THE perennial complaints by electricity consumers across the country about insufficient supply of pre-paid meters and outrageous tariff based on estimated billing method from electricity distribution companies (Discos), have received the attention of the Federal Government. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who voiced the concern of consumers at Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State during the commissioning of a metering factory, lamented that the problem of irregular power supply currently being experienced in the country is largely caused by inaccurate billing system from insufficient metering machines.
The vice president noted that although the Discos have been complaining that their operations have been adversely affected by lack of sufficient revenue from tariffs, consumers have good cause to demand for prepaid meters. He also noted that inadequate power remains a major obstacle to the economic development of the country. The Vice President has therefore aptly underscored the need to break the current monopoly of electricity meter supply, now in the firm grip of the distribution firms.
We support every move, or policy measure that will liberalise the meter supply chain and bring stability to the power sector in which government had invested so much capital since the inception of the present democratic dispensation with little results to justify the huge investment. Nigerians had thought that privatisation of the power sector would have ended the nightmares of irregular power supply, inaccurate and estimated billing method. Instead, it has fueled consumers’ resentment against the Discos.
It is in this regard that we heartily welcome government’s decision to give consumers free choice to either pay for meters from their respective Discos or other independent marketers. We recall that government had in August stated that it will not oppose the wishes of electricity consumers who are willing to purchase their own meters outside the Discos. Indeed, that decision was endorsed by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the power sector regulator.
That decision represents a policy reversal of government’s earlier decision of April, 2017 when it directed the NERC to wind down its alternative metering scheme known as the Credit Advanced Payment for Metering Initiative(CAPMI). That policy allowed electricity consumers to pay for their meters from their different Discos.
The new decision, breaking the monopoly of meter supply, was announced by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, at the 18th monthly power sector stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja. The minister said that government decided to intervene following a flurry of complaints from consumers.
However, he gave assurance that government would “democratise access to meters” beginning with the N39bn intervention fund set aside for meter providers, as long as it meets the intents of the privatisation effort envisioned by the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA).
While the meter factory at Onna should serve as the first step towards breaking the monopoly of meter supply, more should be built across other states in the country. Discos should realise that access to meters by consumers at affordable cost will benefit them, at least in the long-run, and to the consumers even more. It is, therefore, important that the Discos make the meters available to costumers at reasonable price, rather than hoard them as they reportedly do at the moment.
They should also not cut off power supply to consumers that have chosen to buy their meters from other providers. The Discos should be reminded of the relevant provisions of the EPSR Act 2005, which mandate the NERC to ensure effective and efficient management of electricity supply, even as the Act directs the Discos to “recover costs on prudent investment.” But, such profit should be based on quality service to customers.
Since power remains pivotal to every development effort, it is about time to fix the problems that bedevil the sector. In the same vein, the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distribution (ANED), an umbrella body of the Discos, should be ready to collaborate with investors that are interested in going into full-time metering business.
The performance of Discos has been disappointing so far. They need to do much more than they are doing currently. The unstable nature of the nation’s power sector has become one huge conundrum that needs to be solved urgently. Delivery of regular, quality power supply is a responsibility of the government and agencies entrusted with such task. They should strive to deliver on that mandate.