It was the year when then President Goodluck Jonathan auctioned Nigeria’s power assets to a bunch of clueless private sector players, most of whom have never managed anything successfully.
The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was 'unbundled' to Generation, Distribution and Transmission components because the received ‘wisdom’ at the time was that the private sector would eventually solve Nigeria’s perennial electricity woes, seeing as government had been so bad at it since 1960.
Fast forward six years later and Nigeria is still in darkness. DisCos (Distribution Companies) GenCos (Generation Companies) and the transmission arm of the power sector mix, still do not know what they are supposed to be doing. Only darkness has been transmitted to homes in the intervening years.
These days, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), wrings his fingers, twiddles his thumb and tells you that there is not much he can do either, because the power sector is very much in the hands of private sector players. He can only formulate policies and regulate the rot on his watch, he says, with characteristic insouciance.
The DisCos even turn back a chunk of the power they receive from GenCos and refuse to make prepaid meters available to customers. This they do because they want to defraud Nigerians through estimated billing.
On April 11, 2019, Brycee Adiah Bassey shared the story of how she was harassed by officials of an electricity distribution company for disagreeing with the estimated bill that was being shoved down her throat.
“I was just harassed and abused here at my own home in Lekki 1 by @EKEDP (Eko Distribution Company) workers. They called me a whore, an animal and the marketer woman asked if I even went to university. They now started recording me and rained curses to scare me into paying on a grossly overestimated bill”, Bassey tweeted.
PR practitioner, Najeeb Bello, shared the following in a tweet: "How do you estimate the bill for an individual living alone at N21,000 per month, then another month N31,000, the next month it's N39,000, month after that it's N49,000 and finally the bill is now N62,000 for one month?!
@EKEDP You need to help us explain this one! Cc: @NERCNG"
In my neighborhood, residents have been sharing tales of how Eko DisCo makes it doubly difficult for customers to acquire the prepaid meters, because doing so means the crazy estimated bills from where they skim off subscribers, would be no more. It is the same story with Ikeja DisCo and all the DisCos across the nation.
Prepaid meters, where there are available, should be free. But DisCos coerce customers to pay N50,000 for one prepaid meter. A friend tells me that in areas where there are so many customers with prepaid meters, the DisCos supply less and less electricity to that neighborhood as a way of punishing them for avoiding the scourge that is estimated billing and arbitrary tariff.
The entire privatized power sector value chain has become one huge racket.
Director General of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Mr. Babatunde Irukera, says electricity consumers are better off engaging the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) if they want the criminal activities of the Discos checked.
“The law already says consumers should pay what is undisputed while the disputed portion is adjudicated. NERC has a forum for hearing and penalizing Discos who disregard this rule. Sometimes, what it takes is the passion and patience to engage the regulatory process and see it through. I am first to admit that the power distribution and billing system is a runaway train. It's by far the singular issue with the most complaints. We work at it daily. I am keenly interested in feedback that solves the problem. We've engaged across board, but I want more thoughts.
“In reality, what consumers despise is arbitrary billing. If estimates were reasonable and had rational basis, consumers will be willing to understand the time it takes to meter all. Ultimately, the only fair proposition is for people to pay for only what they use”, Irukera says.
I would suggest that consumers hit the streets to protest the arbitrariness and theft at the hands of power buccaneers who haven’t improved wattage substantially at the grid since 2013.
In 2019, no one should be paying for electricity they never consumed.
Nigerians have been derided as a docile, sheepish lot for far too long. Protesting is one way to show anger, effect change and kick back at a system intent on trampling on the rights of the poor.
Fellow Nigerians, it’s time!!