Auwal Adamu lives in a one-room self-contained apartment in Dawaki Extension, a 20-minute drive from Abuja city centre. Until recently, the marketing agent had only the poor state of road in his neighbourhood to worry about. But from February this year, electricity bills became his major headache.
His house does not have a meter, leaving him at the mercy of officials of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) to work out how much he pays every month, based on their calculations of his consumption.
Until January, for instance, he was being charged N5,000 a month, but in February, the rate was hiked to over N7,000. “I was truly baffled because that was a month we experienced a horrible power supply. So I expected that the rational thing to do was to review the bill downward,” he said.
When he contested the bill at the electricity company’s office in his neighbourhood, he was told that the only solution to his case was prepaid meter, which he must buy.
“An argument ensued between me and the female staff, who insisted I would pay for the meter. I challenged her, pointing out that her position contradicted the regulation of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), that meter is free. “Surprisingly, she said what I considered irrelevant. According to her, ‘You voted for change and you are now complaining about exorbitant bill,’ he said.
Not satisfied, Adamu took his case to the company’s branch office at Katampe. There too, he got nearly the same answer. ‘If the NERC has said meters are free, that is for the NERC, not me. My company did not say so. If you want a meter, go and get a bank draft for it,’ a female customer care officer told him.
“Around that period, I was sent on a marketing trip to the North-East, and by the time I came back, another bill of over N8,000 had arrived. If I had a meter, I wouldn’t have consumed even N500 because I travelled immediately after paying the one for February, which means there was zero consumption throughout the period of my absence,” he added.
Adamu is only one among many Nigerians on the estimated billing system by electricity distributors. The NERC directed all electricity distributors in the country to provide meters to all the unmetered electricity consumers so as to effectively end the regime of the indiscriminate billing of customers. Months after the deadline passed, nothing significant appears to have been done, as many Nigerians still complain of being exploited.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the amount being charged unmetered customers is very high because of the power sharing formula employed for determining their level of consumption. “If, for instance, 10,000 megawatts are allocated to an area and we discover at the end of the month that 2, 000megawatts were consumed by metered customers, the balance of 8, 000 megawatts will be billed to the unmetered customers because it is assumed that they used them,” one of the distribution officers said.
Metering statistics released by the NERC in April 2016 revealed that there were over six million electricity customers with verified accounts throughout the country. While 3.1 million of them had meters, the other 2.9m did not have; hence they are placed on the estimated billing methodology.
By October 2016, the figure of metered customers had increased to 3.329m.
But residents argued that estimated billing only served the revenue drive of the power providers.
Describing the formula as unfair and exploitative, the president of the Nigerian Consumer Protection Network, a consumer advocacy group, Kunle Olubiyo, a lawyer, said the methodology remained a kind of incentive for the beneficiaries (DisCos) not to invest in the network or metering.
Consumers also frowned at the DisCos asking them to pay for the meters, after which they will be given units for the amount paid. Information showed that most of the 200,000 meters installed last year were done through the Credited Advanced Payment for Metering Initiative (CAPMI). The scheme allowed customers to pay for meters and have them installed within 60 days, with a refund after three years.
The NERC suspended CAPMI by November 2016, saying DisCos were not investing in metering enough but over relying on customers to do that. Checks, however, showed that DisCos still impose the CAPMI on customers.
But Olubiyo also accused the distributors of installing meters that had been adjusted to shortchange consumers. “There are liquidity challenges and we have observed that some meters the DisCos have deployed are allegedly configured to over-speed. The Nigerian Electricity Services Management Agency (NEMSA) has complained severally that the DisCos are not subjecting the meters to test, which would have checked the abnormalities.
“We are in a serious dilemma as far as that is concerned. For estimated billing, it is inhuman, unjustifiable and unimaginable, and electricity consumers nationwide are at the receiving end,” he said.
He said the Mercado Consultancy mid-term assessment report indicated that the DisCos, before privatisation, were making 70 per cent profit from collection of revenue, but now it is reversed to 30 per cent.
“With the new board at the NERC, we are expecting that they would put their feet on the ground and do the needful,” he said, expressing high hopes.
Responding on the issue of blackout and load shedding in the DisCos franchise area, the spokesman, Mr. Ahmed Shekarau, confirmed that power supply had improved recently.
He said, “The load allocation oscillates, depending on generation level, which has been going up and down. But to respond directly to your question, I want to say: Yes, our allocation improved recently.”
The managing director of the AEDC, Ernest Mupwaya, an engineer, who addressed issues of high estimated billing and load shedding while commissioning a service centre in Kabusa area of Abuja recently, said, “I assure customers that there is a concerted effort to have incremental power. If we are allocated more energy, the issues of load shedding will start reducing.”
As an intervention effort to reduce complaints of high estimated billing, Mupwaya said the AEDC had started installing ‘transformer meters,’ beginning from Kabusa community in Abuja. He explained that the AEDC staff members and the community leaders would then read the energy consumption figure before preparing the bills for customers in the area.
Energy consumers in Katsina have different tales over the ongoing estimated billing and absence of prepaid meters.
Haruna Bishir, a resident of Kankia town, was shocked when a bill of N10,000 was sent to him recently as energy bill for his two-bedroom apartment.
He said his previous charges were between N3,000 and N4,000, and after enquiring from the staff of the distribution company, he was told: “Just pay, the bill came like that.”
He wondered how the charges shot up, saying that March’s bill was generating serious ill feelings in the town.
“They have refused to install prepaid meters for us, yet we are made to pay for the power we didn’t get,” he added.
Mohammed Yusuf, a resident of Nwala community in the metropolis, was among the few that got meters installed in their homes last month. He said the meter had revealed how he was being ripped off by electricity suppliers.
“My previous bills were a little above N8,000 monthly despite the poor power supply, but with the meter now, I hardly consume up to N2,000 monthly,” he said.
At Sabon Unguwa, Lawal Saidu said he was alarmed when his wife brought a bill of N12,000. Frustrated, he asked her to tell the bill collectors to disconnect him.
“How can you just sit in your office and estimate what I consume and bill me? That is a clear case of injustice,” he said.
All efforts to speak with officials in Katsina office of the distribution company proved abortive as they asked our correspondent to channel his request for comment to their head office in Kano.
Unmetered electricity consumers in Kaduna State have lamented what they described as outrageous electricity charges. They also decried the unnecessary delay in distribution of prepaid meters to homes.
Many residents of the state have complained that electricity bills to their homes had doubled and in some cases tripled in the last one month while some also complained of low current, which they said was not useful to them.
Malam Hassan Bello, who resides at Hayin Banki in Kaduna North Local Government Area, said he had made several attempts to get the prepaid meter but did not. According to him, he recently got a monthly bill of about N6,000, which he said was too high, compared to the rate of electricity he used.
Another resident of Sabon-Gari in Tudun-Wada, Malam Musa, said, “Before now, I used to pay N4,000, but this month, they brought a bill of N9,000 for March. This is unfair. That is why I prefer the prpaid meter. With meter, when there is power failure your credit remains intact. For the past seven years, I have been trying to get a prepaid meter but all my efforts have failed,” he lamented.
However, the head of Corporate Communication, Kaduna Electric, Abdulaziz Abdullahi, explained that the high charges consumers experienced in the last one month were as a result of the increase in power allocation to consumers.
Abdullahi said the Doka area office of the Kaduna Electric had commenced distribution of prepaid meters, saying many parts of Doka, including Malali, U/Rimi and Kabala had gotten.
He, however, lamented that the cost of procuring the meters were expensive. “The meters are not manufactured in Nigeria but abroad, and after buying, they need to be calibrated. The 50,000 meters we are presently installing in Sokoto, Kebbi and Kaduna cost about $25m when they were bought last year.
“As it is now, it is difficult to get loans from banks because when they see our books, they see that we are not doing well. As such, we cannot guarantee that we can meter our customers at a particular time. However, based on the agreement reached at the inception, we are supposed to meter 100,000 customers per year for the next five years in the four states we operate.
“It is our wish that every customer be metered, but it is difficult. We urge customers to be patient,” he said.
When the Federal Government sold the power distribution to private investors, with the condition that they will meter all consumers across the country, Muhammad Mahmoud was very excited. But years after the privatisation, Mahmoud, who lives along the Nnamdi Azikiwe bypass, Kaduna, is disappointed.
“I am at the mercy of the heartless Kaduna Distribution Company (KedCo) marketers. They bill me as they wish. And I can’t talk. They will just send thugs to disconnect the power from my house,’’ he said.
He said all his efforts to secure the prepaid meter were not fruitful “despite parting away with N18,000. I went to the KedCo office in Kabala West and I was told a prepaid meter cost N27,000. I was told to join the queue of consumers waiting for the meter. And I paid N18,000 through a PoS in the office. But almost two years after that, the meter is not forthcoming. I was calling one Abdullahi who was in charge of the prepaid meter, but I was later told he was laid off. That is the end of the story.’’
He added, “The distribution company became more reckless. I was paying an estimated billing of about N4,500 monthly, whether there was light or not. Suddenly, a N10,000 bill was brought and I became enraged. I confronted the lady that usually brought the bill. I was shocked when she said, ‘they were told I was producing ice block’ hence the hike in my bill. I said they were reckless. What stopped them from coming to the house to check out the claim? I invited them to do so. I vowed not to pay that outrageous amount.’’
He said the bill was later “reduced to N5,700. It had been at that for months before it was arbitrarily increased to N8,500 again. This is scandalous and nobody seems to care again. And no prepaid meter is on sight.’’
Electricity consumers in Lagos are not left out of the protests and criticisms over the regime of estimated billing system. For instance, the Ailegun/Burknor Community Youth Development Association, Ejigbo Local Council Development Area, Lagos reportedly raised eyebrow over outrageous bills imposed by the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC).
A resident of Obawole in the Iju area of Lagos, Mr. Stephen Omotayo, told our correspondent that he had applied for a prepaid meter for several months but was yet to be given by the Ikeja Electric. He said the development automatically made the power company impose between N9,000 and N10,000 estimated bills on his two-bedroom apartment. He wondered why the company denied him the meters, having completed all the processes.
But the Assistant General Manager, Public Relations of the company, Godwin Idemudia, told our correspondent that his company was on top of the situation to get its customers metered in due time. He said the company had been deploying the meters to zones in order to enhance spread among its 600,000 customers, adding that the company is not hoarding the prepaid meters to deliberately impose estimated billing on them.
The company’s chief executive officer, Amoda Oladele, an engineer, said they planned to install 200,000 prepaid meters for consumers in 2017 to end estimated billing.
The public relations manager of Ikeja Electric, Felix Ofolue, did not respond to our correspondent’s request for comment.
Some residents of Nasarawa, Tudun Wada and Anguwan Rogo, who are yet to be metered, complained of exorbitant estimated electricity bills in the last few months, saying the improvements in electricity supply was only marginal.
Abubakar Iliyasu, who lives in Nasarawa, told Daily Trust on Sunday that they were billed N9, 922 as energy charge in February, with N492 as VAT. Iliyasu, however, said that with a debt of N512, 385.82 owed the electricity company, they could not request for meters. Instead, they paid half of their monthly bills to ensure they were not disconnected.
The public relations officer of Jos Electricity Distribution Company, Lubabatu Rabi’u, said they had been metering based on clusters, but were yet to get to some areas such as Nasarawa and Anguwan Rogo.
The Nigeria Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) also visited the company’s head office in Jos and ordered them to halt further distribution of meters.
Electricity consumers in Nasarawa State also expressed concern over their inability to access prepaid meters despite epileptic power supply, especially in Lafia, the state capital and some major towns in the state.
The situation prompted the state House of Assembly to summon the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) following thousands of petitions and complaints by consumers over poor power supply and overestimation.
“Our people have complained over the estimated billing system by the AEDC. They have been paying for light without enjoying it. Another issue is that disconnected houses were billed at the end of every month. It is not supposed to be,” the speaker, Ibrahim Balarabe Abdullahi said.
Answering questions from the lawmakers, the Director of Corporate Service of the AEDC, Abimbola Ogunbiyi, an engineer, called on consumers to be patient as the company was doing everything possible to improve on the supply of electricity.
Some electricity consumers in Sokoto State also lamented over outrageous billing, saying they were being forced to pay for what they did not consume.
“I do not have meter in my house. I pay over N4000 every month despite epileptic power supply in our area,” Malam Musa, a resident of Bado area in Wamakko Local Government Area said. He recalled how he was billed over N10,000 monthly by the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company some months ago.
“I wonder what parameter they are using to arrive at that figure because it is not commensurate with what we are consuming monthly. Electricity supply is not regular,” he said
Another consumer, Isma’il Muhammad of Gagi area, said he was forced to pay a handwritten bill of N3000 monthly despite very short supply.
“My bill is not computerised and they make it fixed,” he said.
When contacted, KAEDCO’s Business Development and Relationship Officer in charge of Sokoto State, Abubakar Hashim, dismissed the allegation, saying they were charging customers based on what they consumed.
According to him, they were using what he called load-reading to know the monthly consumption of unmetered customers.
Electricity consumers in Yobe State have accused the Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YEDC) of outrageous billing and unfair rationing in favour of viewing centres.
An investigation carried out by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that most of the residents that complained did not have prepaid meters.
Modu Kawu, an unmetered electricity consumer in Damaturu, complained that the YEDC gave him a bill of N15,000 when he did not have the capacity to consume one third of the said amount.
“I was offsetting a bill of N3,000 before they suddenly confronted me with this outrageous amount. How can a three-bedroom bungalow consume this amount? They should recheck the billing system and provide us with meters,” he said
Mala Babale, another unmetered customer, said the YEDC was charging him about N15,000 monthly, which, according to him, was beyond the light he consumes.
“I have been paying N3,000 to the YEDC monthly. Surprisingly, a bill of N15,000 was brought to me. They refused to install the prepaid meter and are charging us unfairly,” he said.
The Business Manager, Yola Elecricity Distribution Company, Alhaji Usman Wafta, said all the allegations were baseless.
“Ours is just to distribute the allocation received. We don’t charge outside the law. We have a methodology of billing based on average number of people in the area. And we welcome complaints from customers that feel unfairly charged,” he said.
Alhaji Habib H Rijiyar Zaki said his bill for this month was different from that of the previous months. “I always argue with them over the bill they are bringing to me. Sometimes they will bring a bill of N9,000 to me in a month. I wonder what I used in the house to attract such amount,” he said.
He said it was difficult to access the prepaid meter, adding that the house next to him had the meter installed, and when he protested, he was just asked to be patient.
When contacted, the spokesman of Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO), Muhammad Kandi, said the company had a standard methodology approved by their regulatory body on estimated billing.
“We calculate using the methodology approved by the regulatory body. Of course, the bill will not be the same because some houses consume more power than others,” Kandi said.
He said it had always been their aspiration to meter residential areas. He, however, noted that they inherited a meter gap of about 5million. “It is not possible for us to fill the gap created in the past three decades in three years, but we have made the commitment that every year we shall install 100, 000 meters. And we are determined,” he said.
The challenge before NERC
The NERC has said that customers who feel aggrieved over their estimated bills or poor quality of service have the right to contest it with the DisCos.
In a video uploaded yesterday, the NERC said such customers must first complain to the DisCos and wait for their resolution within 10 working days. If that fails, they should appeal to the NERC Forum Offices for intervention.
Although the commission did not officially respond to our enquiries, a key official interfacing with customers told our reporter that they would soon open more forum offices to cover the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
It remains to be seen whether or not the new NERC boss will have the required courage to force DisCos to comply with the directive of the regulatory agency on metering customers so as to address the plight of many electricity consumers in the country.