Following the directive by Acting President Prof Yemi Osinbajo that Maximum Demand (MD) customers should resist paying estimated electricity bills in protest against non-provision of pre-paid meters, household consumers have also adopted the ‘no meter no payment’ strategy against the Distribution Companies (Discos).
The Federal Government on Monday said that Distribution Companies (DisCos) does not have any monopoly for the supplies of prepaid meters to the electricity consumers.
Government also said it would not debar any electricity consumers who wish to buy prepaid meters from the power DisCos neither would it prevent DisCos from selling to them so far the process is not abused.
Some consumers across the country have stopped paying their bills in protest against outrageous billings due to non-provision of pre-paid meters by the Discos.
The Discos, in reaction, decided to cut off electricity supply to any community that refuses to pay the bills and embarked on mass disconnections of consumers.
Based on the quantum of debts owed, the Discos adopted two ways of disconnecting consumers either individually by pulling down the wires connecting the houses to the pole, or communally by removing some fuses in the transformers supplying energy to the areas.
The latter was the fate suffered by a community in Ajao Estate, where the residents were cut off from supply for over a month for refusing to pay the outrageous bills.
To reassure them on the level of consumption, the residents demanded for-three phase meters in all the homes and businesses in Ajao Estate. They also want Ikeja Electric, the Disco in charge of supply in the area to desist from sharing bills based on estimated billing as well as replacement of some hostile staff of the company.
Also, a resident in the Aja, Lekki area of Lagos, Kunle Adegoroye, alleged that the Eko Disco in charge of the area sent estimated bills of N15,000 to each resident occupying a two-bedroom flat last month, even without electricity supply for over three weeks.
“We are being charged between N13,500 and N15,000 on monthly basis. This is outrageous in spite of non-supply of power in the area,” and expressed worry over the refusal by the Eko Disco to install prepaid meters to residents even when many had already paid for them.”
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, made the clarification at the 18 meeting of power sector stakeholders with the minister in Kano, hosted by the Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO), shortly after the he commissioned the a new distribution substation, Ranji Jakata and launch of mini grid regulation developed by the NERC.
Speaking on the steps being taking, progress and challenges in efforts at providing electricity to the people through implementation of the electricity road map towards incremental power supply nationwide.
He said that there are series of policies and programmes already being taken to boast electricity supply in an effort to resolving the shortcomings of the power sector privatisation programmes to deliver efficient and stable power sector.
He numerated that some of those programmes and policies include the release of the Payment Assurance Guarantee Fund amounting to N701 billion to Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET), the reconstitution of board of NERC, the verification of debts of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and the expansion of transmission capacity where some of the transmission stations are at various stages of completion.
He said most importantly was the Federal Executive Council approval of compromise agreement that freed the federal government of judgement debt of N119 billion and release of N39 billion as loan to meter suppliers for supplies of meters to power Distribution Companies (DisCos).
He maintained that government would monitor the DisCos to ensure that they did not abdicate their responsibility of providing meters to the customers in line with the Electricity Power Sector Act.
protesters in Lagos
The minister noted that the Act did not give any monopoly of meter supplies to the DisCos but allows anybody who qualifies by meeting safety regulations of Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) and NERC regulation.
He explained that meter supplies is an open but regulated business, which requires anybody to apply for licence from and permit of NERC and NEMSA respectively after meeting the requirements.
He said in line with the EPSRA, “NERC will issue regulations for meter service providers, meter franchise operators, community meter obligation service and rural meter supplies.”
Decrying the incidence of over-billing in Nigeria, the President, Nigerians for Super Energy, Joseph Inyang, said it is necessary that every customer be metered to avoid overbilling.
He advised customers to contest any form of over billing by the Discos, saying that NERC has made provision for customers to reject over-estimated bills.
“You can always dispute it by writing a protest letter to NERC. Over-billing is going to be a difficult phenomenon to change if the Federal Government and the Discos are not willing to do that. Sometimes, it is not about finance, but lack of political will by the companies to meter everybody. We have had an instance whereby we paid N70,000 to purchase a meter for our client, and it took the Disco one year to provide the meter.
“I have had a personal experience whereby my prepaid meter stopped working, and it took the Disco six months to fix. While I was waiting, I was being given N25,000 every month on estimation instead of the N5,000 which I was paying on prepaid.”
But reacting, spokesman for Ikeja Electric, Felix Ofulue, insisted that the company’s distribution transformers are metered. “We have adopted a billing methodology, which is best suited to serve everybody. Even with that, if you have an issue with your bill, you can take it up at the nearest undertaking office where they will carry out a load assessment of what you use and adjust appropriately.”
Ofulue said that the company is currently metering customers on a gradual process due to paucity of fund. “There is a lot of infrastructural maintenance on-going in our network that require funding. The cost of purchasing a meter has increased due to the high exchange rate; we made an estimate recently, and saw that 10,000 units of meters cost N144million. To multiply that by how much it will take to meter everyone on the network at once, will take a lot. So we cannot move at the pace at which we would have wanted to,” he added.
Speaking on estimated billing, a Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, National Electronics Development Institute, Awka, Michael Ndinechi, noted that DISCOs are not in a hurry to provide consumers with prepaid meters because the estimated mode is more profitable for them.
According to him, the evil of the estimated mode is that the DISCOs can give you bill even when they did not supply any electricity in the billing period, and not feel that they have done something wrong.
He added: “When you have such leverage in a capitalist economy, as a businessman you make maximum use of it, and that is why Government must have the will power to put her feet down and protect consumers.”
Explaining how electricity consumption is calculated per kilowatt hour, Ndinechi said: “Every electrical appliance has an energy rating required to operate it maximally. This energy is rated in watts (or in kilowatts). If you aggregate these value for all the appliances in the consumer’s premise, then determine the maximum energy that consumer can take. “However, it is not likely that all appliances will be on at the same time. Therefore, it is usual that the energy consumed by any consumer at any point in time is less than the maximum level. What the electricity meter does is to monitor the amount of energy consumed at any point in time over a period of one hour, hence, the unit of electricity consumed is stated in kilowatt hour (kWh). That is, the total number of kilowatts used in one hour multiplied by the number of hours. Usually Government, through the regulatory body approves a rate with which this kWh is multiplied to give the amount to be paid by the consumer.”
Dwelling on role of electricity in Federal Government’s plans to exit recession this year, Professor of Technology Management, Obafemi Awolowo Univetrsity, Francis Ogbimi, said Nigeria cannot talk about industrialisation when the cost of electricity is very high, and impacts negatively on the cost of goods and services.