29 October 2014, Lagos – Why would you disconnect my light when I have already paid? Do you know what it means to pay N10,000 for light that I did not even consume? And you have the guts to ask me to pay another money. You even billed us for the pumping machine when you know that we have not had water in this part of Coker Village for almost one year now. If you are in my shoes, will you pay?” a middle-aged woman yelled at the marketing officer attached to the area by Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EKEDC.
“Madam, I have told you that nothing on earth will prevent me from bringing down your wire unless the outstanding N7,000 on the your bill is settled,” the marketer replied with an air of arrogance as people milled around him to plead their case. “Ok, try it and you will see my other side today! By the way, what gadgets do I have in the house that you should give me such an outrageous bill. I don’t blame you,” she retorted.It took the intervention of the Service Manager who arrived the scene for frayed nerves to calm down. The woman who was livid with rage, alleged that she paid for a pre-paid meter over five months earlier. She further alleged that the meter has not been supplied because the electricity company wants to continue charging her for unconsumed energy. The Service Manager had to direct the marketer to stop billing the woman for the pumping machine and also to accept the payment she already made.
Protests over outrageous bills
Electricity consumers in various parts of the country have been groaning under the outrageous electricity bills foisted on them by the distribution companies. In April this year, residents of Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital and its environs, staged a protest over what they described as “uncoordinated and fraudulent charges” meted to electricity consumers since the takeover of electricity generation and distribution by new owners.
Besides, the aggrieved protesters called on the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution management to implement the prepaid electricity billing system to avoid frequent clashes with the power distribution officials over questionable bills. In neighbouring Calabar, about 1,200 angry residents last July also protested the outrageous electricity bills by the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company. In Lagos, residents of Ijeshatedo and Ikotun at different times, also took to the streets to protest the high tariffs even when power supply in these areas has remained epileptic.
A Lagos-based consumer rights activist, Mr Ibenyo Nga, decried what he called heartless extortion visited on the people residing in Aguda Surulere by EKEDC officials in Sanya Undertaking Centre. “Although the staff of EKEDC have been flooding our area (Aguda) with huge bills, in May they took their extortionist tendencies to a most ridiculous extent. They just sat in their offices and allocated unspeakably fat bills to the hapless people in that area, thereby causing a lot of outcry from the people. The arrogance of their staff as people left their work and business places and trooped to their offices to complain about the horribly inflated bills in the face of egregiously dismal services was grossly repelling – like adding salt to an injury; extremely offensive,” Nga said.
Continuing, he alleged that “they spoke as if the government has handed Nigerians in that area over to them to treat the way they like. Even though many of the people have functional meters, it was clear that they no longer rely on the meters to issue their bills.
Relying on meters to issue bills
I went there to ascertain what was happening, and when I enquired from one of their workers why they should clamp such huge bills upon the people, she just said that there was some “improvement” in electricity supply in May and so the bills must of necessity go up.
When she was asked whether they relied on the meters to achieve the figures in those bills, she just ignored the question and looked away. Her indifference was insufferable.“Now assuming it is true that there were some “improvement” in electricity supply, does that justify the arbitrary allocation of bills to consumers instead of relying on the meter? Is this not a grievous abuse of the business opportunity given to them?” he asked.
It’s affecting SMEs -LCCI
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, whose members are ripped off by the outrageous electricity bills, joined in calling on the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, to urgently address the growing concerns of electricity consumers who are inundated monthly with over-bloated bills. LCCI also called for an urgent review of the concept of fixed charges.
President of LCCI, Alhaji Remi Bello, who spoke to newsmen recently, said there is need for NERC to urgently address the growing concerns over the outrageous bills to consumers as most small and medium enterprises, SMEs, spend considerable sum on payment for public power supply. He regretted that oftentimes, these firms don’t get the power supply commensurate to payments made.
“The power situation is still a major problem for business across all sectors. Energy cost remains a major threat to business sustainability. Expenditure on diesel and other fuels continued to increase.
“The power sector privatisation is yet to make the desired impact. Profit margins of firms have been adversely affected. Let me again reiterate our position that the concept of fixed charges should be reviewed as this is an unfair demand on power consumers. Payments should be value- driven to be equitable,”he submitted.
Fixed charges attractiveA marketing staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, who would not want to be identified, told Vanguard Features, VF, that it would be very difficult for the distribution companies to stop giving consumers fixed charges.
According to her, that (fixed charges) is the only way the companies can take care of the lost energy. She explained that after billing those with functional meters, the excess or lost energy is distributed to consumers with non-functioning meters. “It is such consumers that pay for the unaccounted energy,” the former PHCN staff said.
NERC reactsReacting to the outrageous bills handed to consumers by the distribution firms, the Director of Engineering and Safety Regulations in NERC, Mr Abdullahi Mohammed, explained that crazy bills and estimated billing are some of the problems which the Commission is trying to find solutions to.
– Jude Njoku, Vanguard