The chairman of Community One, FTRA, Mr. Alaba Ayodele, said his area had been battling with the issues since 2006.
Hundreds of residents of Festac Town, headquarters of Amuwo Odofin Local Government Council in Lagos, recently converged on the office of Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) in the local government area to protest what they called years of deliberate exploitation by the company.
It was a peaceful protest that was monitored by a team of policemen from the Festac Police Division, but the demonstrators could not conceal their frustration and anger while the exercise lasted. With the help of a public address system, they chanted solidarity songs, calling on the distribution company to improve its service to consumers.
According to the aggrieved residents, they had endured the suffering for too long and it was time for them to fight back in a civil manner and let the world know about it. They accused the EKEDC of deriving some inexplicable joy in confining the consumers to underserved darkness.
Some of the placards read: “I don’t have a bakery or cold room, how should I pay N34,000 every month?” “No more crazy bills”; “Exploitation by EKDC must stop”; “We all need light”; “Prepaid meter is all we need”; Minimum wage N18,000 versus estimated bill of N15,000″; “We are tired of paying for darkness”; and “Mass disconnection must stop.”
President of Festac Town Residents Association (FTRA), Mr. Shola Fakorede, vowed to continue the agitation until the demands of residents were met. He alleged that exploitation, deceit and wickedness were being meted out to them by EKEDC, regretting that the firm, on a monthly basis, forced exorbitant bills on consumers.
Fakorede said that different protests and pleas in the past, all in a bid to get prepaid meters installed in the town, yielded no positive result. According to him, all that the residents have so far received were unfulfilled promises.
He, however, urged the people of the town not to go outside the ambit of the law in pressing home their demands. While commending their orderliness, he charged them not to relent in the struggle until every house in Festac is metered.
“When we are through from here, we shall go to EKEDC’s head office in Marina, Lagos Island. If we are not satisfied there, we shall go to Abuja to meet the Minister of Power, Works and Housing to address it. Please, when we call you next time, come out en masse. We have been very peaceful people and I want us to continue in that manner. As we continue the struggle, I am sure God will win the battle for us,” he said.
The residents said they had, on many occasions, visited the EKEDC Festac office to register their complaints. They noted, however, that their complaints were always treated with levity.
They also called on the disco officials to resolve the issues of inability of some consumers to recharge their meters due to some irreconcilable differences.
One of the affected residents, Mr. Tunde Ajayi, a 71-year-old man who lives on Road 512, F Close, House 6, said he packed into Festac Town in 1978. The retiree, who lives in his flat with his wife and a housemaid, said he could not understand why he was being billed as much as N18,000 monthly.
Said he: “I have been experiencing this unjust billing for more than three years. Due to the exorbitant bills, some houses have accumulated up to N1 million debt.
“I have come here on many occasions for the officials to address the overestimated billing, but they won’t. I pay between N4,000 and N5,000 monthly, but they keep bringing outrageous bills for me. Now I have over N400,000 as my outstanding bill.
“Apart from pressing iron, I don’t have any other appliance that consumes much electricity in my home. Most of the months, we don’t have electricity supply for more than one or two weeks, yet they still bring the same bill. This is punishment and it is killing, especially for people like us who are getting old already.
“They said our analogue meters were not functioning; then we said, ‘give us new ones so that we can be paying for exactly what we consume,’ but they refused. All I want is a prepaid meter and for the company to reconcile all the outstanding bills because I can’t pay for what I didn’t consume.
“Another problem is their poor attitude to customers’ complaints. When you come here to complain, they don’t take you seriously.”
Another resident, Pa Francis Ethikumi, who lives on 33 Road, V Close, said he personally lodged a complaint at the EKEDC office, Festac, over the outrageous bills he was getting but nothing fruitful came out of it.
“I went to their Marina office in Lagos Island and I caused a commotion there. After the scene, they sent two delegates to my house the next day to inspect my appliances. The next month, they reduced my bill from N20,000 to N9,000. But before I finished celebration, they began to gradually increase it. I now pay an average of N15,000 for just a two- bedroom flat,” he lamented.
The chairman of Community One, FTRA, Mr. Alaba Ayodele, said his area had been battling with the issues since 2006. He acknowledged that the electricity distribution company had supplied some prepaid meters to some residents in the past but it couldn’t get to most of the people.
“The controversy surrounding estimated billing is as a result of the distribution company’s inefficiency right from the onset. Some of the artisans are using free power supply from illegal connection. They now factor the bills of these people on those who are duly paying their bills just because the company wants to meet up with its monthly target. This is not fair because it is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. They need to check these loopholes.
“We will not cheat the company and the company must not cheat, simple. Roads 722 and 721 didn’t have power supply for three weeks in March but they still gave them the same bills. All our complaints fell on deaf ears even with promises that they would address them,” Ayodele said.
For Mr. Arthur Nkwocha, who lives at I Close, 721 Road, it is a heavy burden that has become impossible to bear. He said the electricity officials were fond of responding to complaints with the same rhetoric.
“When you complain, they tell you to put it in writing. And when you write, nothing is heard of it anymore. The exploitation is real and it has been years of psychological torment for us. The government needs to urgently do something about it,” he said.
The divisional police officer of Festac Police Division, Obong Okon, who said it was the residents’ right to express their grievances, thanked the protesters for conducting themselves in an orderly manner. He urged them to continue to show same maturity while making demands.
But the EKEDC’s assistant general manager, who doubles as the circle coordinator, Lagos West, Mr. Sam Edoho, told the reporter that the protest came to him as a shock, pointing out that his company had never taken Festac’s residents’ grievances for granted.
“EKEDC has done a lot about metering. This is because we don’t take customers’ complaints for granted. Customers don’t know that it is when we have adequate metering that we can have huge returns. In this district, Festac has always been given priority in terms of meter distribution.
“I directed my men to do the enumeration of some areas so that they could be metered. Some people have not been able to make their apartments available for the last meters that were supplied. Until the released ones are mounted, the company can’t give out new ones. We can’t give everybody meters at the same time. People must understand this.
“We as a company have gone out of our way to grant credit adjustments to people who couldn’t pay certain bills. We didn’t do this because of protest but because we are sensitive to consumers’ concerns,” he said.
He also spoke on the reconciliation of outstanding bills from post-paid to prepaid. He said the company has an existing policy on how to factor outstanding bills.
“Estimated bill is relative. We have an approved methodology by our regulatory body. NERC recognises that we cannot meter everybody at the same time and that some persons will be on estimation. We look at the consumer’s load inventory in relation with power availability for that period, as well as the general power consumption pattern of people with meters in that neighbourhood to arrive at what to bill estimated customers. But in doing this we cannot be exact.
“Metering is the permanent solution to disputes on bills. For an average power utility user, when meters are not available they cannot caution themselves on consumption,” he explained.