Electricity dependent small business owners in Niger State have attributed the lack of growth of micro, small and medium businesses to epileptic power supply by the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), Daily Trust Saturday reports.
Apart from the declining fortunes of small businesses, many others are being threatened.
Despite the fact that Niger State accommodates three major hydro electricity dams – Shiroro, Jebba and Kaiji, and the fourth one being constructed in Zungeru – the state cannot boast of five hours of uninterrupted electricity supply, leaving citizens, especially small business owners, to rely heavily on alternative sources of power such as generators.
Mostly affected are barbers, hairdressers, welders, printers, computer operators, drycleaners, grinding machine operators, tailors who use industrial sewing machines, among others.
Investigation by Daily Trust Saturday revealed that small business owners spend heavily on fuel and diesel to power their generators, in addition to high estimated billing given to them by the AEDC on a monthly basis.
It is said that the epileptic power supply in Niger has made the state unattractive for small businesses that rely on daily electricity supply to thrive, a situation that could lead to the destruction of such businesses since they depend on regular supply of electricity for survival.
Speaking on the situation, Habu Abubakar Ahmadu, an enterprise consultant and director of Young Consultants Limited said, “The effect of epileptic power supply on businesses in Niger State include high cost of production or service delivery, which reduces the margin of profit; high capital requirements for setting up businesses; high products or service price that makes it hard for our businesses to compete with those outside the state or those imported. For example, the Poundo yam powder produced in Niger is more expensive than those produced in Ogun State. There is a high mortality rate among business startups in Niger State. Every four out of five businesses that are started in Niger State pack up after one to two years. And it is contributing to the high unemployment rate in the state as such businesses either pay poorly or shed off staff when they close shop.”
The director of Enterprise Promotion and Development, who is currently the acting director, Niger State Small and Medium Enterprises and Micro Finance Agency, Muhammad Lawal Adamu, said the survival of 470,000 micro, small and medium enterprises in Niger State had been threatened by the epileptic power supply.
“If the cost of production is high, the operation cost is passed on to the consumer or end user through higher charges. In the first place, small and medium enterprises in Nigeria have issues around finances, so not many of them can make alternative provision for power supply to operate. This high cost of fueling their generators is another reason most of them are also having issues with tax collectors. It is not that most of them are tax invaders, but what they are supposed to save to do other things ends up in buying fuel to operate” he said, and called on the authorities concerned to do everything possible to improve on poor electricity supply to the state.
He suggested that Niger State should generate its own electricity instead of relying on a hydro power that would be shared among other states.
A Minna-based printer and publisher, James Adelowo, said he had remained in the business because he had no alternative, saying, “I don’t like to be idle, but some days I am forced to sit here without doing anything. If I have an alternative I won’t be sitting here. Without electricity there is nothing you can do. If I have to print for four hours, how much diesel would I buy? That is why I have stopped operating some of my big machines that require big generators.”
“I open at 8am and close at 6pm and there is no time you get light all through the day. I have a prepaid meter, but even if you recharge, you don’t get light regularly. There is no specific time for us to get light. Sometimes, we have jobs to do and the light is not there. You have to put on your generator.
“My machines are big, that is why I have two big generators. And due to lack of power I lose some jobs because if we have to run on diesel, it is N700 per litre; and you run for several hours. There was a day I had a book to print and I was using the big generator. I bought N10,000 worth of diesel but I could not finish the work before the diesel finished. So, if you look at the running cost, it is too much for us, that is why I had to get one small generator that uses petrol so that I can always have power to work.”
Adelowo explained that sometimes he would pile up jobs until there’s light before he would work for few hours. “And if there’s no light, we sit down without doing anything. It is already affecting everybody. Sometimes we work at night when we are supposed to rest. You have to be awake monitoring when light would be available so that you can do some work. Everything is slow, and this causes friction between us and our customers,” he said.
He also said charging customers more money to cover the cost of fuel had not been sustainable because they would easily look for cheaper alternatives. He said, “If you increase the price, your competitor might be interested in doing it at a cheaper rate. Even if the quality is not as high as mine, some people don’t care; that is why a lot of people will run all the year.”
A computer operator at the Obasanjo Commercial Complex, Minna, Abdulrasheed Shittu, told Daily Trust Saturday that epileptic power supply in the state had raised the running cost of his business as he relied on generators most of the time to do most of his work.
“Epileptic power supply affects me a lot. If you look at the rate at which we buy fuel nowadays and decide to charge your customers to recoup the money, complaint is always there.
“We pay service charges to fuel the Mikano generator that was given to the entire complex by the state government. Before now we were getting four hours of light from the generator, but due to the increase in the price of diesel, we are now getting two hours daily.
“The generator is being fueled from the service charges we pay to the Niger State Development Company. We pay N82,500 quarterly, which include security fee, light bill, fueling of the generator, NISEPA, and the White Brigade that controls traffic around the complex.”
“Most of the time, I open my shop from 9am to 6pm, and during this period, the light from the AEDC is not stable. Last week, they were bringing the light around 5pm when we were about to close our shops. And the generator given to us is being run for only two hours due to the rising cost of diesel,” he said.
Afolayan Tosin Juliana, who runs a hairdressing salon, said it was not easy to sustain the business on generator. “It is more profitable if you have public power supply. Sometimes the generator may develop faults, apart from the cost of fueling. With generators, there is no profit at all,” she said.
Also, Felix Akinola, a welder in the Chanchaga area of Minna, said there was no specific time to get light from the AEDC.
“Before now, they were giving us light for six hours. After some weeks, not even up to a month, it changed to three hours, and now, we don’t even have a specific time. We spend a lot of money on fuel.
“I work at least 12 hours a day – from 6am to 7pm. At the end of the day, if we estimate what we spend buying fuel, there is nothing to gain. If we spread the cost of fuel and that of materials, you realise that the cost of your finished product goes high and customers start complaining. There is no easy way of getting back the money you spend on fuel except by inflating the prices of what we are selling to our customers,” Akinola said.
Haruna Shuaibu, a tailor who uses industrial sewing machines, also said it had not been easy running the business on generator. He said, “We have been facing a lot of problems due to epileptic power supply. If we can get regular power supply, we shall in turn reduce the prices of our produts for our customers. I work for 24 hours. Because of the problem of epileptic power supply, I do sleep in my shop so that when they restore light at night I can work. Sometimes, throughout the day we don’t get light.
“This morning, I woke up with N1,500 and I have used N1,000 to buy petrol for my generator so that I can work. At the end of the month, they bring us estimated billing. Lack of regular power supply has truly caused a lot of fight between us and our customers because it delays our work.”
Abraham Isaiah, a barber in the Maitumbi area of Minna said that some days he used generators to do most of his work as electricity supply had never been regular and stable.
Also, Farouk Shu’aibu, a dry cleaner in the Tunga area of Minna said, “At times due to epileptic power supply, the work I am supposed to do in a day, I do it in five days. Some customers harass you, while some understand and reason with you.
“I have bought a generator to support my business, but with the rising cost of petrol, I don’t use it again. I wait for light to work whenever it is available.”
He said he had lost some of his customers due to delays mainly caused by irregular electricity supply, He appealed to the authorities concerned to assist in addressing the problem.