George Onyejiuwa (Owerri), Tony Osauzo and Ighomuaye Lucky (Benin), Raphael Ede (Enugu), Okey Sampson (Aba)
Electricity consumers’ disenchantment and rebellion against the 11 electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) in the country appear to have reached the crescendo. Across the country, the battle cry now is: ‘No prepaid meter, no payment of estimated bills.’
However, the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) has given May 1 as fresh date to begin new roll out of pre-paid meters to consumers nationwide.
According to the General Manager, Public Affairs, Dr Usman Arabi, the exercise would be executed under the Meter Asset Providers (MAP) programme of the Federal Government.
In our coverage of the growing consumers revolt, we serve you the second part of our report, which began last week.
The lot of the people in Imo State has been darkness and outrageous bills. That is the unpalatable dish, which the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) has been serving the people who proudly describe their beloved state as the Eastern Heartland. In the face of the extremely epileptic power supply, the people are further punished by the DISCO with over-estimated bills, which has laid unbearable financial burden on them.
Take the case of residents of Umuguma Housing Estate in Owerri-West LGA, the residents hardly get power supply twice in a week, yet they are inundated with estimated bills every month. One of the residents, Mr Stanley Uche, vented his frustration this way: “We have suffered in this estate over the issue of electricity because the EEDC is just extorting the people. It was the residents that procured the transformer, electricity poles and the cables and even had to pay the EEDC to install them, yet we don’t enjoy power supply. Those of us who have applied for pre-paid metres are yet to get them. Whenever we see electric light for two days, it means that officials of EEDC would come soon after to share bills to the residents.”
Also, in Uratta community in Owerri North Council Area of the state, the people are now at daggersdrawn with the EEDC over what they described as “unreasonable” bills they are compelled to pay. However, the community leaders eventually resolved the matter as they agreed that all residents would have to pay at least N1,500 as monthly bill.
The situation in the oil-producing communities of Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta local government areas is even pitiable as those areas have not had power supply for about four years.
This expectedly has affected the cost of operating barbing/hair salons or even beer parlour because they run on generating sets.
What typifies the tale of woes in these oil-bearing communities is that the Egbema people of Rivers State enjoy electricity while their kith and kin in Imo wallow in darkness.
The lack of electricity in these communities has adversely affected socio-economic activities and further deepened the poverty level there.
Investigation by Sunday Sun revealed that the people living in Obitti, Awarra, Asa, Ochia, Ilile, Obile, which are communities in Ohaji/Egbema Local Council Area have never experienced public power supply in their entire life while both past and present administrations in the state had not done anything to remedy the ugly situation.
It was further discovered that some natives of Ihie, Umuapu, Mgbirichi, Umuagwo, Abakuru, Etekuru Obuoma, Ekugba, Umuorji, Mmahu, Obiakpu, Mgbara, Egbema, Obosima, Ossemoto, Awa, Izombe, Umunwaku, Ohuba, Ejemekuru, Agwa and Amafo communities who had enjoyed public electricity before 1999 are today in darkness.
Mr John-Kennedy Uzoma from Ilile village in Umuokanne community in Ohaji told Sunday Sun the pathetic tale of his kinsmen’s suffering over the absence of power supply despite their huge self-help efforts.
“We have not experienced anything called electricity for almost 10 years now because immediately our electricity project was completed and energized, it lasted for about five months and went off. Ever since, we have not seen any sign of electricity,” Uzoma said, adding that “for our people to enjoy electricity in our homes today, we must own at least one ‘I-pass-my-neighbour’(a small generator set).”
He also disclosed that the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC), which is supposed to pay for power consumed by people in the oil-producing communities, has not been doing so. Power supply to the areas was severed by EEDC over unpaid bills put at over N50 million.
Similarly, at Awarra in Ohaji, Emeka Nwala, who also bemoaned the plight of his people told Sunday Sun: “It is worrisome that people in Awarra, which is an oil producing community, have not been enjoying supply of electric power. This is one of the reasons the youths are restive. Today, most of the skilled young men have left the community because for them, there is no life in the community without electricity.”
A businessman, Albert Nana, noted that Governor Rochas Okorocha had started the power plant project at Mmahu Egbema due to the political expediency of his re-election in 2015, but regretted that the project was abandoned as soon as he was re-elected.
Maintaining that the issue of electrification of the area could be tackled if the government was serious and sincere. Rather, the government only played a political game with the people.
“This issue has lingered for over 10 years for communities that used to have regular supply of electricity like Oguta. When the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission was established, the task of paying the electricity bill of the communities became its responsibility and ISOPADEC was doing that until the inception of the Okorocha administration, which started owing the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC).
“That apart, Governor Okorocha, about a year to the 2015 general election initiated another project at Mmahu Egbema and a very close aide to the governor was the major contractor, but as soon the election was over and he won, the project was forgotten,” Nana said.
The power plant project at Mmahu Egbema, he said, would have made their problem a thing of the past if it had been completed.
Just like their counterparts in Imo State, electricity consumers in Enugu State, where the headquarters of the EEDC is based, have been in lamentation as the DISCO has persisted in giving them estimated bills and made no effort to provide prepaid meters in line with the directive of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) on the metering of consumers.
One of them, Anthony Ugwuonu, told Sunday Sun that he had applied for metering more than five times from 2015, but the EEDC had refused to supply the prepaid meter. Instead they have been giving him estimated bills.
He said: “I applied in 2015, 2016 and 2018, even this year, 2019, I have applied for meter, but EEDC has been bringing estimated bills. I was on prepaid meter before it got burnt in 2015. I wrote to them to come and evaluate what I use in the house. They came and after they started billing me N10,000 and complained because they know that before the meter got burnt I had never recharged more than N6,000 in a month. They told me that they will replace the burnt meter soon, while I was waiting for meter replacement my bill was increased to N15,000 a month. In 2017, it was increased again to N18,000; in 2018 they increased the bill to N20,000 and in this January they increased it again to N21,000.”
He further said that he had decided to stop paying for electricity until his house is metered.
However, there appears a general consensus among customers that there is an improvement in electricity supply to both in urban and rural communities, as Sunday Sun learnt from Chief Richard Nwebi, who said that consumers are now getting up to 13 hours of electricity as against the six hours they used to get previously.
He said: “In our area, Relay Quarters, the EEDC is trying. We are getting steady supply of electricity, but on estimated billing payment. In short their staff told us that the transformer feeding our area has a billed amount and at the end of each month after removing payment of prepaid customers the remaining money would be shared among postpaid customers.
“We have requested that each house in the neighbourhood be metered, but they refused and rather opted for bulk meter which community leaders here objected to because it is difficult to control the people on the use of electricity.”
When Sunday Sun met with the EEDC Head of Communication, Chukwuemeka Eze, he explained that the commitment of the DISCO to meter its customers. Upon takeover in November 2013, after privatization of EEDC, Eze said the DISCO inherited a metering gap of over 700,000 customers, but noted that about 250,000 of its customers are now on prepaid meter (PPM) platform.
As part of speeding up the metering process, the DISCO has keyed into the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) initiative of NERC.
“The process of appointing our own MAP is already in process. Last year, we published Expression of Interest (EOI), and have submitted our documents to NERC for approval to enable us kick off the process. We believe that this will address the issue of metering.
“Aside the effort made by the business to ensure that the metering gap is closed and customers metered, we have also embarked on Distribution Transformer Metering (DTM) of all public transformers within our network; this kicked off this February. This will enable us ascertain the actual consumption per transformer and bill the customers connected to these transformers accordingly. We believe that this will address the complaints on billing, especially for the unmetered customers,” he said.
Eze advised customers who have issues with their bills to visit their customer service representatives at their respective service centres and district offices to make formal complaints.
In Aba, Abia State, which is also under the coverage area of EEDC, there is at present a war of attrition between the DISCO and its customers in the commercial hub, where some parts of the city have not had power supply for six months to one year now. Worst hit are the Federal Housing Estate, Esiulo, Ehere/Emelogu, Isiala Ovom, Ovom Amairinabuo, Akuma Imo, Akpaa Mbato and Ntigha Uzo Amairi, all within the Ogbor Hill axis of the city.
The major problems in these areas are that some of the transformers supplying electricity to the areas broke down at the beginning of last year without being repaired or replaced, others had power supply cut off on grounds of non-payment of electricity bills which the customers claimed were too outrageous. At present, residents in parts of the Federal Housing Estate have started contributing money to buy a new transformer.
Things went so bad that a lawyer representing Ehere/Emelogu, Isiala Ovom, Ovom Amairinabuo, Akuma Imo, Akpaa Mbato and Ntigha Uzo Amairi communities, Ogbonnaya Igwenyi, sometime ago, petitioned the managing director of the EEDC over their plight.
In the petition, the communities claimed they had over the years cooperated with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) from which EEDC took over, to the extent that they had at all times through communal efforts carried out electrification projects and replaced any damaged facility in their areas.
They equally claimed they had not relented in paying their bulk electricity bills even when there was little or no supply of electricity.
“Any attempt to complain to your representative was met with starchy arrogance. Hardly would he allow you a friendly communication even if solution is not readily available unless you are ready to pay him. If he permits, it is to remind you that he came to Aba for business and not to listen to unrewarding complaints by the natives. We bear the brunt of estimated bills without light since your distribution transformer in the area has turned to mere decoration without power.”
The communities said presently, their relationship with the representatives of EEDC in the area was like that of colonial masters and African natives in the years of yore and they would, therefore, not take it anymore.
“In the circumstance, our clients send a message of intention to formally terminate any contractual relationship between your company and them as there is no basis for a marriage that has broken down irretrievably. The best is for parties to peacefully move their separate ways to avoid crisis. In the present situation, all the facilities on ground from electric poles, wires, transformers and other accessories are there by our clients’ communal efforts hence we must respectfully notify you of the present position with due assurances of our clients’ regards.”
A resident in one of the communities, Mike Eze, who expressed the frustration of the consumers said the aim for privatizing the power sector of the economy has been defeated by EEDC, and stressed that all avenues to make the company change for good has failed.
“We thought that the idea of privatizing PHCN was to enhance energy services to the public, but the opposite is the case. The situation where people will stay for several weeks without light and then get heavy bills to pay is not proper.
“The treatment EEDC is giving us in Aba is peculiar. It is not the same in Enugu or Owerri. Here, they feel that Aba people don’t know their left and right. And that anyhow they give them the bill, they will pay. So, it is getting out of hand and we can’t take it anymore.”
He said for several months, running to one year, residents of the area have not had electricity and EEDC has not done anything to solve the problem resulting to people seeking self-help. He said the worse of it all, at the end of the day, they will be giving bill for power they never consumed.
The people of Edo State and the other states covered by the Benin Electricity Distribution Company, BEDC, are no less caught in the web woven against electricity consumers in the country by the DISCOs. Following the expiration of the directive by NERC to the DISCOs to meter all consumers, as the only sure way to end the financial plight of estimated billing, electricity consumers and activists in the state have resolved on the way forward for dealing with the situation.
For Emmanuel Asagwaram, a journalist and electricity consumer, taking the route of confrontation would not be the best way. Rather he has decided to ask BEDC to formally disconnect his house from its grid.
“I will not want to resist them by force, but to tell them what the NERC had said that they should stop estimated billing. I will not also stop them from cutting me off from the grid because doing that could lead to altercation. Rather than get physical, I would appeal to their conscience,” he said.
But Osaze Edigin, a human rights activist, lays the blame at the doorsteps of NERC and the DISCOs.
According to him, the nonchalant attitude of the DISCOs and reluctance to comply with the NERC directive is a calculated plan to rip off the electricity consumers.
“The prolonged eradication of estimated billing is deliberate and meant to exploit and extort the customers. The core investors in the power sector never had the financial wherewithal to run an effective electricity distribution, their motivation was solely to reap from where they didn’t sow.
“NERC has turned itself to the proverbial bulldog that barks, but cannot bite, the DISCOs have always flouted their directives and this won’t be an exception.
“Nigerians have not experienced any significant improvement since the takeover by the private investors, rather the sector nosedived leading to closure of industries and relocation of same.
“Worthy of note is that the majority of Nigerians are not even aware of the directive by the NERC due to poor dissemination of information, which eventually made the directive of no effect since the customers cannot enforce what they don’t know.
“Well, let me add that it is the responsibility of customers to resist any attempt by officials of the BEDC to disconnect them when they are not provided with meters against the regulation of the NERC.”
Stating their preparedness to provide meters to the people of Edo State, the Head, Corporate Affairs, Benin Electricity Distribution Plc, Mr. Tayo Adekunle, said they have reached 64 per cent.
“First and foremost, BEDC is among the DISCOs with the high metering rate of 64 per cent and we have also keyed into the NERC Meter Asset Provider Scheme.
“We have done due diligence on some independent parties who are ready to take up their assignment within our coverage area. We have submitted the list to NERC and we are waiting for its approval and I think the same thing goes for all other DISCOs.
“Once the approval of NERC comes out, a lot of things will be determined. The parties will be assigned to locations and they will also decide their operational office and logistics. Then more importantly, preparatory to the scheme, we are doing enumeration of customers now to be able to know what to provide to customers in each of the locations.
“We have chosen some locations and we are making use of the 390 corps members within our system, to facilitate the process. By the time they finish, some of them might end up being employed by BEDC,” Adekunle said.