By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Nigerians say: “Like father, like son.” Igbos will say, whatever a snake births must be long. When NEPA was unbundled and privatized, the government promised an end to darkness. These new electricity companies haven’t just continued in NEPA’s dark ways. They have taken to the superciliousness and poor work ethics of public institutions that characterised NEPA. They can’t pretend not to be private companies. NEPA could give no power and yet conjure bills. Eko Distribution can’t do that, it’s fraud. NEPA didn’t need meters. It preferred what it called estimated billing. Eko Distribution can’t live that lifestyle, Nigeria is their Animal Farm.
The distribution companies came to sell electricity. And you would think that they would at least come with meters. Three years after, they have no meters. Customers willing to pay for meters can’t get meters. These companies sit in their offices and cook bills which customers must pay. Yet these companies are private companies. They flaunt the arrogance of government agencies. The public must pay for their every sloppiness.
But who will blame them? Where is the government and consumer protection? Where were they when distribution companies came and insisted on inheriting NEPA’s old bills. The effrontery of the distribution companies is baffling. These companies are Nigerian. They knew NEPA issued customers questionable bills. They bought NEPA after due diligence. They knew collecting dubious debts owed NEPA would be immoral.
But before they had even settled in their offices, they had started harassing Nigerians. With red eyes they sought to collect debts neither them nor their ancestor NEPA earned. They were everywhere tearing their dresses and throwing tantrums, pulling out wires and breaking down electric poles. The idea has been to bully poor people into paying bogus bills the old NEPA forced on them and couldn’t collect. Where this practice has met resistance, they have hired the police to intimidate the people.
Where is consumer protection? Where is the ministry of Power? What are the rules? They wouldn’t provide meters. They are now writing fictional bills. Why does Eko Distribution and others think they can sit in their dark and dingy offices, and print fake bills. A friend of mine was billed 8000 naira in February. In March, no power supplied for over half the month. He came by some loose money, so he went to Eko Distribution and cleared some old debts. Someone saw the payment and made a decision. When his March bill came, it was double February, N16,000. He was supplied much less energy in March, but billed twice as much February. He is willing to pay for a meter but Eko Distribution has no meter for him.
My house lost electricity supply a few days ago. A complaint was made. An Eko Distribution technician came. He discovered it was a minor fault, a blown fuse. He was given a new fuse. He was given 500 naira for cold water. The Eko Distribution staff rejected the gratuitous gift. He said N500 was insulting. He didn’t leave quietly. He threw a tantrum. He pulled out the fuse and cut the wire. He looked around and pulled out one of the feeder wires and disconnected the house. Then he stormed out of the house, cursing.
I dashed to their office. The service manager let me know he is such a busy man, so the discussion held in an open space. I laid the incident before him. He called the staff. The man boldly told him that he deserved N1000. That is the level of the rot. The Service Manager was not consumed by shame. He turned around and offered an unconvincing and perfunctory apology. He said I should take the boy like my brother. Where is the professionalism?
I insisted on disciplinary measures. He was perhaps amused by my loss of touch with reality. He referred me to his Business Manager. I had to drive to another EKDC complex about 3 kilometers away. On my way out I had a second look at the premises. The new company has been there for over three years but the place has remained as wretched as ever.
I got to the other complex where the Business manager should be. It used to be an Oshodi bus stop. When Oshodi was Oshodi. I was given the directions. The staff all looked staid, solemn and outdated. I take the first turn and I am confronted by a blinding darkness. There was no light. There was no longer the old noisy but functioning generator. People meandered in the dark like rats. Eko distribution. Why wouldn’t they then use candles? I felt my way through, caressing walls.
The Manager’s secretary didn’t offer me a seat. The seats were unoccupied. She wanted to know where I was coming from. She said the manager was busy. I chose to wait. The manager was sweating profusely in his hot office. Why wouldn’t he buy a hand fan? He wanted me to talk quickly. But once I started, he started fiddling with something. The customary distractedness of the average divisional police officer listening to a complainant. I was done in 3 minutes. Thanks to his many “please continue” that saved me for going berserk by his inattentiveness. He fumbled a response, but ended nicely. He will issue a query.
I left his office miserable. Why would anyone expect Eko Distribution that can’t keep offices in a functional state to electrify Lagos? Why would a company that can function, without a trace of discomfiture, in darkness be entrusted with light distribution? The government wants to respect agreements the previous government contracted. So what is the plan to lighten up this country? Why would the government sit astride and watch opportunists torment the people and retard the country? The Nigerian people are fed up with the Megawatt tales.