• Thursday, February 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Unmetered electricity consumers cry out over estimated billing

FG delivers only 16,000 out of promised 1million free meters

…Say, ‘We are being exploited’

… It’s in our interest to ensure customers are metered – ANED

Many consumers of power in Nigeria have described the nation’s power situation as ‘the more you look; the less you see.”

With the power sector, it is about the less power you get the more money you pay.

For many unmetered consumers, the estimated billing system in the power sector is exploitative and is allegedly designed primarily to rip them off their hard-earned money.

Read also: Prepaid meters price hike seen further widening 7m metering gap

Over the years, many Nigerians have protested what they describe as over-billing and extortion by the distribution companies (DisCos) in the estimated billing given to them as their purported power consumption.

They said the situation has become worrisome and unbearable amid the unfavourable economic situation presently in the country and called on the Federal Government and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to compel the DisCos to provide prepaid meters to houses to stop the extortionist billing regime.

Read also: Nigerians to pay more for electricity as FG hikes prices of prepaid meters

Some Nigerians, who spoke to BusinessDay Sunday, in separate interviews, disclosed that there is usually a mismatch between the power consumed within a particular period and the estimated bill received from the DisCos.

There was a genuine hope of better days ahead among electricity consumers in Nigeria in November 2013 when the distribution and generation companies came into existence through privatization of the former National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA).

The DisCos, with 11 currently in operation, were mandated to provide prepaid meters, among other services.

However, more than a decade after, millions of Nigerians are still without prepaid meters. Efforts in recent years by the Federal Government to provide subsidies and free prepaid meters to Nigerians may have been politicised.

Many households could not benefit, amid accusations of hoarding against officials of the DisCos.

Many Nigerians and stakeholders agree that the DisCos have failed in the provision of prepaid meters to consumers in their service area.

“In the last two years what we have been getting is bills between N20, 000 and N4,000, this is a compound of about 6 rooms and a small shop outside which I use to sell minerals.

“When I was younger, before they brought any bill they normally come to check our meter to know how much we consume but that is not the case now. My tenants are complaining about the estimated billing, which is just killing us here in Egbeda,” Femi Ogunleye, a landlord in Alimosho area of Lagos, said.

He said that his efforts to get a repaid meter for his compound had failed severally, while stressing that the collection process should be more transparent.

“I have tried to get a prepaid meter, I mean I have applied on several occasions to their office in Egbeda here without success, I keep hearing that it is not available even though I have the money to pay now. Last year they promised me that the prepaid meter would come, but I was told later that when it came other people hijacked them,” he added.

Emeka Offor, a resident of Isolo, said there was the need for the Federal Government to call DisCos in order to save Nigerians from the current extortion.

Offor said that high estimated billing by DisCos had made life unbearable for him and people around his environment.

According to him, “IF you move around this area no house is using a prepaid meter, they just bring the bill as they like. I mean any amount. The last time the landlord came to meet with them and they promised to give us prepaid but we are still waiting for them to bring it.

“The situation is so bad, this compound they said we are owing N200,000 and last week they brought N25.000 how do we pay all that in Nigeria of today?

“All this is because we do not have a good government; can they try this in some other countries that have responsible and responsive governments?”

The latest statistics from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission says that more than half of the registered consumers in Nigeria are on estimated billing.

Despite this high electricity charges, Nigeria still suffers from chronic power outage.

In its 2023 third quarter report, NERC noted that of Nigeria’s 12.82 million registered customers, only 5.70 million or 44.51 percent are metered. In Q3 2023, DisCos metered 148,389 consumers.

Many stakeholders have said that after 10 years of existence, this rate is too low, leading to extortion by DisCos staff, meters by-pass, and low bill payment by consumers who often do not understand how the DisCos arrive at the estimated bill given to them.

According to reports, between July and September 2023, consumers lodged 333,947 complaints against the DisCos to NERC on metering, billing, and service disruption.

“In this area we don’t have prepaid, it is estimated billing and they bring about N10, 000 for my flat, it’s high compared to if I used prepaid. I am hoping to get one soon, but it is just extortion.

“I think everyone is aware, it is not a new problem even government agencies are complaining

“For me it is a reminder that the privatised entities lack the capacity to deliver on the mandates they were given and an indication that the selling of NEPA was fraudulent,” Samuel Uku, a resident of Igando in Lagos, said.

By the same token, another Lagos resident in the Ikeja Distribution (IKEDC) service area took to social media to record his frustration with the power situation in his part of Lagos.

He said: “Power supply in my neck of the woods is worse than squalid, a state of affairs that’s putting pressure on resources via the use of generators. Until a few weeks ago, I boasted that I could bottle electricity for sale. That was how stable the power supply was in my hood.”

But, Franca Ihentuge, a resident of Orji in Imo State, also told BusinessDay that the bill she received for January 2024 was too high compared to what her household paid in the previous months.

Ihentuge said her household paid N3,000 in November and wondered why the power company wanted her to pay N15,000 in January.

Angela Ebong, a resident of Port Harcourt, told BusinessDay that her compound jettisons the idea of prepaid meters after two years because of the frequent altercation among residents. According to her, the four flats in the compound were paying N20,000 before the increase in tariff, which is about N5,000 per month.

But, in a twist of effect another Port Harcourt resident who simply identifies herself as Ukamaka, who resides in the Eleme area of the Rivers State capital told BusinessDay that she pays N4,000 monthly for her 3-bedroom flat.

She told BusinessDay that she started paying her current rate sometime last year; she however disclosed that some residents pay more depending on their level of consumption. “Some people pay more than that, depending on what you are using,” Ukamaka said.

Sunday Oduntan, executive director, Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), told BusinessDay that estimated billing was never in the interest of the DisCos. According to him, the DisCos do not generate bills in isolation; rather they follow the rules given by the NERC, which regulate the sector.

“There is something they call estimated billing methodology.”

According to him, there is a need to constantly enlighten consumers on the internal workings of estimated billing in the power sector. He explained that no DisCo makes more money from estimated billing.

“Whoever said Discos make more money from estimated billing is speaking out of ignorance. When people have meters, they can calculate their consumption, and they can on their own know what they are consuming (People with pre-paid meters who bypass is another case),” Oduntan said.

According to him, “Those without meters are likely to complain about their estimated bill because they do not have the capacity to manage energy consumption. So, it is in our interest as DisCos to ensure that all customers are metered.

“At the end of the day, estimated billing is not good for customers, and it’s not good for the DisCos. It’s not good for the customer because he or she is not sure of his or her consumption. It’s not good for the DisCo because the DisCo, no matter how they do the calculation – the customer can never be satisfied; so it’s better for every customer to have a meter,” he said.

He said further that the billing formula might not be perfect. However, consumers with complaints about their billing have the right to complain and it will be corrected by the DisCo.

According to him, consumers with disputed bills can pay the rate given to them before the dispute, while they seek redress.

“My apologies to customers who have issues with their billing. But they should also know that anytime they have an issue or a disputed bill; they have a right to go to the nearest office of their DisCo to contest the bill,” Oduntan said.

He equally urged consumers to take advantage of the ongoing metering initiative programme called the ‘MAP’ to apply for their meter online.

Ilorin residents also lament

Ruth Ayobami, civil servant, said: “Estimated bill is not good economically; that was why Prepaid meter was introduced to address all this under and over-charge service amount to be paid.

“I will just implore the concerned authorities to make the prepaid meters available for their electricity customers so that the issue of estimated billing would be laid to rest permanently.”

Aliyu Yusuf, a landlord at Tanke area of Ilorin, Kwara State, lamented that, “PHCN service is rubbish and frustrating. They will just fix the charges for consumers to pay. For my two-bedroom flat, I do pay N6,000 every month. How come the bill is same price when the light is not regular.

“At times, we stay without light for good two or three days. And they will bring bill. Whether they supply light or not you must pay the bill that is always contradicting with the power supply. They are just extorting us.”

Consumers groan in Delta

Electricity Consumers in Delta State are calling on the Federal Government to beam its searchlight on the DisCos and electricity regulators in the country, with the aim of fishing out and prosecuting corrupt officials.

The call came amidst their outcry over steady power outage even when they pay their electricity bills.

The worst hit are consumers who pay through estimated billing.

Gertrude Onyekachukwu, a resident of Asaba, told BusinessDay that her family was given close to a million naira monthly for electricity they never consumed.

“They are exploiting us. Prepaid meter is better than estimated billing method.

“At a point time, our bill was over N1million outstanding on estimated billing because they were bringing as much as N50,000 monthly just for a three-bedroom flat, and sometimes N40,000. We went to the BEDC office and rectified it after which it came down to N300,000.

“The outstanding bill stood at N300,000 before we got prepaid meter, and we now buy about N10,000 worth of electricity monthly.

“They are exploiting us and the services are not there at all. BEDC is worse than the Nigeria Police. With their system, they are worse than police. The kind of corruption going on there, searchlight should be beamed on them.

“Even with prepaid meter, we buy electricity but there is no light. For instance, in our flat, for the past one month we have no light. That’s why I’m now in a shop to buy rechargeable lantern to enable me cook this night,” lamented Chidumebi.

Tales of extortion and exploitation have continued in the state.

Goodluck Ibe, a barber and businessman, said: “It is about availability of light. The light is not there for us. You pay for light yet you buy not less than N8,000 worth of fuel daily to power your generator. At most, they bring the light at night when we don’t need it for our business and it may just last for an hour and they would take it again. Does it make sense?

“Corruption is endemic in Nigeria and the only way is for those who can afford solar light to go for it. They should as well have a standby generator as for emergency. The question is, how many Nigerians can afford solar or can afford to buy petrol on daily basis?”

A few days ago, there was a protest in the Uwvie axis of the state over incessant power outage with cut-throat estimated bills.

The protesting women and youths chanted songs and rain abuses on officials of the distribution company.

The protesting women alleged that officials of the company were only interested in the collection of bills and thereafter, provide them blackout.

BusinessDay gathered that supply of power in Uwvie has been very epileptic since the first week of January, 2024.

“We are tired of hoping that the light will get better and all we want is good power supply,” one of the protesters said, explaining that they have had flashes of power supply for three weeks, but it never stayed.

“We have not had power collectively for more than 10 hours this month. I don’t know why, yet the bill they bring will not reflect that there was no power this month,” another protester complained.

The feeling of pain and anger could be seen on the faces of the protesters who were not willing to leave the road, denying vehicular movements, with the resultant massive traffic gridlock.