paying today. You’re using less electricity. So the Disco can charge you what they need to charge you to make sure you get energy 24/7. The DISCO can also, for only the power it collected from the GENCO. So if the GENCO was planning to supply 10 megawatts to Eko Disco for example and Eko disco knows that it need sell only 5 megawatts of power, the additional 5 megawatts of power will be taken and given to another DISCO that needs it and can actually pay for it.
So we see it’s strictly business. Think about it again, I’m going to bring you back to the telecoms industry. Today if you are on the phone. You only talk as much as what you can afford. You don’t stay on phone for 3 hours if you cannot afford it that is why you flash someone. When you’re browsing your phone, you want to watch a movie but you know if you do, your data will go and you can’t afford it now, you will not watch it, so you say you want to send important text messages.
That is responsibility. So we now push it back to the end-user, take only what you can afford. It is money, so power is not a social responsibility, but in Nigeria, we are dealing with it like it is a social responsibility.
The government is jumping to set tariff, it is not government’s job to set tariff. It is government’s job to set regulations that encourage investment. It is government job to make sure that people don’t come in and make the investments that they can’t recoup and then turn back to the government to try and bail them out.
So, set the right conditions. And guess what happens then? The NBET of this world will eventually be dissolved. So that, like the government planned, it will now become strictly business – willing Buyer, willing seller. Between the gas generator to the gas transporter, the guy doing the power generation, whoever owns the transmission online and then the distribution and end optical, that is the way it should be.
Q: It is difficult for the telecom sectors to go to the hinterlands to set up 4G networks. In fact, there are about 114 cities in Nigeria where we don’t have connectivity at all. So if we cast our minds back to 2001 when the sector was liberated, the MTN, Econet of this world, what they did, it was in 2003 that the customers started to feel the impact, when Glo came on board. So looking at what you’re proposing about the total deregulation of the sector; your projections, if government wakes up today and do this, when should people start seeing the cost effectiveness on the customer’s side?? By 2015, 2030 when will the impact be felt if government decides to deregulate today?
Secondly, metering is one of the issues that DISCOs are facing. What do you think can be done to kind of make it work so that people will be metered and when they do that people can come into the electricity net?
Dr. Umeh: These are very good questions. Let me start from the telecom’s comment. You know, I sit on the board of one of the telecoms company. I’m a director of one of the telecoms companies in Nigeria. So I get to say modestly, a company going to provide services in an area is strictly a business decision. You won’t make your infrastructure available in a place where you won’t see your returns. So when the telco’s came into the country, when, MTN came on board, they never thought they could get more than 500,000 subscribers, so they planned for the 500,000 across the country.
Guess what, they have millions across the country and are constantly looking for ways to service them. Some of the telcos not going to the hinterland is because they don’t have a lot of customers from there. Also, the power they are using is diesel generators. That contributes to the charges people are paying for. So if we have stable power, the telecom charges will first of all go down because the money spent to run the towers will also go down.
When will power happen in Nigeria? That’s a never ending situation and l can’t say if its 2030, or even 2050 because it all depends at the direction the government goes. So people are going to clamour to government that the tariff is too high, they can’t afford it and government will say let’s hold it. It is a chicken and egg situation. If the tariff is not increased then the companies cannot make the investment that is needed to provide 24/7 power. So guess what, the power remains as it is,
I did a poll recently where the people were asked if a GENCO working with a DISCO can provide you or assure you of 24/7 power today if you pay a tariff of N46 to N70 per kilowatt hour, will they pay? Everybody from the poll said yes. If the people are willing to pay, then why are some people or someone saying they don’t want to pay?
Q: What’s the issue, why are people not realising the importance of paying cost reflective tariff?
Dr. Umeh: It is a matter of education and information. People are not properly informed of what it takes to make the power sector works and as long that government is inside the mix, this is going to continue to happen. I don’t want the government to go away when I asked for deregulation, government should let private business run the sector and deal with each other as businesses so they can provide the service. In the telecoms sector, government sells bandwidth and company pays to get it. It should also be same in the power sector.
So government should stay in. Make it strictly business. Let businesses charge what they need to do the business. I mean, you don’t tell a taxi man what he should collect. You also don’t tell the tomato seller what it should sell the products. Why can’t we do the same thing? So it should be the same here. You don’t see the government telling the aviation companies how much they can charge for airlines ticket. Here in Nigeria, BA charge what it feels its right to make their money and if you fly Emirate, which would charge a fragment, so it’s up to the consumer. So that’s the answer
Q: Has it not occur once to the government that the way it is going is not the right way for the sector?
Dr. Umeh: There have been situations where when the country was going towards the right direction, having the right conversations then some persons or issues came up to disrupt the flow.
Several years ago, when there was a clear set of regulations that were running, someone came in and said that they went to Brazil and they had this technology that we can install in Nigeria which will add 10,000 megawatts at once on one plant within two years.
That completely distracted everything that was going on and distracted the entire industry and that kept us where we are. So when you have people trying to distract the conversations like that, you remove them, that’s what we need to do in this sector.
Q: What will be the implications of the postponement of the cost reflective tariff to this quarter of 2021, what do you think will be the implications of this on the sector and Nigeria? Secondly, the recent unbundling of TCN. What are the implications? Is it the right step to take at this time?
Dr. Umeh: So let me start with the second question. Unbundling the power sector was the right thing to do. We need to complete it. You know, you cannot decide you want to go from Lagos to Abuja, where, I mean, to drive with your car or drive to get there. We provide the car that we will use to drive there. We fuel the car; we provide service to the people really driving the bill. I mean. But then we start on our journey and along the journey, we suddenly say, you know what, we not going to Abuja anymore, let’s get to somewhere else. Meanwhile we had a timeline. We need to get there.
And guess what happens? We don’t know where we are, we don’t know where we are going, and we don’t know what to do next. It is the same situation here. We have agreed that we will unbundle the sector, we have done it.
We agreed on what the process will be and how to do the unbundling and we have started and halfway, we have been going back and forth. That is the problem that we see today. We said we are going to increase tariff by 2021 but we earlier said we were going to do it in July 2020 but we haven’t done it. So what makes you think we will do it in 2021? If you ask me, I don’t believe it, based on history.
Q: It’s an open secret that many of the DISCOs are all insolvent because of false valuations at the time of purchase. Will complete autonomy not lead to exploitation?
Dr. Umeh: Well, this is the way I look at it. If you’re worried about people getting exploited by the Discos, and because of that, we don’t allow the Discos to do what they need to do. The power is never going to come. Again, it is deciding which one comes first, is it the horse or the cart?
Which one is going to come first? Since we decided that the horse to come before the cart, allow the horse to come before the cart, there’s a right to own the horse before the cart. People are worried about that exploitation and I say that competition will ensure that this exploitation didn’t happen. While we are at this, look at the telecoms industry from what I said before. Competition is what drives pricing, correct pricing.
So once you believe the competition is going to set the price, then you need to let the people that will compete work. If we allow free markets to run, what it means down the line, in Lagos, for example, if we take Ikeja and areas like Ikeja for example, if there are several people that can provide part of the power in Ikeja at a price and it is too high, you will have another company selling at a favourable price to you or you keep going to someone till you get to someone that suits you.
And these companies that are competing against each other, they’ll encouraged, will be incentivized to make sure that they provide the right pricing. This is the way it works. Now, the question is going to be, how do we make this happen? How can we actually make sure that these companies can be created to compete against each other? That’s the question that we need to be discussing. And there’s already a model that can be used to make it happen.
Some of us already know that model. So these people that know it should be able to help the regulators that already exist, to put it in practice. And that’s what we need to be doing.
Q: Why can’t the GENCOs and DISCOs invest in the power themselves with sufficient metered power for everyone before talking about cost reflective tariff? I believe this should be available first.
Dr. Umeh: It is a good one, however, I ask you this, have you ever gone to a bank to try to borrow money? If you go to try and borrow money from the bank, the bank wants to see what you are going to use that money for, and how are you going to pay back. Where are you going to pay the money back from? Is it from the money that you make from that business that you’re trying to build?
So you need to show your business model first of all and be sure that the business can actually pay that money back. Without that no bank will give you N1. It is the same way for a GENCO to build the plant. For example, a 500 megawatts plant, they need to spend about $700 million dollars, not Naira, dollars. So they need to see that the money that they are going to make, they can pay it back. If a Disco is going to invest to provide infrastructure, transformers, lines and so on and so forth.
Guess what, that Disco also needs to show that it can collect enough money back to pay back for the investment that they’re going to make. So it comes back to that same thing. They need to show a viable business. Without showing it, they cannot raise the money they need to invest.
This money is not coming from our pockets, it is coming from loans. So they can’t give you power first and then try to show that it can make money. They need to show that they can make money before they get the power to make the investments. In the same way you don’t ask someone in an airline company to bring planes first before they know that they can charge a high price or whatever price they need to be able to pay for the plane and pay the salaries of all workers. It doesn’t happen that way.
This is business.
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