In the 1950s to the late 1990s, Nigeria’s electricity supply was not that stable, but the bills were much lower. Those were the days of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN), National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) and later, the Power Holden Company of Nigeria (PHCN). However, since the privatisation of the power sector was completed in the early 2000s, power supply has been erratic, but the bills continue to rise on regular basis. To compound matters, the power generating and distribution companies that acquired them are not behaving running them better than public utility concerns, due to their priority for high targets and profits, while Nigerian are left in perpetual darkness. JOHNMARK UKOKO of The Trumpet writes that the power Distribution Companies (DisCos) have not been fair to electricity consumers.
About a decade and half ago when former President Goodluck Jonathan announced the handing over of power distribution to the Benin City Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IEDC), Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IEDC), Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC), Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC), Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YEDC) and Calabar Electricity Distribution Company (CEDC), the electricity distribution firms have made life unbearable for power consumers, as they keep sending crazy estimated bills on monthly basis without commensurate electricity supply.
As the PHCN handed over to the DisCos in 2010, Nigerians celebrated what they believed was the liberalisation of the power sector hoping that the distribution companies would deliver on their mandate for steady electricity supply, little did Nigerians realise that they were falling from fire pan to fire, as while power supply has remained as it was in the days of PHCN, the bills have risen by over 1,000 per cent.
For instance, before the privatisation programme, a two or three bedroom flat were not paying up to N1,000 monthly, such category of residents are paying between N10,000 to N 25,000 monthly depending on which of the DisCos that supply them electricity.
While poor Nigerians that live in one room ‘face me I face you’ or those that leave in self-contained apartment that were paying not more than N500 monthly pre privtisation are now paying between N5,000 and N10,000 depending on which part of the country they reside.
The DisCos re notorious for billing Nigerians highest on a monthly basis without commensurate electricity supply are Eko Electricity Distribution Company, Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company and Abuja Electricity Distribution Company
As if the monthly crazy bills were not enough, electricity consumers are forced to buy electricity poles and cables to supply electricity to their homes. They are also made to buy or replace damaged or malfunctioning transformers in their communities.
The DisCos have also refused to give their customers meters to enable them to monitor their electricity consumption, despite various warnings from the Federal Government and the National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC).
The complaints of electricity consumers over indiscriminate bills against the DisCos led the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to purchase pre-paid meters to be distributed freely to electricity consumers.
But despite the gesture to provide prepaid meters to Nigerians instead of the DisCos, the companies still demanded N63,000 for single and N105,000 for three fazed meters. The means that the DisCos are now selling prepaid meters purchased by government and keeping the funds in their vaults.
Nigerians who have been exploited by the DisCos have to pay for the prepaid meters to end the monthly huge bills they usually charge consumers on monthly basis.
When the communities or Community Development Association (CDAs) are forced to contribute money to buy transformers, the DisCos usually force the CDAs to sign an undertaking that they have donated transformers to the DisCos in charge of their areas.
To make matters worse, electricity consumers that are forced to buy cables to connect light from electricity poles in their street, once they failed to pay their monthly electricity bills, employees of the DisCos will disconnect them from the poles on their streets and take the cables of the defaulting customers away and curiously, such consumers may never see their cables again.
Another funny aspect of the estimated billing system is the fact that every house in the areas using transformer are billed the same amounts without the DisCos considering that houses in the same street or CDAs are not the same.
So also, the fact that everyone in the same street or CDA can’t consumed equal electricity.
The DisCos on a monthly basis will simply send their staffs out to go on light disconnection of consumers, who failed to settle the huge bills they are given on a monthly basis.
Consumers whose light is disconnected from the electricity poles are charged what the DisCos called Re-connection Fees, which goes to the employees of the companies that go about carrying ladders.
If the transformer fuss is burnt or the transformer develops a fault, those using such transformer are made to pay for the fuss, cables or its repair or spend several days in darkness, but will still be billed monthly notwithstanding the several days of outage.
Instances abound of residents, who spend several months in darkness, because their transformer developed fault, who still received bills for the many months of outages.
While employees of the defunct ECN, NEPA and PHCN were not given monthly revenue targets, the employees of the distribution companies were given monthly targets that must be attained. The employees are poorly paid, restricted from joining trade union or entitled to anything meaningful on their exit from the companies.
On a regular basis, the Federal Government kept n telling Nigerians to stop buying or replacing transformers and other items for the DisCos in their domains.
Reacting to the development, Executive Secretary of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Dr. Babatunde Irukeya, asked Nigerians to stop buying equipment for the DisCos, stressing: “It is not the responsibility of the customers or communities to buy, replace or repair transformers.”
He stated this on the official Twitter handle @ fccpcnigeria recently and cautioned the DisCos against pushing their responsibilities to the consumers, which he said, was against consumer rights.
The commission also stressed that it was not the responsibility of consumers to purchase poles or other associated equipment used in the distribution of electricity in line with the National Electricity Regulation Commission’s Investment in Electricity Network Regulation 2015.
“It is not the responsibility of the customer or the community to purchase, replaced or repair transformers, poles or other associated equipment used in distribution of electricity,” he said.
Citing the NERC’s regulation, he said faulty transformers were supposed to be replaced by the DisCos within 48 hours of official complaint, stressing that the DisCos should be responsible for such replacements or repairs at all times.
However, if the DisCos are unable to replace the faulty transformer immediately, residents might engage the company and agree on the terms of replacement of the affected transformer if they so wish.
Consumers that intend to go into such discussions with DisCos are strongly advised to read the commission’s guidelines for such agreements. This is nearing in mind that any equipment purchased and integrated into the electricity system or grid automatically become the property of the electricity DisCos,” the statement reads.
While the various firms are running rough shod on electricity consumers, the Federal Government kept deploying funds to the power sector, yet Nigerians keep groaning under the poor power supply.
Respondents berate the federal government for its inability to withdraw the licences of the DisCos that have shown that they lacked the wherewithal to provide stable power to Nigerians.
They say since about 13 years of the power privatisation, government has continued to pumped money to private companies, who have shown that their promoters lack the know-how to provide stable power to Nigerians.
They say the DisCos promoters just bid for the license to enable their promoters to milk helpless Nigerians.
They cited example of Benin City Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) that has performed so poorly that apart from the residents of the Edo, Delta, Ekiti and Ondo states that it covers who have cry over the years over the company poor service, the Oba of Benin, the state governors of those states have appealed to the Federal Government to withdraw the company’s license without success.
Respondents blamed officials of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and the National Council for Privatisation for corruption in handling over government’s property to businessmen who lack the expertise to run power distribution.
Consumers also blamed the Jonathan administration for handing over Federal Government’s assets and property to businessmen who were not ready to deliver stable power supply to the country.
A lecturer at Novena University, Ogume, Ndokwa West Council of Delta State, Dr. Andy Iwowo, alleged that the problems electricity consumers were grappling with arose due the Jonathan administration’s hand over of the power sector to politicians and businessmen, who were loyal to his administration.
He also alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari hands were tied by the terms and conditions the Jonathan administration gave promoters of the DisCos, hence the current government has been unable to withdraw the licences of the various DisCos.
Iwowo advised electricity consumers to save money to enable them to pay for prepaid metes, as they should ignore the government’s directives to them not to pay for prepaid meters.
He said the successive ministers of power under the Buhari administration in the past seven years have realised that their hands were tied, hence they have been unable to restrain the DisCos. The fact that president Buhari is unavailable to call the various DisCos to order showed that the agreement President Jonathan led administration had with them is serious.
“Despite his purported toughness, Babatunde Fashola, could not handle them during the four years in which he served as minister of power. The two ministers of power in the last three years appear helpless in handling the powerful distribution companies,” he stressed.
Electricity consumers should take the bull by the horn by ensuring that issue of power supply and how much they will continue to pay for the constant outages is one of the agenda in the 2023 general elections.
Nigerian electricity consumers continue ask whether they will continue to pay for non-existence power supply, but the years ahead will determine if there will ever be a solution to the plight of electricity consumers in the country.