• Monday, May 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigerians stuck with ‘crazy bills’ as metering project falters

Calls grow for more local meter manufacturing as consumers fume

The National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) introduced two and half years ago has suffered setbacks, leaving millions of electricity customers stuck with what many described as “crazy bills’ from the distribution companies (DisCos).

Launched in 2020, the NMMP aims to increase Nigeria’s metering rate, eliminate arbitrary estimated billing and strengthen the local meter value chain by increasing local meter manufacturing, assembly and deployment capacity, among others. The government promised to provide over 6 million free meters to Nigerians through the programme.

Under the first phase (phase 0) of the programme, which was flagged off in October 2020, the federal government installed about 900,000 free prepaid meters to electricity customers as against a target of 1 million.

However, the commencement of the second phase (phase 1) has been delayed to the third year as stakeholders fault the payment plan of the government, while expressing distrust in government.

Speaking with BusinessDay, meter producers decried the poor funding plan of the federal government, saying the meters supplied at the first phase were not fully paid for.

One of the meter manufacturers, who asked not to be identified, said: “We could not continue with the programme because there is no fund. We have not fully got the monies spent in producing the meters for the first batch.

“The changes that occurred in the leadership of some distribution companies also affected the programme because most of them could not continue with the payment plans.”

Commenting on the programme, Lanre Elatuyi, an energy analyst said that improper monitoring affected the execution of the programme.

For him, even though it was a good initiative, stakeholders, especially meter producers, are not satisfied with the government’s funding plan.

He said: “It was a good plan initially; the first phase was to give out 1 million meters to Nigerians but it was not achieved. The programme is faced with several challenges including funding. The meter producers are not agreeing to the unit cost that the federal government is willing to pay per unit of the meter.

“So this disagreement has affected the continuation of the programme. Many meter producers that were engaged in the first phase are yet to get back their money.”

Elatuyi highlighted the need for the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to wake up to the responsibility of ensuring that the sector is properly regulated.

According to him, most DisCos did not fully support the NMMP because it may affect their ability to make up for Aggregate Technical and Commercial Losses (AT&C), which bite into their revenues.

AT&C loss is the difference between the amount of electricity received by a DisCo from the transmission company and the amount of electricity for which it invoices its customers plus the adjusted collections loss.

“There is a need to closely check their activities to ensure that electricity consumers are not cheated. NERC has to be firm in order to ensure that customers get what they deserve. Integrity tests should be carried out on the new meters to ensure customers are charged correctly,” Elatuyi said.

BusinessDay gathered that most of the DisCos have returned to the Meter Asset Providers (MAP) scheme.

Under the MAP scheme, customers have the option to pay upfront for the full cost of the meter with the assurance of refund via electricity units over a period of 36 months.

Prepaid meters under MAP scheme are currently sold for as high as N117,910.69 for three phase while single-phase goes for N63,061.2.

This high cost of getting meters, among other factors, have left many Nigerians with no option than to remain under the estimated billing.

According to NERC, of 12,643,630 registered customers, only 39 percent (4,898,721) had been metered as at June 2022, leaving 7,744,909 without meter.

Read also: Nine of 10 Nigerians believe country headed in ‘wrong direction’ – Afrobarometer

Tochukwu Okafor, a resident of Abuja, lamented the over 100 percent increase in the estimated bill he was served for the month of January.

According to Okafor, who lives in Kabusa Garden Estate in Apo district, the outrageous billing process in Nigeria will only add to the misery currently faced by Nigerians.

“I was not happy when I got my bill for the month of January because it was not what I expected. My bills are usually between N28,000 and N29,000, but when they brought the bill for January, it was N59,500,” he told BusinessDay. “When I visited the distribution company’s office in Galadimawa, I met an officer who offered to check his system to confirm the bill, and he said my bill was N40,000.”

For him, this shows that the estimated billing process is faulty and not beneficial to Nigerians.

Okafor said: “The officer told me that the rate may increase further stating that the increase was to make customers get meters.

“They increase the bill without prior information; we have applied for meters but we have not got and now they are stealing from us with outrageous bills. They should bring the meters or charge the correct amount on estimated bills.”

Speaking to BusinessDay, the general manager/head of public affairs department, NERC, Usman Abba Arabi said the NMMP is still in progress.

According to him, the stage 1 of the program is stuck at the procurement stage. “The programme is still in process; we are currently at the procurement stage.”