BY EMMANUEL EDUKUGHO
In the heat of the power sector reform back in 2010, the masses thought their prayers for stable power supply had been answered. Their elation knew no bounds because, over the years, they had been used to a culture of darkeness for weeks and sometimes months – with astronomical bills coming their way by the dozen.
When the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, came on board, a new tariff was introduced commencing from June 1, 2012, pegged at N500. Before then, Nigerians were only paying a fixed, basic access charge irrespective of electricity consumed. Today, that fixed charge has been increased to N750 – leaving one question on the lips of many: where is the electricity to justify the hike?
Defending the increase, NERC chairman, Dr. Sam Amadi, at a recent media briefing, maintained that the new tariff was fair, reasonable and necessary to guarantee continual improvement in electricity supply to Nigerians.
He asserted that power supply had “improved significantly” and the new N750 charge was not too much, being one of the lowest in the world. But that makes no difference to the masses whose lives have been drastically affected by the increment. Indeed, it runs foul of NERC’s initial payment plan which recognised different classes of consumers such as the poor, wealthy and corporate organisations.
Pre-paid meters, once believed to be the much-awaited solution to power supply hiccups, have not measured up. Earlier, the Federal Government came out with a policy that the meters be issued free of charge to consumers, but that policy was later reversed and the public constrained to pay. So the reality of the situation is that today, electricity charges have been arbitrarily hiked while power generation has drastically dropped.
Irked by this development, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has rejecting the new tariff, insisting there is no justification for the hike following government’s failure to check epileptic power supply and the low earning status of most workers.
NLC president, Abdulwaheed Omar, described the tariff as exploitative since the review had not been accompanied by commensurate improvement in power supply: “If anything, electricity service delivery has plummeted over the years, with consumers being compelled to pay exorbitant tariffs for incompetence, poor services and fraud.”
He added that the review, whether carried out suddenly or in advance, was without justification or rationale and would negate whatever gains were expected from the much-vaunted power sector reforms.
According to the NLC, the multi-year tariff structure, as designed by NERC and tacitly approved by government, only protects the interests of investors in the power sector and has little or no consideration for consumers, most of whom are poor and incapable of paying.
Meanwhile, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, which is on the verge of being unbundled, has been accused of fleecing Nigerians of several billions of Naira through obnoxious electricity bills. Nearly N3.5 trillion is believed to be generated by PHCN annually, most of which is alleged to be misappropriated by officials. Amidst all this, the average household pays between N5,000 and N10,000 monthly as electricity bills despite only having power supply for a week, and sometimes two or three days a month.
David Ejike who resides off the Lagos/Badagry Expressway told Saturday Vanguard he is only sure of power supply once a week or an average of 3/4 days a month but continually gets a N6000 bill monthly.
“All our complaints have fallen on deaf ears. You complain, they won’t listen. They have marketers with revenue targets running into millions of Naira to be met. At times, electricity bills are sent before the end of the month. Customers are threatened with disconnection if they don’t pay on time,” he lamented.
In Ejike’s estimation, the billing system is exploitative and arbitrary. This is worsened by the fact that when the cables are cut and seized due to non-payment, consumers are still expected to pay an extra sum of money for retrieval without which the confiscated cables could get missing.
Another consumer, Kate Omare, who resides in Aguda, Surulere, asserted that PHCN officials were frustrating the pre-paid metering system by deliberately delaying delivery to consumers.
“Pre-paid meters will prevent them from cheating and defrauding customers, hence they are blocking the introduction of these meters. At the beginning, it was to be given out free, but now they are saying it will cost between N30,000 and N50,000. Yet one cannot get them.”
Indeed, NERC made a U-turn on this when it announced that consumers would now pay for pre-paid meters under the Credited Advance Pay for Metering Implementation, CAPMI, scheme.
The pilot initiative will involve about five distribution companies unbundled from PHCN, starting with Eko (Lagos) Ibadan, Benin, Kano and Abuja. With this system, the mantra is that some states such as Abuja will enjoy 24 hours’ power supply, Lagos 22, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kano, Kaduna, Benin and Calabar 20, to be followed by Aba, Nnewi and Onitsha which are business centres.
Amidst all this, consumers wait with bated breath for the day power supply will finally be regular and payment equal to services rendered.