Having stayed for 17 straight days without the electric bulbs in his apartment flickering on for a second, a resident of Atan community in Ogun State, Mr. Odunayo Ogundipe, looked apparently embittered and disappointed.
Holding a plastic hand fan with his left hand, he fumed: “What did we do to deserve this kind of punishment? Our transformer does not have any fault, yet we have not had electricity supply for 17 days and still counting. We cannot continue to live like this. Even hell might not be different from what we have been passing through for sometime now.
“I cannot remember the last time we enjoyed six hours of power supply in a day. By the time they restore the power, it might last for three or four hours and that will be all till another three weeks or more. It is very unfortunate that, after almost 60 years of independence, we still cannot solve electricity problems.”
He believes, like many other analysts, that a country without constant power would forever remain stagnant.
From Lagos Island to the Mainland, Ibadan to Onitsha, Makurdi to Yola, it has been tales of anger, sorrow and regrets for electricity consumers under various electricity distribution companies. For many Nigerians, the service rendered by power distribution companies is simply unacceptable.
Across the divide, the story and experiences appear the same but differ in magnitude. Some of the tales appear incredible, yet they are true. Some areas seem to have been completely forgotten. The availability of power, especially in many rural areas, could be likened to the eclipse of the sun.
Many consumers cannot just fathom why they pay so much for electricity yet get ‘darkness’ in return. The discontentment is a reflection of the raw anger of consumers.
Both households and businesses have been at the receiving end of the years of incessant power outage and blackouts that have set Nigeria on the path of stable retrogression, particularly in the area of local production/manufacturing.
Many Nigerians are now wondering if the legendary Michael Faraday did not have Nigeria in mind when he invented electricity.
With the intense and suffocating heat of the dry season for weeks now, Nigerians are in dire need of power supply, yet it appears like are in search of water in a desert. As they wait endlessly for power generation and distribution to improve, consumers’ sufferings continue unabated.
How soon can Nigeria overcome the problem of epileptic power supply? This is a big poser that no one seems ready to give a direct answer to. Both government and private bodies in charge of power supply are passing the buck.
Business owners and residents spend billions of naira every month to fuel their generators as a result of the inability of power distribution companies to discharge their duties. Those who cannot afford the extra cost of generating electricity have been forced out of business, while many others are struggling to manage the crippling effects on their businesses.
The sound of generators has become deafening in different neighbourhoods. People are denied sound sleep by the unhealthy noise blasting from generators. In many houses, it is chaotic and emotionally frustrating for residents.
For instance, at 11pm on Sunday, February 23, a newly married man came down from his apartment in a storey building to turn on his noisy generator in a makeshift shack built for all generators in the big building that consisted of 14 flats. However, his female neighbour, an occupant of the apartment close to the ‘generator house’ protested: “It is wickedness to put on a generator at this hour. Don’t you want other people to sleep?”
It took the intervention of the landlord to resolve the argument, which attracted many other tenants in the house. Most of them were against the tenant who put on the generator, but a few others were in support, saying the heat was unbearable. The tenant also defended his action, saying his wife and others in the house had not been sleeping well for some days as a result of the intense heat.
Having been dissatisfied with the quality of service, there have been a number of protests to power distribution companies’ offices across the country. The consumers have been demanding to know why they were constantly handed outrageous bills despite persistent epileptic power supply to their homes. Some areas, especially in Lagos, had also boycotted payment of bills for months pending when estimated billings were stopped and pre-paid metres installed in their houses. These Nigerians believe that they have been cheated and exploited for decades.
Even with the promises to make metres available, years after, most areas are still waiting for the promises to be fulfilled.
Everyone appears to be affected by this abysmal power supply. Therefore, the poor, middle-income earners and the rich are all united in venting their anger on the authorities. They have taken their disenchantment to the social media and other places just to get the attention of those in charge of the sector. These disgruntled demonstrators mirror the rage and silent grumbling of most Nigerians who need something to be done about the situation as quickly as possible.
Periodically, electricity tariffs are reviewed upward with a pledge to offer better services to the consumers, yet the situation appears to be getting worse on daily basis. Many are calling on the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the power distributing companies (discos) to consider the plight of Nigerians and improve on their services.
Not too long ago, a video went viral on the social media, showing a young man stripping himself completely naked before a female official of an electricity company’s team, who went on a disconnection mission in the area. The young man, looking angry, stood his ground and retrieved his already disconnected wire from the female official even as other women in the scene spontaneously fled.
In many areas, the mere sight of any of the electricity company’s officials easily provokes vexation. Many of such officials have been attacked by dissatisfied consumers. These consumers now see payment of bills as a wrong investment.
As more companies close shop in Nigeria, countries like Ghana and Benin Republic are reaping from the mass exodus, as their far better power supply has been attracting Nigerian businessmen. Different goods consumed in Nigeria are imported in millions of tons from the neighbouring countries.
“We are not demanding too much from government. We are not asking them to give us free electricity. If there is constant power supply, I will make more profit from this my shop, and I will not be grumbling when paying the bills. I spend an average of N30,000 a month to fuel my generator for my business,” Simeon Uche, who owns a barber shop in Lagos, told the reporter.
A resident of Lafenwa community in Ogun State, Mr. Ojo Bamidele, said: “The Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IEDC) has not been giving us constant power supply. This is despite the fact that we were the ones that bore the cost of electrifying the area. The company has not bought anything for us since we started developing this community. The only thing it does is to come every month to share bills, collect money or disconnect the wire. Yet, we won’t have electricity for days and weeks. Anytime the transformer develops fault, we levy ourselves to repair it. It is as if we don’t have a government here,” he said.
Despite the fact that power generation companies (Gencos) produce less than the needed output in the country, it is said that the distribution companies (Discos) have continued to reject load, leaving the consumers with frequent outages.
A resident of Ugbowo in Benin, the capital of Edo State, Omorotionmwan Uwuigbe, lamented that, “The Benin Electricity Distribution Company must be the worst of all the distribution companies in Nigeria. We have been paying for darkness. It is very painful that nobody is doing anything about it.
“On so many occasions, there won’t be light for about 22 or more days in a month, yet they will give me N21,000 for my three-bedroom flat. If I run my big generator for 24 hours a week, I can’t spend more than half of that bill. Then how do these people come with their bills?
“BEDC has been holding us to ransom for years despite the intervention of different stakeholders, including our revered monarch, the Oba of Benin.
“Some years ago, the power situation wasn’t too fantastic but it was manageable. At least, we used to get between 10 and 12 hours of electricity daily. It kept reducing and getting worse. There was a time electricity would be on for two days and would be off the following day. After that, it became one day on and two days off. But at the moment, it comes whenever they like. I rely on generators for everything, from pumping water to ironing clothes.”
The tale is no different in Ikorodu, Lagos, which is under the IEDC, as some parts of the community have not had power for months.
In Elepe, a sprawling community along Ijede Road, hundreds of residents have had no access to electricity since October 13 last year. Even after paying several fees to the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, they are yet to have light.
However, many people are not too surprised over the poor power supply in the country, as most of the offices used by the distribution companies also rely on generators to run their day-to-day business.
Some economists have faulted the processes that led to the privatisation of the sector, saying it was like jumping from frying pan to the fire. They argued that the process was fraudulent, and the companies were given to the family and friends of those in government then and were sold far below their worth.
Their argument is that, when you privatise, you don’t just privatise an electricity company, but the generation, distribution and transmission arms as well. In this case, only the distribution aspect was privatised, while generation and transmission were still in government’s hands.
It is also said that the owners of the companies always set targets for marketers, and so, to realise their target, they adopt estimated billing, to the detriment of consumers.
“After five years of lobbying, I was able to get a prepaid metre in my apartment in Festac Town. I spend less on recharges because I only pay for what I use. If I travel for months, no bill is accumulated on my behalf. When I am around, I hardly spend up to N2,000 as my monthly bill because I don’t have many appliances. Before, I was receiving bills of between N14,000 and N7,000 each month,” a resident said.
As erratic power supply continues, frustrating many and crippling businesses across the country, Nigerians are calling for a stop to the injustice. They want the authorities to show more responsibility and improve power supply in the country.
“Whatever could be done should be done,” Jude Adebayo, who lives in Ikorodu, stated. “I think most of the Gencos lack the capacity to do anything about power distribution. That they got the jobs in the first place is shocking. Nigerians are suffering. The Consumer Protection Council and the Federal Government should come to the people’s rescue,” he said.