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Citizens Are Tired Of Estimated Billing

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Recently, Professor James Adeche Momoh, chairman/CEO of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the power sector regulator, assured that the commission is pushing the Distribution Companies (DisCos) to meter all customers by 2020 through the Meter Assets Providers (MAP) Regulation it launched in April 2018.

While the professor was assuring of metering all Nigerians by 2020, the Discos that should drive the process appear non-committal. How then could one explain a situation where most MDs/CEOs of the DisCos were absent at the recent Meter Assets Providers (MAP) conference held in Lagos?

This attitude of the DisCos is condemnable and not acceptable because the meeting was about facilitating the process that would lead to the closing of the metering gap. A very wide gap that literally steals money from the pockets of Nigerians who are made to pay for electricity they did not consume.

The DisCos have been ripping off most Nigerian electricity consumers by their failure to meter them, while sending them skyrocketed bills every month, even when they did not supply electricity. Most Nigerians can attest that they hardly get three hours of electricity a day. In most towns and cities in the country, the power companies rotate the supply of light between different parts of the same town or city. Even under this rotation, the DisCos never fail to send the estimated bills, which are always high.

It was perhaps in response to their treatment of Nigerians with disdain that one lawmaker in the National Assembly recently came up with the idea of criminalising estimated billing.

The House of Representatives recently had a public hearing on a Bill to prohibit the issuance of estimated electricity billing to consumers across the country. The bill sponsored by the Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, has the provision to criminalise estimated billing by electricity distribution companies (DisCos) in the country. The bill, according to the sponsor, followed numerous complaints by electricity consumers that the Discos are extorting them.

The bill is also the outcome of allegation that the federal government’s policy adjustments have failed to stop the power providers from technical manipulation of the reading pattern by using strange tariff methodology. Therefore, the criminalisation of estimated billing is being built into a planned amendment of the Electricity Power Reform Act which will make provisions for compulsory installation of prepaid meters for all consumers.

Across the country, estimated billing is given, whether consumers have electricity supply or not, and payment default earns disconnection.

One of the consequential orders in the bill is a recommendation of six months imprisonment for any official of the power distribution companies found guilty of illegal disconnection, or refusal of the Disco to connect a customer after application.

To effect these changes, the House of Representatives seeks to amend the Electricity Power Reform Act by creating new sections 68 to 72 to prohibit estimated billing forthwith, and a compulsory installation of prepaid meters to every electricity consumer by the Disco within its jurisdiction. Specifically, Section 68 of the proposed legislation empowers electricity consumers to ignore paying estimated bill and must not be disconnected in the event that no prepaid meter was installed for them by their respective Discos within the 30-day period.

The power firms have opposed the bill. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) represented by the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED) had given reasons for opposing the bill. According to them, although the Discos have a contractual obligation to provide meters to electricity consumers, it is not their core mandate. Their core mandate, they argued, is to supply electricity.

The solution to the problem, according to them would be to licence new players, specifically charged to supply meters. This, they added, would take the load off the Discos. The association of the power firms, also argued that if estimated billing was made a criminal offence, the action will promote darkness in the country. The association wants the billing system to be simplified for the understanding of consumers and for the operators to provide for transparency in application.

Undoubtedly, estimated billing has been a controversial issue and consumers feel ripped-off by electricity providers. It is unfair for consumers to pay for energy they did not consume. The issuance of estimated billings is unacceptable and should be stopped. Let consumers who want prepaid meters be supplied with the equipment so that they can pay for only the electricity they consume. The provision of prepaid meters will make energy consumers effectively manage their energy consumption.

The government must protect consumers from the highhandedness of the electricity providers. What the Discos are currently collecting as tariff through estimated billing is much more than what consumers can pay, even if there was a cost reflective tariff in place. Since most Nigerians are not metered, they pay more for electricity because the parameters used in calculating the tariff fall short of the standards approved by NERC. This is not the fault of electricity consumers.  The DisCos have failed to meter Nigerian consumers and their absence at the stakeholders meeting to address the problems showed their disdain for the consumers.

The DisCos should be made to provide pre-paid meters for Nigerians without further delay and if it would take the law to make them do the right thing, so be it. As a matter of fact, the 2020 supposed deadline for the DisCos to fill the huge metering gap seem so far away, given the cost of estimated billing to many Nigerians groaning under the current economic hardship in the country. It remains to be seen how the DisCos given their attitude towards the project could meet the 2020 deadline. The onus is therefore on the government to put the interest of the people above that of power sector cabals.

– Aluta Continua!


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