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The future of energy is sustainable, clean and green – Maryam Shehu Mohammed

The state and future of power supply remains a recurring decimal for Nigerians, and over the years, several measures have been taken by both the private and public sector to provide a public service that is commercially viable. In this interview, LEGAL BUSINESS’ Onyinyechi Ukegbu speaks with Maryam Shehu Mohammed, Company Secretary, Kaduna State Distribution Company (“Kaduna DisCo”) to discuss her journey, new regulations, and the future of energy. Below are excerpts.

You began your career as a prosecutor with the Ministry of Justice, Kaduna. What informed the transition to in-house counsel?

Law is a versatile profession and the earlier a young Lawyer is exposed to different aspects of practice the better. I experienced both aspects and thoroughly felt corporate practice was my calling, so I decided to stick with it and perfect my skills. Also, I had sufficient mentoring in the corporate world, having been assigned major tasks as a young Lawyer. This has built my confidence to take on even more responsibilities.

You are credited with restructuring the legal department at Kaduna DisCo. What was your goal and how did you achieve it?

Restructuring the Department was the first, but I was also among the four-member team that restructured the whole organization. For any organization to operate efficiently and effectively, a proper structure is key as it forms the basis for assigning responsibilities, delineating roles and accountability. Structure is what makes any organization work. My goal has and will probably always be organizational efficiency.

What impact has this had on the company as a whole?

Improved efficiency, teamwork, collaboration and better output. There is increased synergy in our operations which has triggered incremental growth in collections.

The Finance Act 2020 includes a provision that requires all companies other than those in the agricultural sector to pay a minimum tax. How would this impact DisCos’ profitability going forward?

There are advantages to the provisions of the Finance Act for DisCos because there will be a reduction on tax expense as minimum tax has been reduced from 0.5% to 0.25%. However, with the Service Reflective Tariff implementation, it is expected that DisCos will earn more and the quantum of remittance will increase.

Last year, the Covid 19 pandemic caused significant disruptions in economies and lifestyle worldwide. One of the mainstays post-Covid is the increased reliance on digitalization and automation. How has Kaduna DisCo been positioned to handle this?

Kaduna Electric had a smooth transition from physical to digital meetings in the early days of the covid-19 lockdown. Daily Zoom, Microsoft Office, Skype, Zoho and other platforms have eased inter and intra company collaborations and meetings. The Board and management have embraced the transition effortlessly. Not only has it become the norm to hold virtual meetings, the new Companies and Allied Matters Act recognizes virtual AGM’s. Also, for metering, the Company is currently installing automated meters which save time and resources where monitoring is required. Automation and digitalization are the future of our operations and we have embraced them readily.

Conversations around energy and global warming have been ongoing for decades however recent trends indicate increasing favour for sustainable energy sources. While we grapple with the current challenges of Nigerian sector, how can we best prepare for this change?

Sustainable clean and green energy is the future of energy globally. Kaduna Electric has set the pace in its partnership with Shell Foundation’s Energy Company of the Future. The idea is to have communities catered for on a need’s basis with off and on grid sources of supply. The unique aspect of this arrangement is the distinctive requirements of the customers are factored into the arrangements for supply to them.

The legal profession remains male-dominated, but there are strides in the right direction. What challenges did you encounter in your journey and what advice do you have for others?

This is an issue that is very dear to me. Not only am I in a profession that is male dominated, but I am also in an industry that is even more. Statistics show that there is an average of 10:3 men to women in the Nigerian Power Sector. My advice to female Lawyers is to be the best Lawyer that there is, invest in learning, be diligent, make the right connections, plan to succeed and be prepared for success. Women must champion the cause of women and we must continue to advocate for inclusiveness equity and equal opportunity in the workplace. We must be ready to mentor and be mentored. I am proud to say the Board of Kaduna Electricity Distribution Plc recently approved a Gender, Diversity and Inclusiveness Policy. The Board has recognized the need to put a structure in place to ensure that women also actively participate in leadership and other levels of the Company’s operations.

Law is challenging passion, and like anything that must be done well, it requires significant investment of time and energy. What do you do in your free time to relax?

Truly, you cannot give what you do not have and if there is insufficient investment in “self” then a burnout is the imminent result. Good quality sleep is high priority on this list. Walking, it gives me time to think clearly. I enjoy reading, it is an escape, and I can live in many different worlds through books. I listen to inspiring podcasts some music too. Family time is also relaxing. Finally, I have discovered Sheikh Omar Hisham Alaraby’s Qur’anic recitation… simply amazing.

You are the Founder of Charity to Cheer Foundation focusing on providing healthcare and scholarships to the less-privileged. Can you share a bit about the work you’ve done?

Our work began in 2012 but we were formally registered in 2014. Our focus is on providing access to education and health services to the underserved. We have provided free cataract surgeries for hundreds of patients; paid individual medical bills; fed hundreds of families over the years (during Ramadan and national covid-19 lockdown); sunk boreholes in underserved communities; provided scholarship for over a hundred orphans and unprivileged children; we have also intervened to support widows with shelter and seed capital; we provide wheel chairs and prosthetic limbs for those who cannot afford especially children who need these to enable them attend school.

What is your personal and professional outlook for 2021?

Technology is the future of practice for lawyers; whether in-house or in litigation, we are going through a welcome transition. Kaduna Electric and the Nigerian Power Sector as a whole is gravitating towards sustainable progress and I am excited at the prospects that the future holds. There is so much learning, unlearning and relearning to be done professionally, based on the effects of covid-19 and I am an eager learner. In the past two years, I have been able to conclude a PhD in Law and a Masters’ Degree in Leadership, all the while, working full time. I have decided that 2021 is the year to enjoy the benefits of those achievements, soak it all in and practice the skills, hopefully, teach those interested.

Personally, 2020 and Covid-19 have taught me that life is much too short, and the fragility is astounding, so I will savor every goodness it brings my way, be easier on and kinder to myself, enjoy family ties, be healthier, laugh more and read more Nigerian literature (our writers are amazing). Yes, I have also promised myself that I will begin to write (fiction, non-fiction, poetry) again!

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