Large swaths of the Nigerian population are confused about the recent directive of Babatunde Fashola, minister of Power, Works and Housing, that electricity customers could negotiate with electricity distribution companies (DisCos) while also reiterating that the DisCos are obligated to meter their customers.
“Some DisCos have come back to say that their customers still want to pay for meters and they can reach agreements with them on how to pay for it. Government will not stand in the way of such an agreement. It is consistent with the intent of privatization envisioned by The Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) or at least it does not violate the Act,” said Fashola at the 18th Power Sector operators meeting held in Kano last Tuesday.
“What I will reiterate is that the DisCos have the obligation to meter customers, because they are the ones who charge for electricity which must be measured,” he added.
But even the DisCos are unclear how the model will work. “There is just so much confusion around the policy of meters by this minister,” said a top official in one of the DisCos who didn’t want to be named.
“CAPMI was abolished without any viable alternative, now on one hand he is mandating DisCos to meter their customers and in the same breath telling customers to buy their own meters, how will this work?” asked the source.
The Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) is a model that allows electricity consumers self-finance their meter acquisition and installation due to DisCos’ inability to promptly meter their customers.
However, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) accused the 11 DisCos of abusing the process. In a letter sent to DisCos last September, the commission said it was abolishing the scheme the next month.
Between November 2013 and June 2016, only about 500,000 meters were deployed by the 11 DisCos within their networks with less than 35 percent of that directly done by the DisCos, said NERC.
But Fashola said last Tuesday that if the customers and the DisCos reach an agreement between themselves, where the customer assumes the responsibility of the DisCo of his own free will, and NERC sanctions this agreement, then so be it.
“The difference between this kind of agreement and CAPMI is that it is not a government initiative which CAPMI was. However, through NERC, government will monitor and regulate to ensure that DisCos do not use this as an excuse to abdicate their responsibility to provide meters,” he said.
The challenge is there has been little monitoring in the past. Huge sums of money paid by electricity consumers for prepaid meters are trapped with the DisCos while consumers languish on futile waiting lists.
The angst among electricity customers is even more intense. A phone-in programme monitored on Smooth FM on Wednesday indicates that many Nigerians believe this directive is neither well thought-out nor inspired by public interest.
“I moved to Ilorin from Lagos last December and requested for a prepaid meter at the office of Ibadan DisCo in charge of the area and I was told to pay N45,000. I asked for a structured payment and they refused saying they were doing me a favour by giving me the opportunity,” said Henry Emmanuel, a caller from Lagos.
“So I decided to take back my meter from Lagos and was told by Ikeja DisCo that I cannot use the meter in Ilorin. They said I cannot move the meter from one zone to another, and I have to pay everything upfront for a meter I am not sure they will deliver,” he said.
Another caller wondered if it would be reasonable to expect someone who wants to buy fuel to come with his own meter? “Where is a customer asked to bring the measure to buy a product or service?” asked the caller.
Several other callers also expressed disaffection with the policy, raising concern that the lack of clarity on the policy would leave customers at the mercy of the DisCos. They accused the DisCos of collecting advance payments, over N50,000 in some cases, from customers for meters and failing to supply same. Some said the DisCos removed their old meters and failed to install prepaid meters.
With what many have described as inadequate regulation by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), electricity customers have been on meter waiting lists in DisCos around the country for years, many of them fleeced of huge sums of money as upfront payment. This is fuelling concerns that this policy may just worsen the situation.