20 January 2015, Lagos – Across the 11 electricity distribution zones in the country, protests against poor delivery of electricity services to consumers are becoming frequent and unpleasant.
As noted by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), such rampant show of disapproval of poor services by consumers is statutory and a show of the poor performance of distribution companies in meeting up with their key performance indicators (KPIs), which include customers’ satisfaction with service delivery.
Late in December 2014, parts of Benin City, the administrative capital of Edo State was literally held at a standstill when over 1,000 electricity consumers in the distribution network opted to protest against alleged poor electricity service delivery and financial extortion by the managers of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC).
Marching up to BEDC’s operational headquarters at Akpakpava, the consumers walked through major roads-Ugbowo, Ekosodin, Uselu, Aerodrome Close and Akpakpava, and as expected halted economic activities in the city for a while.
As the party marched on in protest, they contagiously drew the attention of other consumers from adjoining streets and expressed great concern to their continued payment of N750 as fixed charge in the tariff structure approved by the NERC, especially with the alleged absence of equitable electricity supply.
But while the intervention of the Edo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Foluso Adebanjo could calm the agitated protesters at the Akpakpava axis, it was not so good at another scene, Uromi within the same Benin electricity distribution zone where the protests turned violent.
Couching their grievances as it were at the Akpakpava protest, Friday Obawonyi who is the Chairman, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), noted that the extant term of electricity services by BEDC was no longer acceptable to electricity consumers especially when supplies are not as regular as the bills come.
“There is no way we will accommodate that. The fixed charge is N750 for every individual that has a meter. If you calculate the money they collect in Benin City alone, it is enough to generate electricity for Edo people,” Obawonyi said.
He explained that supply of electricity in the city had been erratic with just about two hours of supply per day which consumers barely utilised depending on the hour of supply, but that the recent blackout by the Disco without reasonable explanation was intolerable.
“The problems cannot continue to mount even when we pay bills. The most painful is the fixed charge of N750 but whenever there is a problem, we still need to fix it ourselves. Of what use is the charge? The fixed charge can stay if the electricity supply is regular,” Obawonyi added.
Also within the coverage area of BEDC, its customers in Ekiti State were reported to have gone on rampage across major streets of the state in protest of poor service delivery. The protest which would have but for the intervention of the State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, gone quite destructive was reported to the NERC by Fayose.
Fayose in his explanation, noted that officials of the Disco who were on duty while the protesting customers ran amok, were saved from perhaps brutal manhandling by him when he intervened to save the day.
Sadly, stories of poor electricity service delivery are not only rampant across the country but threatening to the expected geometric growth of Nigeria’s electricity industry, following the federal government’s reform and privatisation of the sector.
There are no isolated cases of consumers’ complaints against service delivery across the 11 existing electricity distribution networks.
Cases of poor metering and unfair billing of estimated customers, unhealthy load shedding, and irresponsive customer service have indeed added to give consumers more worries about the sector.
In Abuja for example, cases of unequitable billing of estimated customers by the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) as well as delay in deployment of prepaid consumer meters to customers have been reported as well.
Recent consumer bills generated and distributed by AEDC showed a stuffing of the load consumption ratio of estimated customers by the Disco without following the statutory estimated guidelines approved by NERC.
Accordingly, NERC’s guideline on billing customers on estimation, stipulates that load audits must at least be conducted by the Disco on the residence of consumers every three months intervals, to at least get an average consumption ratio that would guarantee fair billing on the estimated platform, the Disco from reports did not undertake a reasonable load audit of its customers before rolling out its recent bills, which were approved based on the outcome of the recent Aggregate Technical Commercial and Collection (ATC&C) loss studies it conducted.
The Abuja Disco public relations officer, Ahmed Shakarau, however claimed otherwise when he told THISDAY that the Disco had been judicious in its service to customers under its coverage.
“As a Disco we do not operate as an island, we are guided and NERC has spelt out the exact procedures that should be followed as far as metering and billing of customers are concerned,” Shekarau said.
He further noted on the techniques adopted by the Disco in its audit of its customers’ electricity load that they are often determined from the amount of energy sent and consumed at feeders within streets in relation to the number of metered and unmetered customers taking supplies from the same feeder.
“If we have injected this amount of energy on a district, that district has got transformers, beyond these we have various feeders for various sets of customers. Now we measure this number of units in terms kilowatt per hour of power sent into that particular district and remove the amount that we billed for metered customers on pre-paid and metered credit meters, then the reminder is what goes to the unmetered customers,” he added.
When prompted to justify such choice of load audit against individual load audits, Shekarau said: “Beyond that after three months, we need to go back and do individual load audit. But most times you go to these homes and you do not meet anybody because most times it is working hours. When you are at work that is when we are at work as well. It is not that we are not following the individual audits; we are doing it whenever we can access your premises.”
But the President of Nigeria Consumers Protection Network, Kunle Olubiyo in his assessment of the situation, expressed concern that the NERC was not doing enough on its monitoring and enforcement of extant codes governing the sector.
Olubiyo alleged that the Discos now engage in what he described as price loading within which they unilaterally increase consumers’ unit consumption and bill by themselves.
He stated that: “NERC has done a lot but gaps still exist in the regulatory function for which it needs to do more to make sure these things are checked. I am resident in Abuja and am not on prepaid billing and I have seen across board complaints from consumers where people are just placed on 100 units monthly and that translates to a lot of money.”
He requested that NERC should convene a stakeholders meeting where these issues would be discussed and whatever has been erroneously taken from consumers reimbursed them.
“The concern of consumers now is not the rate for tariff but paying for exactly what they consume. Consumers should be billed for energy they consume, it should be scientific, not at the whims and caprice or discretion of the Discos or sharp practices to the disadvantage of the consumer,” Olubiyo further stated.
In response to Olubiyo’s claims, Shekarau said that in the places where customers complained about over billing and load audit was conducted, AEDC discovered that they were being under-billed.
In furtherance of his argument, he said that there was a difference between generalising a problem and making it specific.
“We do not want to be unfair to our customers and that is why we say even for the unmetered, can we be sensitive to the energy delivered for that particular month to that particular area.
For the unmetered we do not continually put certain units regardless of the fluctuation of the energy delivered. If we deliver less energy in that area, can we reciprocate as far as billing is concerned by doing it scientifically? We measure what went in, in that particular month in that particular feeder, we remove the metered customers, and the remaining, we give the bill to the unmetered customers,” he added.
Shekarau also explained that: “Where we need to make adjustments as far as load audit is concerned, we move in specifically and do load audits and make adjustments.
I am also assuring customers that the company is doing everything possible to provide smart meters for them. For now, if any of our customers is not satisfied with the response they get from their respective business units, we encourage them to then move over to the next higher office until the problem is resolved.”
The company operates on hierarchy and if one level of the hierarchy isn’t meeting up with your request, please escalate it and when the complaints get to us (at head office) they are attended to immediately.”
– This Day