THE eleven Electricity Distribution Companies, DISCOs, have declared war against consumers of power as they have embarked on mass disconnections throughout Nigeria. From Lagos to Port Harcourt, Benin to Kano and Kaduna to Abuja, consumers continue to lament as the DISCOs disconnect them from the national grid over indebtedness.
The mass disconnections are ostensibly targeted at raising funds to improve the poor liquidity situation of the power providers, settle huge bank loans, rehabilitate old facilities and invest in new projects to expand their capacities. But the question is: how do they arrive at the bills? Do the bills reflect the actual consumption by consumers? Why is it taking so long for DISCOs to provide pre-paid meters? Why has the government failed to address the issues?
The bills accumulate apparently because they are the estimates of the DISCOs. Despite their explanation that the bills were arrived at after sharing the cost or value of load to particular areas, the fact remains that not all consumers use electricity to the level which they are being asked to pay through estimation of bills. Those with pre-paid metres tend to pay less for power, and obviously, the power companies profit more by foot-dragging on the provision of pre-paid metres.
The DISCOs appear to have resorted to this punitive exploitation of the consumers because of the difficulties they face in raising more bank loans. The government which still controls 40 per cent interest in the privatised assets has not contributed its share of funds towards development of the sector. Consequently, it lacks the moral courage to enforce discipline. Despite the increase in protests, the authorities ignore them, leaving consumers to feel like sacrificial lambs.
But we cannot continue like this. The time has come for government and the power companies to clean up their acts and save the people from the triple jeopardy of living in darkness, paying unjust bills and being constantly harassed by the DISCOs’ field operatives. The government should fund its 40 per cent interest in the DISCOs or sell it to competent private investors in order to generate additional funds for development of the sector.
Henceforth, the DISCOs should be compelled to stop basing their bills on estimation. They must ensure that the pre-paid meters are supplied to all consumers nationwide. The DISCOs should wean themselves of the discredited modes of operation of the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), which thrived on corruption and oppressive attitudes towards the consumers.
In capitalist economies the consumer is king. But in the Nigerian power sector, the consumer is a victim. This must end.