The shout of ‘Up NEPA’ from neighbourhoods connotes some sort of joy when electricity is restored. Usually, how loud the shout is echoed could indicate how many days, weeks or months the people have been starved of power supply.
The erratic power supply that has bedevilled and bewildered Nigeria and its people for decades has become extremely worrisome and frustrating.
As small and big businesses across the country continue to be at the receiving end, Nigerians have not ceased to wonder if fixing electricity and having a constant power supply is really as difficult as it seems.
It has since been established by economists and analysts that a country without stable electricity would forever remain backward. The situation is simply unbearable in some communities as the residents there could live for months without a flicker from their bulbs.
To be freed from the league of countries that are still bound by this heavy chain of darkness, concerned Nigerians have called on the authorities to show more responsibility by improving power supply in the country.
Obviously, most Nigerians across the country are not happy with the various electricity distribution companies. For many consumers, the service rendered by the electricity providers is not commensurate with the bills they are given every month. The anger and frustration being displayed by consumers are connected with the claim that they pay so much for electricity yet get ‘darkness’ in return.
No wonder, anytime the distribution companies increase or attempt to increase consumers’ bills, there are always complaints and fierce objections and rejection.
Some areas seem to have been completely forgotten and left to their fate. In such areas, it comes as a surprise to the residents anytime electricity is restored.
Across the country, there have been many of protests by electricity consumers, calling on the electricity distribution companies to wake up from slumber.
On many occasions, officials who were on duty to disconnect cables of those owing their companies ended up being beaten up by angry consumers. These disgruntled demonstrators mirror the rage and silent grumbling of most Nigerians who need something to be done about the ugly situation as quickly as possible.
Aside from businesses that are collapsing, predominantly in the area of local production/manufacturing, the many years of incessant power outages have continued to unleash hardship on households. The high cost of fuelling and maintaining generators have all combined to wreak havoc on Nigerian manufacturers.
Issues surrounding electricity generation and distribution in Nigeria are multifaceted. They range from estimated billing, outrageous bills, frequent breakdown of transformers, lack of prepaid metres to fluctuating current that damages electronics and other valuables connected to power source at that particular time.
But economists have maintained that distributing prepaid metres to consumers would settle most of the arguments over outrageous bills.
Also worrisome to many communities across Nigeria is the issue of individuals levying themselves to raise money to buy transformers, cables and poles so that power could be supplied to their households. But the distribution companies would reportedly show up to claim the materials without giving any form of rebate to the communities.
A community leader in Onse, Ado Odo/Ota Local Government Area (LGA) of Ogun State, Alhaji Lateef Ajagun, told Daily Sun that he would never forgive the distribution company in his community for bringing bills to the residents the very first month that they were given electricity.
“Each household contributed as much as N100,000 and N200,000 in purchasing those materials. While we were buying those things, the officials from the company told us that their management knew how to compensate us and they acknowledged that we had spent so much. It is a shame that they couldn’t keep the promise.
“We moved against their bills. We told our people not to pay one kobo from what they brought to us. We expected that they would have given us a minimum of six months holiday, but we were wrong. The explanation by the officials was that the N3,000 they charged for each house was only a maintenance fee. We argued it for some time, but at the end we were forced to pay the money because the bills kept accumulating.
“We are living in a country where the government does not care for the masses. This electricity problem has continued for this long because most of the politicians can conveniently provide electricity for themselves. They know what to do but they have refused to do the right thing due to selfish reasons,” Ajagun said.
Successive governments have made promises that things would improve in the sector, but consumers’ suffering has continued unabated. Government and private bodies in charge of power generation and distribution are passing the buck.
In June 2019, the then acting chairman of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) Apapa Branch, Lagos State, Mr. Joe Onyebu, said many businesses were going through very hard times as power supply has drastically dropped.
He noted that small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) appear to be the worst hit by the epileptic power supply, and warned that once they were shut down, it would set up ripple effects that did not only mean that jobs would be lost, but that creditors from banks to private individuals would also have to share in the losses as getting back their money would become an impossible task.
He stated that the high cost of generating electricity to run manufacturing plants was one of the reasons most local industries had failed to be competitive and profitable.
Every night, people are denied sound sleep by the noise emanating from neighbours’ generators. In many houses, it is an emotional trauma that the residents have been condemned to. They often murmur and grumble, but no one seems ready to have interest in their lamentation.
When privatisation of the sector was announced some years ago, many Nigerians jumped for joy, believing that a lasting solution had been found to the frequent power outage. But they quickly realised how wrong they were. Many hopes have been dashed following the inability of the power generation companies (Gencos) and Distribution Companies (Discos) to provide the power supply needs of the citizens years after the privatisation exercise.
A business owner in Lagos, Mr. Oluwatosin Afolabi said: “Something has to be done if this country is to move forward. We cannot continue this way as a nation. Where on earth have you seen manufacturing companies running generators as major source of energy supply? Everybody suffers but the masses bear the major brunt.
“It is painful watching many companies folding up in Nigeria and relocating to Ghana, Niger and Benin Republic. Different goods consumed in Nigeria are imported in millions of tons from the neighbouring countries. The government functionaries fold their arms and do nothing about it. It is a shame on us as the giant of Africa that we claim.”
Business owners and residents spend billions of naira every month to fuel their generators as a result of the failure of power distribution companies to discharge their duties.
Some areas, especially in Lagos, have also boycotted payment of bills for months pending when estimated billings would be stopped and pre-paid metres installed in their houses. These Nigerians believe that they have been cheated for too long. Though there have been promises to make meters available, years after, most areas are still waiting for the promises to be fulfilled.
From Lagos to Benin, Aba to Kano, the tale of neglect and poor electricity supply is the same thing.
Many Nigerians have expressed readiness to promptly pay electricity bills if only they could enjoy constant power supply.
It is also said that the owners of the distribution companies always set targets for marketers, and so, to realise their target, they adopt estimated billing, to the detriment of consumers.
A 2015 report of the Good Governance Initiative (GGI), a non-governmental organisation advocating uninterrupted power supply in the country, revealed that Nigerians spent N3.5 trillion fuelling their generators annually.
The National Bureau of Statistics put the total number of SMEs in the country at over 18 million, many of which rely on generators to run their businesses as the country continues to grapple with abysmal power generation.
President/CEO of Erisco Foods Limited, Chief Eric Umeofia, once told Daily Sun that the high cost of running manufacturing plants on generators was one of the reasons most local industries had remained uncompetitive and profitable as going concerns.
All commentators have agreed that the current 6,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity being generated for Nigeria’s 200 million population does not go anywhere in meeting the requirement of the Nigerian people.