• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Sluggish electricity metering program creates path to extort, frustrate Nigerians

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Alabi Ojo, a taxi driver in his early 50s who had rushed to check on his luck in getting a prepaid meter on Thursday morning in December, 2021 was quite disappointed when he was told – for the 5th time- to check back again in January 2022.

His application for a prepaid metre has been pending for over eight months, since completing the building of his house a year ago in Waru community of Apo district.

This mirrors the frustration faced by many Nigerians who make an effort to acquire a pre-paid meter as a way out of the payment of outrageous estimated bills dished out monthly, without conscience by the Distribution Companies (Discos)

“Even though I and my family are the only occupant of my house, the bill we pay monthly is really high. This is why I’m trying so hard to get this meter,” he said.

At his last visit to the office, one of the officials had told Ojo to be ready to pay as much as N50,000 – which is almost double Nigeria’s minimum wage – to get a meter. “That is also high for me; I am just a taxi driver who managed to build a small apartment for myself and family last year. Is it my daily earnings that is not even enough for my family that I will use to pay for the meter,” Ojo lamented to our Correspondent as he sluggishly walked towards his car.

Nigeria ranked 171 out of 190 countries in access to electricity and electricity access is seen as one of the major constraints for the private sector to thrive

Our Correspondent who visited the AEDC Apo branch, observed that while customers are turned down by the customer service officers, with the usual ‘meters are not available, you cannot apply’ response, officials of the Licensed Electricity Contractors Association of Nigeria (LECAN) were positioned outside the company, giving forms to customers who need meters for a N5,000 fee.

“The process followed here is that LECAN has to fill the form and stamp it before you can submit it to the office. This is the first step. After this we will summit to the AEDC customer care and hope that yours will be included in ones that are being expected.

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“When you are ready to fill the form, you can come. You fill some parts and we will fill some parts, the cost is N5,000,” said a LECAN personnel on the condition of anonymity.

He also explained there were no metres now, but some were being expected by January, and those who are fast enough with the application process might be included among the ones to be distributed in January.

It was a similar experience for Musa, a secondary school teacher in FCT, who has resolved to use solar energy for power.

“I was discouraged in December 2020 when I applied for a prepaid meter at the AEDC office airport road. I met some guys in the name of LECAN, they charged me N10,000 for the application and promised that I will be contacted by the AEDC officials for installation.

“After waiting for weeks without being contacted, I visited them again early this year, and was told they will get back to me, and this year is almost ending, I’m yet to get a meter,” Musa said in December. “I have made up my mind to continue with my solar energy, till they remember me. Generally, the pain of getting a meter is frustrating because it takes some time, a whole week of me running to and from the office.”

According to the 2020 World Bank Ease of Doing Business report, Nigeria ranked 171 out of 190 countries in access to electricity and electricity access is seen as one of the major constraints for the private sector to thrive. With over 85 million Nigerians not having access to grid electricity, the report ranks Nigeria as the country with the largest energy access deficit in the world resulting in annual economic losses estimated at ₦10.1 trillion.

Efforts by the Federal Government to resolve this electricity and metering gap of over 4 million have not yielded the desired results over the years. While many Nigerians are still without access to electricity, others who do not have installed pre-paid meters are battling with outrageous bills for power they did not consume.

The Nigerian government, in an effort to promote better electricity service delivery to citizens had in 2013 privatized the Power Holding Company of Nigeria which led to the creation of eleven power distribution companies, seven generating companies (private companies) and the transmission company.

There is also the Meter Asset Provider scheme, an initiative set up in 2018 by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, in conjunction with private sector players to provide customers with prepaid meters as a way of resolving the issues of estimated billing system in Nigeria.

Under the MAP program, meters are sold to customers, in line with arrangements made by the private companies and NERC. While the program struggled to make any good progress, the Federal Government in September 2020, launched another ambitious program, the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP).

NNMP is an initiative of the Federal Government and Electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos), in collaboration with the local Meter Manufacturers, to provide smart prepaid meters to all unmetered customers for free. Funded by the Central bank of Nigeria in form of loan to distribution companies for the purchase of meters, the programme is expected to drastically reduce estimated billing by the distribution companies (Discos).

Running in phases, the program kicked off with the distribution of about 1 million meters in Eko, Kano, Kaduna and Ikeja Distribution Companies (DisCos) franchise areas. The CBN said last November that it has so far disbursed a total of ₦47.66 billion to discos for the acquisition of 858,026 meters.

Official figures earlier in December 2021 showed that a total of 900,000 metres were distributed nationwide in the first phase (phase-0), while arrangements are ongoing to commence the second phase (phase-1) which is expected to provide up to 4 million free meters to Nigerians.

But while Nigerians eagerly await the commencement of the next phase, with hopes of getting the meters they had applied for, BusinessDay findings reveal that the commencement of the second phase is not in sight. A source at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, which is a regulatory body for the sector, confirmed to BusinessDay that arrangements were still underway to even purchase the meters.

“No meters are available for now, we are not commencing the next phase yet as preparations are still ongoing,” the source said. “After the first phase of the program, the second phase is yet to commence because there are no meters on ground yet. So customers requesting for meters now may be asked to pay, because those meters will be given under the MAP program.”

While the government is still finding its ways around the NMMP, Distribution companies have returned to the sales of meters under the Meter Asset Provider scheme. This is as NERC approved a 30 percent increase in the price of a single-phase meter to N58,661.69, from N44,896.17 in November. A similar increase was made in the price of a three-phase meter, as it increased to N109,684.36 from N82,855.19.

This was contained in a circular, with reference number NERC/REG/MAP/GEN/751/2, dated November 11, 2021, addressed to managing directors of all electricity distribution companies and all meter asset providers.

Oyebode Fadipe, head of communication department at the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, also confirmed to Businessday that the second phase of the NMMP was yet to commence, as preparations were still ongoing. According to him, meters are expected to be distributed at no cost to electricity consumers.

“Of the 4 million meters that would be distributed in the next phase, Abuja customers will have up to 15 percent. Arrangements are still ongoing and we hope to commence soon.

“What Nigerians should know is that we have two programs running, so if you are asked to pay for a meter, that is not under the mass metering program. And if you are requesting for a meter now, you would only get under the Meter asset program, which is not for free,” he said.

However, Ibrahim Isah, a Public Affairs analyst blamed the slow distribution on electricity distribution companies, stating that “the DisCos appear not to be in full support of the mass metering program. Most disco officials make extra money from the estimated billing system, so the free meters for them will cut down their income.

“Many Nigerians are still unmetered, and being made to pay outrageous bills under the estimated billing system. Let’s hope that the next phase of the program will be properly implemented,” he said.