Nigerians across the country have cried out over the unreasonably high electricity bills being issued to them despite the worsening volume of power supply.
Many consumers across the 36 states of the federation and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have voiced out their frustrations at what they describe as the consistent practice of estimated billing adopted by power distribution companies (DisCos) across the country through which they are given exorbitant charges that do not correspond to their consumption.
Available report shows that Nigeria is probably one of the very few countries in the world where estimated billing is still in practice.
The regime involves a cumbersome and complex process in arriving at a monthly charge for electricity consumed during the period, with the unsuspecting average consumer in the dark about how the bills are arrived at.
Under the present circumstances, the DisCos determine what consumers have to pay them monthly. With no clear criteria for measuring individual consumption, electricity consumers are at the receiving end of the billing process. The process is opaque and it precludes transparency which prepaid meters can afford the Nigerian consumers of electricity.
In a renewed bid to ensure that electricity customers only pay for what they actually consume, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has approved a regulation that provides for the supply, installation and maintenance of end-user meters by other parties approved by the Commission.
The regulation is expected to fast-track a closure of the metering gap and encourages the development of independent and competitive meter services in the electricity industry.
LEADERSHIP Sunday reports that the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) Regulation, which was scheduled to become effective on April 3, 2018, introduces meter asset providers as a new set of service providers in the Nigerian electricity supply industry.
As assets with a technically useful life of 10-15 years, the regulation provides for the third party financing of meters under a permit issued by the Commission, and amortization over a period of 10 years.
The electricity distribution companies, in line with their licensing terms and conditions, are obliged to achieve their metering targets as set by the Commission under the new regulation. The contracting of Meter Asset Providers shall be through an open, transparent and competitive bid process, thus ensuring that meters are provided at the least cost to electricity customers.
In Kaduna State, business owners and many residents have sent a Save Our Souls (SOS) call to President Muhammadu Buhari and Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC) over outrageous electricity bills despite poor state of electricity supply.
KEDC, however, insists that consumers are paying for what they consumed.
LEADERSHIP Sunday’s findings revealed that many businesses have closed shops, while others are battling for survival as monthly income no longer sustain payment of ballooning monthly electricity bills.
One of the business owners, Emeka Eze, who shut down his hotel at Constitution Road, Kaduna, said he can no longer cope with high electricity bills without enjoying the commodity, lamenting that many businessmen are running their companies on generators round the clock to stay in business.
Eze said though electricity officials mounted a maximal prepaid meter for him, the charge is astronomical even without power supply.
“I suspect foul play from Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company because their business prepaid meters is designed to exploit customers. How on earth does it work that you don’t have light for almost 10 days in a month and the bills Kaduna Electric brings can be higher than even the previous month when one had more power supply? The prepaid meter I know is, when you don’t have light, your credits won’t run, or be consumed, but for business owners, the meter readers brings anything they feel like to you as your monthly bill.
“Sometimes, you will even be begging them to bring the bill for you to avoid disconnection. Something urgently needs to be done to reposition electricity in Kaduna; that is our appeal to President Buhari and Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company.”
Our correspondent who visited African Continental Hotel, located on Nagago road in Kaduna, to get first-hand accounts of the power situation in business outlets discovered that before the privatisation of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in 2013, the hotel’s monthly electricity bills hardly topped N150,000 per month.
However, according to the printed copies of the bills, the bills at the hotel began to rise uncontrollably, moving to N285,458 in January 2018 and later N666,953.16 in March,2018.
A source at the hotel explained that the bills are still going higher and higher even as the hotel is experiencing a drop in power supply.
This, according to him, was despite the fact that the hotel had a meter aside its own dedicated stand-by generator where heavy money is spent on diesel monthly.
“It’s a terrible situation her; if we are consuming power much, we won’t be spending much on diesel. The situation is that the more we spend on diesel, the more we also pay for electricity bills. We believe that if we rely much on our generator, our monthly bills are supposed to go down, but it is nothing like that.”
At Emerald Suites in Kaduna, the issue of high power bills was the same. In January 2018, the energy charge was N206,067.20, but in April 2018 the energy charge rose to N540,282.44, despite the outfit saying it was relying heavily on generator to operate.
Management officials at both African Intercontinental Hotel and Emerald Suites refused to comment on the situation when contacted to react over the bills and power supply situation at their businesses.
Other entrepreneurs who spoke on condition of anonymity complained that they may go off business due to what they described as the arbitrary electricity charges in Kaduna and environs.
They further said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s effort to revamp the distressed economy may be a mirage if nothing is done about the vexed issue of power distribution and billing.
But in his reaction, the head of media and communications, Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC), Idris Mohammed, said the business owners were only paying for what they consumed.
“The bills you are talking about are accumulation of bills and not one month bill. They were not servicing their bills the way they are supposed to. If you bill them N10, for example, they will pay N5, remaining N5. We are here to serve our customers better and we are doing just that. Any of them complaining needs to come forward with you with all the bills so that we can explain to such customer well for him or her to understand,” he explained.
A good number of electricity consumers in Kano have decried what they described as an electricity billing pattern that is questionable and exorbitant courtesy of their energy supplier, Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO).
Those interviewed by our correspondent unanimously stated that the bills were inconsistent. They remarked that when power supply to their areas drops, it is expected that the cost incurred should be less, but that contrary is the case.
Electricity consumers in Nasarawa State have accused the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, AEDC, of exploitation via excessive billing without commensurate supply.
Some of the customers, who spoke to our correspondent in Lafia and Akwanga, alleged that the company was abusing the approved method for billing customers under the estimated billing system.
Electricity billing in Niger State is mostly by estimation, hence only 30 percent of consumers are provided with prepaid meters in the state.
Findings revealed that in Minna, the state capital, only few are provided with prepaid metres, prompting some consumers to strive and make extra arrangements for the meters.
It was learnt from most of the consumers interviewed that it is cheaper to use prepaid metres than being billed through arbitrary estimations.
For Borno , especially the state capital, Maiduguri, the billing patterns and the nature of power supply have been a nightmare. While the residents lament inadequate power supply, the Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YEDC) continues to issue them with high bills such that many of the consumers are wondering if Nigeria’s regulatory body had abandoned them to the mercy of DisCos.
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY recalls that in early 2017, the YEDC organised a stakeholders’ meeting where the DisCos granted audience to consumers to voice their predicaments. At that meeting, the power firm said it will provide 133,000 free prepaid meters to its consumers in Borno and some states of the northeast.
The company even went ahead to warn consumers not pay for any prepaid meter because they would be provided free of charge, but till date, not a single consumer has been provided the meter.
Many companies, businesses and commercial ventures are forced to rely on generators to power their equipment. This has increased production costs with hefty amounts being reserved for diesel and gasoline. Small scale businesses like hair dressing and barbing salons and business centres are especially affected.
It is a tale of woes and lamentation from residents of Osun State as electricity consumers across state continue to groan under what they describe as high and estimated electricity tariffs being imposed on them by the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company.
Consumers, who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday in Osogbo, lamented the indiscriminate and intermittent increase in tariff despite the worsening economic condition of an average Nigerian.
Chief Ademola Kayode, a saw miller in Ile-Ife, said the outrageous tariffs imposed by IBEDC had forced some of his colleagues out of business.
Alhaja Silifat Amodu, who owns a private house, said she paid for prepaid meter in 2015, but that she had not been supplied the metering gadget till today.
For some electricity consumers in Akure, the Ondo State capital, the outrageous bills by the Benin Electricity Distribution Company, BEDC, without commensurate electricity supply to the consumers amounted to the highest level of impunity.
They alleged that BEDC had for so long placed them on estimated billing system that leaves most of them paying much higher than what they consume per month.
Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) general secretary in Ondo State, Leke Adegbite, who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday, lamented that the union had been receiving bills of N20,000 to N30,000 every month in an area where electricity is not regular, and all efforts to get prepaid meters for the secretariat had not yielded positive result.
Adegbite said, “The only way forward is for the federal government to stop foot-dragging and compel BEDC to distribute prepaid meters to houses in Ondo State; people are really suffering over the abnormal and annoying over billing of customers. Mr Babatunde Fashola must do this for us or revoke the company’s licence if it can’t meet people’s demand.”
In Ogun State, the matter is also a serious concern. The state chairman of Labour Party (LP), Comrade Abayomi Arabambi, said that consumers had a right to approach the court.
He said, “In this case at hand between DisCos estimated billings rather than prepaid metering, payment is not only a perpetual insult on our sensibilities but a well calculated attempt to decimate the people of Nigeria through fraudulent extortion for services not rendered.
“It is obvious that DisCos lack the required technical know-how, yet engaged in frivolous purchase of vehicles for board members and payment of bogus allowances for gross incompetence.”
Abuja residents are not left out of the vexatious issue of outrageous estimated billing.
A resident of Karu, Mr Maduka Obinna, said he used to spend between N1,500 and N2000 monthly to recharge his prepaid meter but that after lightening destroyed the gadget, he was put on estimated billing, lamenting that his monthly charge has now jumped from N4,000 to N15,000.
“How can they expect me to pay this kind of bill in a one-room apartment? These people are just ripping Nigerians off and government has to act fast. We need meters for this exploitation to stop”, he said.
Another resident of Nyanya who simply gave his name as Tumnye said he used to pay between N5,000 and N6,000 in a small kiosk that has just two bulbs and one freezer, but that in May the AEDC raised the charge to N27,000.
“These people are just crazy. How can they? I can’t and will not pay. They will have to disconnect me. They just write anything they like and expect us to pay. That’s why they refuse to bring meters,” he said.
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