By Dele Sobowale
Nor should we listen to those who say, ’The voice of the people is the voice of God’, for the turbulence of the mob is always close to insanity.” ALCUIN, 735-804 AD.
Like most Nigerians, I consume electricity and receive all those bills, about which everybody complains, and the services are not satisfactory. But, unlike most Nigerians, five DISCOs, two in the North and three in the south, provide me services. With one pre-paid metre, four estimated bills, popularly called crazy bills, are received and paid monthly. I don’t have shares in any DISCO and I tried my best to discourage friends wanting to invest in DISCOs when the last administration slated them for privatization.
To me, it amounted to throwing good money and peace of mind, down a septic tank, and jumping down after it. All the would-be investors, in their late forties to early fifties were told they would age ungracefully thereafter and they might never recover their investments. Grief was a certainty. Right now, many are hanging on the ropes; one had given up. Bad news for Nigeria and Nigerians.
The investors in DISCOs are the first real gamblers of this millennium. Hopefully, they will not experience what Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790, said. “He that lives on hope will die fasting.” Collectively and individually, they deserve our appreciation for having what Americans call ‘true grit’. Given my boundless admiration for their courage, bordering on foolhardiness,
I intend to join the minority, even if a one-man minority, supporting them and the Federal government as they struggle, against odds, to take us to a future when power supply, reasonably priced, and measured will become a reality in Nigeria.
According to conventional wisdom, the DISCOs constitute a bunch of heartless blood-suckers, who, after failing to provide electricity, send all those inflated crazy bills just to punish Fellow Nigerians. Some of the charges are true; it must be admitted, but mostly, we blame the victims (DISCOs). Estimated bills are sent to those without new metres, especially old metres, which no longer function. That is unfortunate. But, how many of us have asked the question: how did those old metres get there? Four of mine were placed there by the, Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN, later called, National Electricity Power Authority, NEPA, later called, Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN (Problem Has Changed Name) – long ago.
Two were in the buildings long before I was born in 1944. Several governments have come and gone before Jonathan’s; yet none bothered to replace those metres which should have been retired long before privatization. Whose fault? Certainly, it is not the fault of the DISCOs. Then, whose fault? Our fault because we “stood around and looked” (apologies to Bob Marley) as one government after another walked into office, met us with useless metres, and leaves without replacing them even when ECN/NEPA/PHCN belonged to all of us.
Only God knows how many old metres exist in Nigeria, but it had taken over ninety years to accumulate those museum pieces which we are now hanging the DISCOs for not replacing in three years of operation. First, why?
Does it make sense to anybody? Could any of us, if we were the owners of a DISCO have been able to replace all the old metres inherited in three years? As the masked Jazz musician Lagbaja sang, please answer, “Simple Yes or No”. Undoubtedly, no single honest Nigerian would answer ‘Yes’. Since it is obvious that nobody on earth could have achieved the objective of supplying metres to all customers in three years, our often-repeated criticism of the DISCOs is, at best unreasonable; or, at worst, crazy. We are expecting the impossible from human beings like ourselves. Again, why? Is it fair?
Unfortunately, neither the Federal Government, nor the DISCOs, nor civil society had considered jointly agreeing on the number of metres that should be reasonably expected to be installed by each DISCO every year and to aim at achieving those goals. The Nigerian Labor Congress, NLC, which organized protests in some cities (the same ones actually – Lagos, Abuja, Portharcourt, Ibadan, but not Igbotako, Umuahia or Ningi) was, as usual playing to the gallery asking for the reversal of the new tariff without taking steps to ensure that we work out an achievable goal of metre supply.
As long as DISCOs receive power supply from the power producers and supply them to end users, they will try their level best to collect all the revenue expected from that quantum of power supply – even if it means allocating the charges without proof. The Federal Governments which handed over the nation to them, without doing the needful had tacitly accepted on our behalf that estimated charges will continue to prevail until that future when all premises are metred. It sounds like bad news; yes. But, it is the bitter truth. At any rate, what is the alternative to this, admittedly untidy, billing arrangement? Nobody had offered a suggestion.
Is the situation fair to everybody? The honest answer is ‘No’. With allocated billing, some consumers are over-charged, some are under-charged; while some without metres but illegally connected don’t pay at all. On a street in Lagos Island, four to six different buildings receive the same monthly bill. Even the two metres in one building are assigned the same amount every month – even, once when the occupants of one unit went on Holy Pilgrimage for a month.