By Gbenga Odunsi, Lagos
The electricity regulatory body in 2018 introduced a law directing power distribution companies (DisCos) to furnish consumers with more prepaid meters. While many Nigerians are yet to be allotted meters, despite paying in full, some have complained of exorbitant billings.
“The officials came to my house, promising to fix my light and provide me with prepaid meter. This was on 15 May 2019, but as I speak(October 2020), I have not seen any meter. I went to their office in Ikeja to know why my meter has not been delivered, despite making full payment. But, on getting there, I met other people who had come to lay the same complaint, 35-year-old Joy Edna told Information Nigeria.
In April 2018, a new regulation on meter asset provider service says customers are not supposed to pay for meters.
According to the regulation, “DisCos shall conclude the procurement process for the engagement of the first set of MAPs within 120 days from the 3rd day of April,” MAPS regulation states.
“DisCos shall conclude the procurement process for the engagement of the first set of MAPs within 120 days from the 3rd day of April,” MAPS regulation stipulates.
Investigation by Information Nigeria uncovers the failure of the DisCos in meeting this deadline, and millions of Nigerians without prepaid meters are afflicted with the exploitation of estimated billing.
Why use prepaid meter
Whether you are a house or flat owner, renting or a landlord there are many benefits to using prepaid electricity over normal billed electricity in your home or office. Prepaid electricity means you don’t get bills in the post at the end of the month and many people in Nigeria using prepaid electricity now would never want to go back.
When you are using postpaid electricity (get billed at the end of the month) you are not aware how much you are using a day, a week or an hour. A prepaid electricity meter has a readout which displays your units as well as the level of power consumption. This allows you to better monitor how much electricity you are using and therefore budget better every month.
With a prepaid meter, a consumer can recharge N3000 worth of power and effectively manage it for three months by switching off appliances. This, however, doesn’t favour the DisCos as they tend to make little or no profit from this. Estimated billing allows them to charge based on assumed, rather than actual, electricity consumed, hence, they issue estimated bill of N30,000 each month, even if consumption is not more than N3,000.
Prepaid meter intentionally made scarce
Tonye Akinwande, a 43-year old landlord in Lagos who spoke with Information Nigeria, says the officials of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, IKEDC are culpable of prepaid meter scams in Lagos. According to the estate surveyor, the prepaid meter costs N38,000, and payment is made in full, after which another sum of N5000 must be paid to open an account with the electricity department.
Mr Akinwande says as a landlord, there is a need to install the prepaid meter for all his tenants in the three different houses he owns within the city, but all attempts to purchase the devices proved abortive as officials of the electricity distribution company continue to frustrate his efforts.
“A 3-bedroom flat would be given an estimated bill of #20,000-#25,000 a month, only to find out that the flat isn’t even using so much appliances.
“The prepaid metre device cost #38,000 for one, and would not be issued to you until you have fully paid for it – that’s if you are even issued one.
“This means as a landlord in Lagos, I have to install the meters for my tenants, one per flat, Where would I get that kind of money?
“I was made to understand one prepaid meter costs #38,000, I paid for 8, then I was made to pay another #5,000 to open an account with the electricity department for each of the meters.
“People are yet to realize that this is a ploy by IKEDC to frustrate and further discourage people from purchasing the device because they make a huge amount of profit from estimating electricity bills.
“The prepaid metre is intentionally made scarce so that individuals would not get hold of it and put an end to the menace of estimated billings.
“The officials know that if you are able to purchase the metre and recharge #2,000 worth of power, if managed well, it would last you for more than two months, hence, their foot-dragging to issue out these meters.”
Computer drops long names
Chidinma Umunna could not believe her ears when officials of IKEDC told her husband that the computer dropped his name because it was ‘too long’.
She gawked in disbelief at the total amount they had been charged for estimated electricity consumption. The tall, plumpy, dark-skinned lady laments over the shoddy activities of IKEDC officials in the issuing of prepaid meters to electricity consumers.
According to the banker, her husband had paid for the device in 2018, but he is yet to be issued a meter.
“The officials appear to me as scammers, she says.
“In a country where there are rules and regulations, you find government officials bury themselves in financial shenanigans, thinking they are above the law.
“What would it cost IKEDC to produce prepaid meter that has been paid for since 2018?
“We keep hearing the meters are not available but they will never tell you not to pay for it.
“Among the numerous excuses that were given to us was that my husband’s names are too long that the computer had to drop it.”
“The officials sit in their offices and draft figures according to whatever wave swept through their heads.
“We keep getting estimated billings of over N25,000 in a modest two-bedroom flat.
Friends that I explained my situation to ask could not believe their ears, they kept asking if we were running an industry inside the house.”
Overcharging and overbilling prepaid meter users
In what appears to be a grand scam and illegal extortion by IKEDC officials — intentionally or through high powered negligence — metered a residential apartment with a device meant for commercial use. The effect of this is that the residential apartment is overbilled after each recharge.
Customarily, prepaid meter consumers are billed according to energy used. Consumers control what they use, and when they run out of unit, they can understand why it is so.
But, a prepaid meter consumer, Mr Babatunde Ayodeji, says whenever he recharges N5000, it doesn’t last more than two weeks – and it’s not as if power is constant.
According to him, IKEDC officials classified him on A1, instead of R2TP, which is the normal bill for a residential apartment with 3 phase.
After months of overbilling, Mr Ayodeji filed a formal complaint to IKEDC support centre via email.
After exchanging several emails since July, nothing has been done to effect or reclassify this consumer who lives around Ojodu Berger area of Lagos State. Having been overcharged for more than eight months, the power distribution company have done next to nothing in either rectifying their gross negligence or undoing their grand scam, after been found out.
“Aside email, I have also been to their office and spoke with a customer service agent who also confirmed the “fraud” and promised to push it to the appropriate department.
“Many residents are oblivious of this smart overcharge system but many just noticed their recharge doesn’t last despite the epileptic power supply they enjoy.
“We will recall that during the recently announced tariff change which elicited widespread condemnation from the public and labour unions, which was later halted by the government through the intervention of the national assembly, it required only a forty(40) digit token to move everyone up the higher tariff ladder.
“It is still a wonder why this same process cannot apply to effect a commercial tariff plan to a residential tariff, after all, it is all about the change in figure,” Ayodeji added.
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) Consumers rights and Obligation, empowered by the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act, 2005 clearly states that: all customers have a right to refund when over billed; all customers have a right to file complaints and to the prompt investigation of complaints; all customers have a right to transparent electricity billing; it is the customer’s right to contest any electricity bill, among others.
Further, Section 96 of the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act specifies that when a distribution company is informed during working hours that a customer’s prepaid meter is not operating properly, an authorized official from the company shall visit the customer premises within 24 hours to inspect and fix or replace it.
Five months after, Mr Ilori is yet to be reclassified on R2PT; yet to be refunded; while officials of IKEDC have continued to overbill him for electricity consumed, an egregious breach of the EPSR Act.
IKEDC, a failed agency — NERC is complicit too
The IKEDC has failed in its responsibilities to electricity consumers in Lagos and neighbouring cities. It remains to be seen if the officials will turn a new leaf from their corrupt ways.
Many Lagos residents are rocking the same boat with the above-interviewed persons, and they are dying in silence because they have no means to prosecute these dare-devil officials.
Again, Kabir Olatunde, an IT specialist residing at Airport road paid cash for the prepaid meter in February at IKEDC’s office in Ikeja. Nine months after, the device is yet to be delivered to him. He has lost every hope of ever getting the prepaid meter, after several failed assurances from IKEDC’s officials.
“I paid for the prepaid meter in February, before the coronavirus lockdown began, and I was assured the meter would be installed after five business days.
“It is close to nine months now and no meter in sight.
“I have tried all I can to ensure the device is installed but I keep getting empty promises from the officials, Olatunde told Information Nigeria.
Efforts to get reactions from Ikeja Electricity and Nerc proved abortive as emails sent to both agencies were not replied as at press time.