•Residents at war with power firm over incessant blackouts, estimated bills
From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
At the moment, energy consumers in Anambra State have one big headache to deal with. Apart from the general hardship occasioned by the on-going economic recession in the country, electricity supply and consumption issues in the area have become a big challenge.
From Onitsha through Nnewi, Ekwulobia to Awka, the story is the same. The people’s expectations of having constant power supply, moderate energy bill and installation of prepaid meters have been dashed since the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) took over the assets of former Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Most residents have claimed that they were being frustrated by the company.
Daily Sun gathered that, apart from erratic power supply, which tends to hamper the operations of small-scale businesses and big-time industries, electricity consumers in Anambra have been groaning under outrageous bills from the EEDC every month.
Residents claimed that they have long been demanding for the installation of prepaid meters. But that has not been the case as most buildings are still issued with estimated bills.
The residents said they were being cheated, with the attendant anger and animosity giving rise to more friction between residents and EEDC. For instance, in some places, EEDC officials were allegedly assaulted when they attempted to disconnect defaulting customers.
Further investigations revealed that individuals living in rented flats paid between N9,000 and N18,000 monthly as house rent, but energy bills issued to them by EEDC ranged from N10,000 to N25,000.
While some tenants preferred paying their bills in instalments, leading to accumulated debts over time, some have not even bothered, just as some others choose to “settle” EEDC’s field workers whenever they come to disconnect them, thereby postponing the evil day.
Daily Sun also found out that, in recent times, many residents of Onitsha and Awka have been organising protests and writing petitions to express their grievances over the matter. For instance, residents of Otakpo Layout, 3-3, Onitsha, recently obstructed traffic on Nkwelle-Nsugbe Road, trying to stage a protest at the EEDC office over what they called long periods of blackouts, outrageous bills and refusal to avail residents with pre-paid meters, among others things.
The residents, who trooped out in their numbers, caused a traffic snarl along the road before it was cleared by the Divisional Police Officer in charge of 3-3, Mr. Indyar Apev.
Addressing newsmen after presenting their petition to the authorities, chairman of the Otakpo Layout Residents Association, Comrade Muoneme Emmanuel, said the residents had suffered untold exploitation and hardship at the hands of EEDC.
He stated that they received monthly estimated bills ranging from N10,000 to N25,000 from the Enugu disco, while they have been left largely in darkness owing to erratic power supply.
In a petition signed on their behalf by a legal practitioner, Mr. Ikenna Chibuzo, the residents accused EEDC officials of being insensitive to their plight. They were angry at EEDC’s failure to address their complaints.
Secretary of the layout, Chuks Okeke, and other legal practitioners in the area, Humphrey Agbo and E. O. Igowe, in their separate addresses, urged EEDC to suspend further handing out of estimated bills to the residents henceforth and provide them with pre-paid meters.
They also asked for regular electricity to be restored to the area. They threatened that, if their demands were not met within 21 days, they would embark on wide demonstrations to press home their demands.
They did not rule out applying “reasonable force” to restrain EEDC officials from entering their estate for any business, including distribution of the “outrageous, crazy bills.”
During the protest, the residents displayed placards that had inscriptions such as: “The era of silence is gone; give us light in Otakpo Estate,” “We need pre-paid meters, no more delay,” “No more estimated bills; we are angry” and “Come and settle or we cut it, the EEDC style.”
Part of the petition, which they made available to Daily Sun, read: “Our clients thought that our earlier letter would have improved electricity supply in the estate and stopped your exploitative and fraudulent, estimated bills being given to majority of Otakpo Layout residents. But it is now apparent that your company is insensitive to the plights and sufferings of the residents whose domestic items cannot be preserved with electricity supplied by you or relax after their day’s work with electricity supplied (to their homes). Yet you bring outrageously, inflated and illegal bills.
“It is, therefore, our instruction to write you and demand as follows: suspend serving any estimated bill to the residents of the said Otakpo Layout, until you provide them with pre-paid meters. Within 21 days limited by this letter, provide pre-paid meters to residents of the said layout who have not got pre-paid meters. Restore regular electricity supply to the residents of the said Otakpo Layout. Avail yourself of NERC Customer Service Standard of Performance for Distribution Companies, 2007, with regard to routine meter reading and apply same to the residents of the area.”
In his reaction, EEDC’s head of communications, Mr. Emeka Ezeh, explained that his organisation was trying to resolve challenges and complaints militating against its operations. He pleaded with the public to be patient and realise that they usually bought energy from a transmission company and sold it to their customers.
Ezeh explained that the company was struggling to bridge the metering gap and pledged that, very soon, things would change for the better.
“We are currently distributing pre-paid meters but we started with big consumers, companies and industries.
“We inherited over 700,000 unmetered customers and metering them costs billions of naira. Installations are ongoing; we know there are challenges but we are addressing them.
“In the billing system, we use a peculiar method. If any area feels short-changed, we can investigate its claims because we don’t bill people arbitrarily. Even those earlier metered had their own challenges. We had cases of people bypassing meters, while some stole our energy. But we are addressing all the issues,” he said.