08 July 2017, Sweetcrude, Lagos — In this expository chat with Public Relations Officer for the Ikeja Electric, IKEDC, Felix Ofulue, he takes on some issues bothering on power within the Company’s district, providing answers to some nagging questions…OPEOLUWANI AKINTAYO reporting.
With several complains about metering, what is IKEDC doing about metering its customers?
The reason we are not metering at the pace we would have wanted to, is that, we do not have the financial muscle to meet with the current economic realities. So it has reduced the pace at which we are metering. We are metering Ikeja GRA at the moment. And what we did was to alter our metering strategy. In the past, we were metering all our business district simultaneously. If you go to Ikotun, Egbe, Lasu, you would find out that they have meters. But these places that we had meters don’t use the meters. You would just see that somebody has bypassed the meters. He knows the reason and he is just hanging there. So what we did was to change the strategy. We are speaking with some couple of meter vendors so we can buy meters for our non-Maximum Demand, MD customers. As for our MD customers, we have metered all of them. But hopefully, I am sure that in the next couple of months, we would have done over 40, 000 meters.
Apart from residential customers, we have metered our feeders and distribution transformers. And the meters were bought from local vendors. The essence of making those point, is to ensure that what we give our customers a fair estimated bill. We cannot meter everybody at the same time even if we have all the meters. But what we are trying to do about what people call crazy billing, is that with the feeders and metering on transformers, we are able to know the accurate energy consumed in a particular area. Our distribution transformers are about 80 percent metered. All feeders and MD customers are metered, leaving just the non-MD customers who are yet to be fully metered.
The current economic realities is what has slowed us down.
But people would tell you that you ought to have factored the changes into your plan before now
We didn’t know beforehand that things would get to this point. We are not alone in the struggle. Even the Federal Government has adjusted some of its own policies, forecast and budgets. Other corporate organisations are doing same so, why shouldn’t we?
But the impression out there is that you have refused to meter all your residential customers because of the money you get from the crazy billing
That is not true. Let me give you some of the advantages of metering. If we give meters, it would reduce our collection losses. This means that we would be able to collect our money because customers would buy more units after using up the ones they bought.
If we give meter, it will reduce the losses we get from under-billing. Are you aware that a lot of people are being under-billed? Some people who disguise as living in one-bedroom have all the gadgets you can think about, and they still pay low bills. Metering will allow for transparency, more customers will be willing to pay. In fact, we would be meeting once in a year because there would be no issue to discuss.
Again, cost of printing bills will be eliminated. It is cheaper for me to give you meters than the issues we get from estimated billings. May people are not willing to pay their bills. They hide under the guise of estimated billing. Even the guys that has a functioning meter, will see scream estimated billing.
We hear of situations where IKEDC have said they would not meter some areas except all of them settle their bills even when some are not owing. Why would you do that? And how would you recoup your money if you don’t meter them and they refuse to pay estimated bills?
We just started metering our feeders and transformers. So the strategy was to start to give meters from where we have metered our feeders and transformers. And that is why you find out that some areas like Mende already have meters. But unfortunately like I said, we were metering until the naira crashed and meters became expensive. So we had to slow down. For us, it’s easier to meter organized areas. That is why we have engaged Mojec.
Are you saying that all your MD customers are metered already?
Yes, but it could be very ambiguous. This is because we have new MD customers on a daily basis and we have to keep registering them. But for those who are already registered, they have been metered.
You said earlier that IKEDC doesn’t have the financial muscle to move at the expected pace but, what about the intervention funds by the Federal Government?
The $701 billion is for the generation companies and not for the discos, what I am trying to tell you by saying we don’t have the financial muscle is that; there are a lot of infrastructural maintenance ongoing in our network. So, we cannot push all resources into one otherwise, you would cause negative impact on other sections. On a daily basis, there are requests for transformers, renewal of lines from one place to another so, because of the daily expenses, we can’t meet up.
Remember that when we were buying all those meters, they were like $150 but now, the amount we use in buying one meter was what we bought three meters with. We made an estimate recently, and saw that 10,000 units of meters cost N144 million. So that’s what we are trying to say. To multiply that by how much it will take to meter everyone on the network at once, you would find out that it would take a lot. So we cannot move at the pace at which we would have wanted to.
Is it true that you don’t buy meters from local manufacturers?
That is not true. We buy meters from local vendors. We are also using local vendors to meter our feeders and distribution transformers. Mojec is one of them.
But there was a time you discos complained about the low standard of locally manufactured meters. Are you now satisfied with the standard?
The truth is that they bring all the parts and equipment from outside the country. All they do is assemble them here. But if you look at it from the perspective of local content, we would need the support of the local industry.
I can tell you that we are metering but, I can tell you that there are some places in Ikorodu who reject meters. Even those that we have metered bypass meters by connecting new lines into their buildings so, the meters are just there without being used.
You just said that in some areas where you have metered, that some of them bypass the meters. But we found out that those living in those parts you are yet to meter, get to pay for the power stolen by those who have meters but bypass them? This is injustice
What we have said is that if you are on the same network with your neighbor who has not be given the prepaid meter, and your bill is outrageous than his, take it to our business unit and it would be addressed.
What you are saying here, is not the same thing as what your workers are doing out there. Your boys are nasty with customers
It happens everywhere, not peculiar to us. I am telling you from a business perspective. It’s not fair, I agree. But that’s why the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Committee, (NERC) put up the billing methodology. So they have prescribed how we should bill. What we did was to go a step further to meter everywhere so that when we are sharing the bill, we would know what has been used by an area and how to share the bill.
But what about the N40 billion the FG said it has earmarked to settle the debts owed by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs. Are you aware of such money?
I am not aware of such money. The only thing I know is that FG is still trying to verify the debts. They have asked us to provide information which we have so, we are expecting response from them. We have satisfied what they required from us.
Those you said you are metering, are they through Credit Advance Payment Implementation, CAPMI scheme?
No more CAPMI
But we hear people saying they still pay for meters
Not in Ikeja
Some of those who paid for CAPMI before it was stopped, are yet to get meters. Why?
During the privatization, the government was supposed to provide 14 million meters but they failed to provide them
But they paid to you not to the government
Quite a number of them have been metered.
What about the accusation that you don’t go read meters before billing?
Let’s not forget here that some of these meters are old. Some of the meters you bought seven years ago had been in the stores for about 10 years ago and you have been using them. They have a life span. The only thing I would apologise for is that some of our staff don’t know how to talk or explain things. Because if they had explained certain things to you, there won’t be problem. Instead, they come with aggression and you also come with aggression because they know that people don’t like them. If we have complains, we treat them. There was a time Punch newspapers called me that their meter was malfunctioning. When we got there, we found out that the meter was reading too fast, and we adjusted it. If you are leaving in an area, and your meter is reading N8000 per month and your neighbour’s is reading N1000 per month, but you would not know that your meter is bad. So that’s the reason for estimated billing.
We have also heard cases when people would report that their meter needs repair and would be told to pay. Should customers pay for such?
You shouldn’t pay for such. But in most cases, meters are not repairable. But whenever customers are asked to pay for such, they should report to us.
There are also recent cases where customers receive crazy bills but when they go to pay at least whatever amount they have, your staff insist on full payment. How is such move supposed to help you recoup your money?
If you follow the report for the past four years, everybody keeps accusing the discos that we pocket whatever money we collect. Whatever we collect from you, just 20 percent comes to us. The rest goes down the chain. So, they keep blaming us for even monies that customers refuse to pay. So many customers refuse to pay their bills under the guise of estimated and crazy billing. So when we tell you to pay fully, it is because it has moved away from a government venture to a commercial one. Like now, if we don’t pay the generation companies in full, they won’t supply us. So they keep shouting discos every day, and they won’t understand that customers don’t pay fully. So if you pay a fraction to us and we also remit a fraction to them, they will begin to complain.
There was also a case of your staff throwing a live cable on a customer who wanted to prevent him from disconnecting his light. The man eventually died. How do you see such behaviour by your staff?
Even if we are so wicked, how possible was it to drop a wire on somebody and he would die? According to Police report, the man slummed and died. It doesn’t have anything to do with us. But we visited his family to condole with them.
Don’t you have another way of recouping your money instead of your staff going about with ladders?
Honestly, if it were possible to just sit in my office and operate one technology and money would roll in, we would use such. But, we discovered that the only thing Nigerians understand is the ladder. It’s even a burden to us carrying ladders up and down because we pay for disconnections. So if we have another way of collecting our money, we would gladly use it but Nigerians fear the ladder a lot. Once they see the ladder, the women will start calling their husbands at work, and others would start running to pay in order not to get disconnected. But once they don’t see us in their area for like two months, nobody would willingly pay their bills. But I believe that with time, things will change.
What about accusation that some areas get more power than others?
Of course, that is true. The reason is that some customers pay their bills while others don’t pay. So when we notice that some areas don’t pay their bills then, we won’t increase their allocation. It means the areas that pay will enjoy more light.
Is it not an injustice?
No, it is not an injustice. Some people would tell you that they can’t pay more than N2000 in a month. So what do you do? Discos are the largest providers of credit in this country because, customers owe us. We give light but customers don’t pay.