By Femi Aribisala
ONE of the seminal quotes of Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel laureate, was written while he, a Yoruba man, was in prison, fighting the injustice meted against the Igbo. Said Soyinka: “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.”
I have died as I have watched, day-in day-out, the injustice meted out against the rank and file in Nigeria. I have watched, dying silently, as men, women and children are oppressed and trampled down by the high and mighty. I have mourned as my countrymen are brutalised and killed by the police and herdsmen without recourse. I have laboured and groaned in silent prayer as I have watched helpless Nigerians jack-booted by military and civilian regimes, not in foreign climes, but in our very own country.
I have sought refuge in the attempt to create an oasis of sanity for myself and my family in this desert of insanity. I determined to mind no more than my own business and to fight for my own limited survival. But I hereby admit that I have failed woefully because the insanity refuses to leave me alone. Indeed, the insanity is beginning to drive me insane.
And so, in admitting that Nigeria’s injustice has roundly defeated my complacency, I can no longer lounge around on beds with ivory posts, while dining on the meat pf lambs and calves. I can no longer drink vintage wine and wear expensive perfume, while not giving a damn about the ruin of Joseph. My anger and revulsion at the injustice around me is like a fire shut up in my bones. I am tired of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
The impetus for my new resolve comes from injustices I recently experienced from my electricity company: the Eko Electrical Distribution Plc. (EKEDP). If the EKEDP had known how troublesome and determined I can be, they would not have decided to rip me off by arbitrarily increasing my electricity charges by 1,200 per cent from N11,000 in 2015 to N147,000 in 2017.
As I watched in dismay as my electricity bill increased by leaps and bounds in the same house, I have written several petitions to EKEDP, only to be confronted time and again with the blackmail of disconnection. I have sent petitions to their Argungi office in Lagos on three different occasions. I have also been there in person three times. I have also sent copies of my petition to the EKEDP headquarters in Marina, Lagos. All to no avail.
Given the monopoly of EKEDP as the only electricity distribution company in my neighbourhood, the company is convinced that I, and others like me, have no bargaining power. We have no choice but to pay whatever we are billed. The alternative is no electricity.
This is true in the short-term, but ultimately a grave error of judgment in the medium-to-long-term. The bills can only increase by so much. At a certain juncture, they reach a point, as has happened in my case, where the customer can simply not afford to pay. Therefore, in the past three months, I have opted to do without EKEDP electricity and to rely solely on my petrol generator. This has been costly. Nevertheless, it is still considerably cheaper than EKEDP’s extortionate bills.
The EKEDP blackmail is that a protest cannot be investigated unless the customer pays at least 70% of the contested bill. If you don’t, or can’t, you are summarily disconnected. But the 419 does not stop there. While you are disconnected, they continue to charge you for electricity you neither use nor receive. Accordingly, my latest bill says I owe EKEDP over N500,000.
However, the legal authority setting up the EKEDP specifically proscribes this kind of sharp practice. It says:
‘10. (1) A Distribution Company shall not disconnect a Customer’s supply of electricity for non-payment where: (a)… (b)… (c)… (d) the Customer has made a complaint concerning the unpaid bill in accordance with the Commission’s Customer Complaints Procedure, and the complaint remains unresolved; or (e)…’
‘11. Any Distribution Company which disconnects electricity supply to a Customer’s premises in violation of this Regulation commits an offence and is liable on conviction to pay the Customer a penalty as stipulated in the table below for each, or part of a day that the supply is wrongfully disconnected.
Penalty (Naira per day/ Part of a day); Residential 1,000; Commercial 1,500; Industrial 2,000; Special 2,000’.
I recognise this is insufficient disincentive for a company like EKEDP to disengage from their sharp practices. In my case, for example, they would have to pay me barely N90,000 for disconnecting me for three months. Should I decide to sue, it would cost me more than that to hire a lawyer and the case could go on for years. In effect, the Nigerian government has given the electrical distribution companies a license to defraud hapless Nigerians without viable recourse.
So, this is what I propose. I would like to institute a class action suit against EKEDP. Class action means EKEDP would not only be liable to me. They would be liable to as many as are prepared to join forces with me in this legal challenge. Since I publicised my case, I have managed to reach over 100,000 like-minded Nigerians on social media and discovered that literally thousands, if not millions, of Nigerians have endured the same predicament as mine.
So, let me put some graphics on this. If I were to sue EKEDP all by myself, I might be awarded N90,000 for wrongful disconnection. But if 1,000 of us were to sue, that could be N90 million. And if 3,000 of us were to sue, just do the maths. The company would be brought down to its knees financially.
So, I am using this medium to invite any, and everyone, inclined to join me in this suit. (For further instructions on this, visit my Facebook page in due course). Have no fear, I will foot the entire legal bill.
But I need to tell you something. My interest is really not based on the court case or on the money we may or may not get from EKEDP as compensation. My interest, and primary weapon, is the negative publicity. My primary court is the court of public opinion. I am convinced that, through the effective mobilisation of public opinion, we can instigate changes.
Through the effective mobilisation of public opinion, we can make EKEDP change its ways by compulsorily installing metres in all establishments or lose their contract or lose their wallet. The choice is theirs.
Within hours of publicisng my angst against EKEDP on social media, I have been inundated by calls and entreaties by EKEDP officials, high and low, to call off my protest. I have been promised metres that I had previously been made to believe were not available. I have had requests for access into my building so that the necessary installations can be made. I have received promissory notes that my problem would now be sorted out in a matter of hours. But this just won’t do.
I don’t want my problem solved because I happen to have a voice, while these sharp practices continue in the cases of others. The truth of the matter is that this is not an individual problem, so it cannot be addressed individually. It is a systemic problem. Therefore, it has to be addressed systemically. We must shame our over-paid and over-indulged public servants to fulfill their obligations to Joe Public by shielding us from monopolies like the EKEDP. We must inform our supervisory agencies like NERC that they are paid to be on our side and not on the side of the EKEDPs.
We must insist that our governments serve us and not the monopolies they establish to rip us off.
In my neighbourhood, I can only get electricity from EKEDP. That means my choice is either to like EKEDP or lump it. Similarly, I can only dispose my waste through one government-authorised monopoly; which means my waste disposal company can charge me whatever it likes.
As a result, in one fell swoop, they increased my waste disposal bill in my office from N5,000 a month to N60,000. When I protested, they negotiated it down to N30,000 out of the goodness of their heart. The issue of allowing market forces to determine these prices does not, and will not, arise as long as our governments (federal, state and local) continue to sacrifice Nigerians on the altar of patronage to companies they create to defraud the public and line their pockets.
These shenanigans have to stop. We cannot continue to tolerate these daylight robberies. It is past time we did something about it.
I want to end this article with a quotation from Howard Beale of the 1975 film classic “Network:”
“It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’
Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING! My life has VALUE!’
So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell,
‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’
Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:
“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”