Enyeribe Ejiogu, Omoniyi Salaudeen, Adewale Sanyaolu, Olakunle Olafioye (Lagos), Tony John (Port Harcourt), Sola Ojo (Kaduna), Billy Graham Abel (Yola)
In the good old days of the defunct Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN), during the First Republic, power supply was stable in major urban centres, where electricity was available in the country and the service was excellent.
But at the end of the civil war and the subsequent years after, a process of decay and deterioration crept into the power sector that saw its service quality depreciating to an abysmal level. Despite changing its name from National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), the only government-controlled power company grew more notorious in delivering blackout, atrocious bad service and crazy estimated bills, all driven by corruption, to electricity consumers.
The reform of the electric power sub-sector, which resulted in the unbundling of PHCN into the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) – still held by the government for strategic national security reasons, privately held generating companies (GENCOs) and 11 power distribution companies (DISCOs), has not ameliorated the agony of consumers whose expectations were that the privatization programme would bring them relief just like what happened in the telecommunication sector when the GSM firms took off to deliver Nigerians from the bondage of NITEL. Rather, the DISCOs have taken the suffering of electricity to the next level of pernicious estimated billings. But consumers have now risen to say, “enough is enough,” as the deadline given by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) for all consumers to be metered has elapsed. When contacted, the spokesman of NERC, Mr. Usman Arabi, declined comments, saying that the regulator would come up with its position on the matter in a statement to be issued this week.
In this report, Sunday Sun presents the frustrations and agony of consumers across the country.
Following the privatization of the erstwhile PHCN, two power distribution companies were created to service the huge Lagos division of the organization – Ikeja Electric Plc, which covers a large swath of territory that includes Ogun State and Eko Electricity Distribution Company Plc (EKEDC).
Notable among the grievances which unmetered electricity consumers under Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company Plc, commonly known as Ikeja Electric or IKEDC, have against the company include outrageous estimated bills, epileptic power supply, overbearing attitude of some of the staff at the undertaking offices; slow and late responses of the technical staff to electrical faults and the seeming joy they derive from the speedy disconnection of defaulting customers who failed to pay the extremely outrageous estimated bills given to them.
A community leader at Surulere area of Alagbado, Lagos, Alhaji Mustapha Olawale, berated the company over what he described as the shabby treatment of electricity consumers in the area.
Alhaji Olawale maintained that the undertaking unit covering the area has continued to take advantage of the fact that the elders in the community have almost absolute control over the youths, who sometimes expressed their frustration to the leaders, and often threatened to take laws into their hands.
He said: “Our area is one of the few areas that cannot boast of having up to 20 consumers with prepaid meters. I do not know anybody who has prepaid meter in the whole of Surulere community. We have been made to believe that this is deliberate because there has never been any case of major resistance or violence against their staff here. The leaders in this community have consistently impressed the need for restraint on the youths in the face of impunity by Ikeja Electric.
“But what we have got in return are crazy electricity bills that are not commensurate with the power supplied. There were times we went to complain to them, but all they said was that something would be done, but nothing has ever been done about the complaints. What they have continued to show us is lack of respect. Earlier this year, in late January or February, they threw the entire community into darkness because of few houses that owed them. Initially, we thought it was a technical fault until we called their AIT undertaking office and spoke with one of the heads there, one Mrs Taiwo, and she confirmed that it was the decision of the unit to throw thousands of heads in the area into total darkness because of few erring consumers. Where is that done in the world? They took the decision because they knew we don’t have pre-paid meters and we must pay whatever they give us as bills.”
Mr Patrick Idegwu, a resident of Ojokoro, Lagos, lamented what he called provoking treatment that the Ikeja Electric metes out to unmetered residents of his community, whom he said bear the brunt of the company’s inefficiency.
Idegwu said he didn’t realise the level of exploitation he was being subjected to until a few residents in his area got pre-paid meters. “A friend who has a prepaid meter in the neighbourhood told me that a N5,000 recharge could last him up to three months; that’s is the equivalent of what I pay monthly,” he lamented.
He, however, expressed optimism that the company’s reign of impunity would soon be over. “I will always frown against violent confrontation against their workers because irate youths in the neighbourhood might hijack it to cause more trouble. I am eagerly waiting for the passage of the bill on electricity, which is currently before the National Assembly. I strongly believe that if the bill finally becomes law Nigerians will heave a sigh of relief from electricity providers.”
But reacting in an interview, Felix Ofulue, Head, Corporate Communications Unit, Ikeja Electric, said that there was no directive from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, mandating DISCOs to meter all electricity consumers before the end of February.
“There is no directive compelling DISCOs to meter all consumers by February. What NERC has done is to make a regulation that allows some registered vendors to sell meters to the public, which is called Meter Asset Providers (MAP) Scheme. Ikeja Electric is at the concluding stages of selecting the vendors who will bring in meters and sell to the public. So, in that way we will be able to bridge the metering gap,” he said.
Ofolue explained that the MAP arrangement would enable electricity consumers to either pay upfront for their own meters or pay for it in installments.
As in other places within the Ikeja Electric coverage area, members of Banku Community Development Association, CDA, Wawa, a sprawling community, off Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ogun State, have been lamenting over the atrocious service they are receiving from the electricity distribution company responsible for Banku.
Chairman of Banku CDA, Mr Tim Amosun, who spoke with Sunday Sun on the plight of residents of the area said: “IKEDC remains a big headache to many people in Nigeria of my generation. More harm than good has been done. IKEDC gives epileptic electricity supplies. They switch off light anyhow without notice, at times for three to four days. The staffers act like demi-gods. It is so bad that even our complaints cannot be attended to accordingly.
“In our community in Banku, we bought our poles, aluminium conductors, transformers and paid IKEDC to energize same with our hard-earned money. Without respect to our collective financial sacrifice, IKEDC brings different bills in various forms.
“Banku is on estimated billing and IKEDC distributes bills to individuals using their discretionary disposition regardless of the nature of the customer’s house. A self-contained apartment and three-four bedroom flats share same amount without minding the electronic gadgets and the consumption rates and patterns of such clients.
“It is like an unquestionable company and the staffers parade themselves like gods. Our monthly bills range from N8,000 to N24,000. We are on estimated bill till today.
“The manager of the Olowora Undertaking, which covers Banku community is mature and responsible to an extent. But the marketing manager is nothing to write home about. He has attempted beating customers from my community. I was once a victim of his arrogance and pride devoid of courtesy. So, we avoid going to their office for anything. At the end of the hectic and strenuous exercise, we will contribute money within the community for repairs.”
It is the same lamentation at Genesis Estate, Aboru, Iyana Ipaja, where most of the residents complained of arbitrary billing as well as epileptic supply by IKEDC.
Speaking with Sunday Sun, Mr Jude Edokwe, said that he had paid for pre-paid metres for his four-apartment property located at No 3, Fatai Mogaji Street, behind Olaide Filling Station, Genesis Estate since 2001, but up till now, the pre-paid meters have not been supplied to him.
“What is going on in the power sector can only happen in a country like Nigeria. The law regulating the industry does not take care of the interest of consumers. Before I moved into this apartment, I paid for four pre-paid meters. I paid into the bank account of Ikeja Electric and I still have the teller with me. Up till now, I have not got one. Instead, the operatives of the Ikeja Electric will come and harass me that I have only one bill for the four apartments. At a point, I threatened to take them to court. But they told me that the former management was responsible for the default and, therefore, IKEDC as a new buyer could not be held liable. Isn’t that laughable? Can you imagine that weird argument?
“What is the regulatory body doing to check this? Upon that, what we get is arbitrary billing, which has kept on increasing even without power supply. Are we in a banana republic? It is very unfortunate,” Edokwe lamented.
In a desperate bid to meet the NERC February deadline, Sunday Sun gathered that officers of IKEDC recently conducted an enumeration exercise in Aboru-Agbelekale communities with a view to supplying pre-paid metres, but the people are yet to be metered.
Mr Ganiyu Oshinowo, whose house is in Aboru, said: “We were all excited when we heard that they were going to supply us pre-paid meters during the recent enumeration exercise. But up till now, no one has been supplied with pre-paid meter. I learnt that those who have money to facilitate early delivery of the pre-paid meters have already received their own.”
A member of the youth association in the area, who did not want his name in print, said they were already warming up for a showdown with Ikeja Electric, stressing they had been shortchanged for too long.
“This last December, my entire household travelled for three weeks. Yet they brought an estimated bill of N17,000 for the month. That is the kind of arbitrariness we have been grappling with. If the regulatory authorities refuse to call them to order, we may be forced to resort to self-help,” he declared.
Also in Lagos, the Chairman, Olowogbowo Community Development Association (CDA), Lagos Island, Mr Wole Ogunleke, lamented that no consumer within his CDA has been metered except for those who got pre-paid meters before privatization of the power sector.
He said Eko Disco is not complying with the regulations of NERC as 97 per cent of the consumers are still on estimated billing.
Ogunleke equally alluded to the fact that consumers who are using the old analogue meters are not exempted from estimated billing as the officials of EKEDC do not come to read the meters. Instead, they just issue them with estimated bills at the end of the month.
He lamented that the number of hours of daily electricity supply has also gone down drastically, thus compelling them to spend fortunes fueling their generators or installing solar panels or inverters.
Ogunleke said EKEDC had failed in the discharge of its responsibilities to consumers as their response time to fault rectification is nothing to write home about.
‘‘We are compelled to procure materials by ourselves. We buy service cable; contribute money to buy fuses and all other things that the DISCO should ordinarily provide. We are tired of and angry with this rip-off.”
On his part, the Chairman, Electricity Committee, Oke Arin CDA, Lagos Island, Mr Kayode Tella, said that the deployment of pre-paid meters to electricity consumers on Lagos Island has become an albatross for EKEDC as the majority of houses are without meters.
He said that the monthly progression of estimated bills has become a source of worry to consumers as various businesses are now on the brink of collapse.
Tella said NERC should match its talk with action by ensuring that any DISCO that fails to comply with its directive on metering would have its license withdrawn.
He lamented that a situation whereby DISCOs rip-off consumers through estimated billing should not be allowed to stand.
Chairman, Epe Local Government Area, Mr Adesanya Adedoyin, said that Epe seems to be the worst hit as the entire local government has suffered years of lack of power supply until recently when an upgrade was done.
Despite the upgrade, he said that the situation appears not to have had an appreciable effect as the communities still suffer power outage for several days.
Adedoyin disclosed that the majority of houses in Epe are without meters, but are continually slammed with estimated billing.
The council boss disclosed that the community and the management of EKEDC would hold a town hall meeting on April 2, 2019, where the grievances of the community would be presented to the DISCO with the intent of finding a way to resolve the issues.
In his reaction, a resident in Ijeshatedo, Surulere, who simply identified himself as Mr Olufemi, lamented the harrowing experience he has been going through in the hands of EKEDC.
He said his electricity bill has ballooned to over N250,000 as a result of estimated billing, adding that all efforts to compel the marketer to get him a pre-paid meter has proved abortive.
‘‘On a monthly basis I am slammed a bill of over N15,000, even when I am not producing anything. My house is a residential building and not commercial. I have called on them severally to install a meter for me so that I can be liberated from the outrageous billing system, but that seems not to be working,’’ Olufemi said.
As a community, we have resolved to take the battle to their head office to register our displeasure and compel them to meter us after which if nothing is done, we will desist from paying electricity bill,’’ he warned.
Reacting to the issues raised by the consumers, General Manager, Corporate Communications, Eko Electricity Distribution Company, Mr Godwin Idemudia, said the Federal Government has been able to lift the burden of metering off the Discos through the introduction of Meter Asset Provider (MAP) which is a private sector-led initiative aimed at bridging the metering gap in the country.
He advised consumers to utilize the opportunity of MAP to patronize the investors by either going to them or approach the Discos for meters, adding that EKEDC has been metering its customers prior to the deadline set by NERC.
Like in other parts of the country, electricity consumers have not been spared from the cancer of estimated billing, which is ravaging Nigerians. Even more troublesome is that unmitigated poor service and total lack of regard by the staff of Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHEDC, for the agony of electric consumers under its jurisdiction.
A notable traditional ruler in Rivers State, High Chief Omubo Harry, who spoke with Sunday Sun expressed the frustration of electricity consumers over the issue of outrageous estimated billing and poor service delivery by PHEDC, whose staff take delight in disconnecting consumers.
“Sometimes, they come with more than four boys. And, sometimes, they come when the owner of the house is away and do whatever they like as if they are mobile police. They have the authority. NEPA (PHEDC) has become police force.
“Now, coming to talk about estimated bills, we don’t have an option because you are at their mercy. Once they threaten to cut you off, they don’t delay in fulfilling the threat. PHEDC officials are more or less another army. They arrogate power to themselves.
“Estimated bill is still going on. That is the way some of the corrupt officials enrich themselves. As a traditional ruler of my type, having gone through personal experiences on this issue. They have continued giving me estimated bills. I went to their office on Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt. It is good to mention areas, so that people reading this will know that it is authentic information coming from somebody of my status. It is sad that when you go to their office to report, they see you as if you came to beg. They have their own system of administration, so annoying and so worrisome. Their service is unpatriotic.”
Also, a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, Mr Festus Ogwuche, said that electricity billing in the country is too exploitative.
“The issue of billing and tariffs on electricity in this country is one that showcases our penchant for exploitative tendencies of agents of state and subagents.
“The instruction from NERC is one coming too late in the day, as the practice of outright extortion of the citizenry in the name of electricity bill. By now, it was clear to all and sundry that the excruciating bills churned out on households for little or no electricity was at the instance of NERC and apparently, the officials have received a kick or the nibbling of conscience for them to have made such instruction,” Ogwuche said.
When contacted, the spokesman of Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC), Mr John Onyi, said that the company has not been resting on its oars as regards the metering of consumers.
Onyi explained: “In August 2017, PHEDC procured over 100,000 meters, which we have installed for our customers in the four states where we cover. That is what we did in terms of bridging the metering gap.
“However, we are still waiting for the take off date of the MAP as directed by the NERC. So, we are not resting on our oars. We are doing everything possible to ensure that our customers are served in line with the NERC directive.”
Up North, there appears to be good news for electricity consumers as the Managing Director, Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YEDC), Baba Umara Mustapha, expressed optimism that in spite of challenges, YEDC might become the first DISCO in the country to attain 100 per cent metering of all customers in the state and thereby end the menace of estimated bills.
He said the company had made remarkable progress in procuring about 400,000 meters, which are sufficient enough to cover for the current demands and anticipated demands.
He, however, explained that the zone has the lowest meter deployment in the country and this is not unconnected to the fact that the Northeast operations have been hugely affected by the insurgency.
Mustapha said: “However, we are in a pole position to be the first to attain 100 per cent metering. We have a total of about 250,000 customers to be metered because we have already ordered for about 400,000 meters.
“The Federal Government through the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) has invested in restoring infrastructure in the Maiduguri zone of the company.
“We inherited a dilapidated structure in the zone from Mubi to Damboa and our facilities, especially poles, were destroyed and despite renovation of facilities, because of the security situation of the area, no one wants to work there and that has been a major challenge, but that has not stopped us from putting our best foot forward to address the challenge.
“We have restored poles from around Mubi heading into Michika, but so many times the facilities always get vandalised but we have our staff working on ground to ensure that this zone becomes the first to be 100 per cent metered in Nigeria.”
But some of the consumers offered revealed the challenges and level of metering in the area.
One of them, Padio Phineas, a resident of Yola said: “I don’t have a meter. I paid N47,000 and they told me I would get it within one week time, but as I am talking to you, it is more than a year, they just keep giving me explanations. As I’m talking to you, I’m not metered and they have taken my money and I’m still waiting and this activity is carried out by staff of YEDC.
“To me, they seem to be more comfortable with the outrageous estimated billing charges because in my area estimated bills are pegged at N15,000 while my neighbours with meters spend about N3,000 monthly. I wish the Federal Government has a way of clamping down on this criminality.”
Solomon Jero, a resident of Jambutu, said: “They charge me about N15,000 estimated billing every month. We applied for the meter more than two years ago, but nothing has happened.”
The expectation of most electricity consumers in Kaduna that the days of poor services under the defunct PHCN would end with the commencement of the era of the DISCOs has been dashed as no significant change has been witnessed now that power supply is being handled by the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company Plc.
Commenting on this, Joseph Edegbo, a retired civil servant, said: “What I feel about the quality of services of DISCOs is that they have not changed. The services are still being rationed in the city just like what obtained before the advent of DISCOs.
“Nationwide, consumers have grievances against the DISCOs. Bills are just crazily estimated and distributed for customers to pay for electric power that they did not consume.
“Most people have decided that they would only pay for what they feel they have consumed and not the outrageous estimated bills being distributed. I was made to understand that Kaduna Distribution Company appointed zonal marketers, who were given targets to compulsorily meet. Based on this, crazy bills are manufactured and sent to consumers.”
Also speaking, Garba Abubakar lamented that the expectations of Nigerians were dashed due to failure of the concerned authorities to compel DISCOs to meet their metering demands years after privatization.
“I live at a settlement called Anyin Lenyia in Igabi Local Government Area of the state. The area is new, we have transformers, but no pre-paid metres. We are paying flat rate. The thing is that we are not even aware of this development. However, even without this, there is no how I can allow them to disconnect my light except if I’m not around. I will confront and resist such attempt.
“When the DISCOs were introduced, Nigerians were happy, hoping that everything would be great. But we are still here at the same spot we were before privatization. It is unfortunate. I just hope we will get it right one day.”
Michael Ebije has stopped using electricity since his line was disconnected by staff of Kaduna Electric, the operator of Kaduna Distribution Company, sometime in June 2018.
He said: “I’m not using pre-paid meter. I have been begging them to get one, but they have refused to give me. Every month, they give me flat bill of about N3,000 even when there is no light. I am the only one living in the house and I don’t even stay at home due to the nature of my work. Since June last year, they disconnected my light when I was not around. They keep bringing bills, but I don’t care about it because I have shunned them.
“If I need to charge my mobile devices, I will put on my generating set to recharge them. If I can get pre-paid meter that would be better because it will mean I will only pay for the service rendered and what I consume since they have removed the fraudulent monthly fixed charges.
“As it is in my area, we depend on rationing. Two days off, one day on and that alone discouraged me from reconnecting the supply. They have to wake up. The regulator too has to wake up. Customers should not be made to go through hell like what we see now.”
At the Kaduna Electric, the management of the firm is concerned about the rising debt profile of the company due to the failure of so many customers to be sincere with the company, as well as inability of NERC to fulfill its own part of bargain.
Head, Corporate Communications, Kaduna Electric, Abdulazeez Abdullahi, told Sunday Sun: “So far, what the Federal Government promised us through the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has not happened yet. They are our regulators, we cannot fight with them. In their wisdom, they thought it was better for them to take away the idea of metering from the distribution companies and hand this over to independent private companies and thereafter they introduced the policy in late 2017 in the hope it would start around April 2018, but we are in 2019.
“I know for a fact that most of the distribution companies have done their due diligence on recommending to NERC the companies that are supposed to be licensed. That has not happened, but we hope it will soon happen hopefully before the middle of the year. The idea behind it is very good and we, the distribution companies, welcome it because we believe that if those independent companies have it, they will fast-track the metering efforts.
“Part of the reasons it was a burden for us was that of huge cost implications. The response we are getting from the customers is not encouraging. Customers don’t settle their bills as they ought to do. Those that have already been metered are bypassing their meters. So, that makes it difficult for us to really invest in metering. We hope when those companies come on board, they will come with the financial muscle to meter as many customers as possible.
“Officially on our records, we have over 400,000 customers which you know is much more than that. There are many people who are still not captured. From the time of this census, many people have been added to the network. Right now, there is enumeration exercise going on which will be concluded at the end of this month.
“We are still battling with customers to make them see the importance of paying their bills – to see electricity like other commodities like rice which they go to the market to buy. They should know by now that electricity is no longer a public service.
“Now, we get a bill of about N3.5billiin monthly from Mbet and market operator, who serve as intermediaries between distribution companies and the generation company. So, after supply, they send their invoice through Mbet who then send to us. The second bill comes from the transmission company – the one we use their lines in transporting the energy.
“So, we get invoice of about N3.5billion every month. Meanwhile, we don’t get up to N2 billion from customers in a month. That means there is shortfall of more than N1.5 billion every month. Imagine a customer who is billed M5,000, but pay N2,000 only in a month thereby giving him accumulating bills.
“This debt keeps piling up on us as a company. Now, we have been exposed to more than N300 billion in debt for electric power we have bought and sold to customers in our franchise states of Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi. Honestly, we are operating in a difficult business environment. We are actually operating at a loss.
“But then, we are doing the best we can despite these challenges. We need customers to reciprocate. In Kaduna State, our biggest customer is the state government though they are doing well. But, we will appreciate if they can be paying us early than what it is now. We have little issue with Zamfara State government, but we are working on that.”