Sobowale On Business

April 15, 2024

NERC should also interrogate EKEDC

Eko DisCo

Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC)

By Dele Sobowale

“New tariff: Discos get April 11, 2024 deadline to refund customers wrongly billed.” — THE NATION, APRIL 7, 2024.ON April 7, 2024, the Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EKEDC, distributed the bills for March consumption to customers in Lagos. Despite the order given by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, earlier in March, for all Discos to refund customers they have deliberately and illegally over-billed, EKEDC has adamantly refused to refund its customers.

Just in case the NERC is under the impression that customers have not asked for refunds, here are excerpts from letters from a customer to EKEDC; which was officially received and which was routinely ignored. Ignoring customers’ legitimate complaints is standard operating procedure at EKEDC. 

The letters were addressed to the Managing Director and receipt acknowledged in his office. So, the CEO, cannot claim ignorance about the monthly, deliberate over-billing of customers. Indeed, the obvious inference from all these letters is that the MD approves of everything done by his staff.

Two letters sent directly to EKEDC and one sent to NERC but copied to the Disco represent over a dozen such letters sent over ten years. No official response was received – even when the letters called EKEDC fraudulent and dishonest. Certainly, they have a legal department; whose officers realise that silence means consent. That EKEDC has not even bothered to threaten to sue for defamation speaks volumes of the company’s self-image. Here are the selected messages to EKEDC to which there was no reply. Judge for your self.

“Attached photocopy of recent news report speaks for itself. To be honest with you, I have now been vindicated. For over five years, every letter to your company has included calling Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EKEDC fraudulent.

Because, I keep long records of payments, I have started compiling my own [fraudulent bills]. I have just reached 2019; and the theft from my two-bedroom bungalow is astonishing. In December 2023, I was again presented with a bill for 460kwh in a zone with maximum limit of 960kwh for buildings with 50 or more rooms and over 150 residents. In one month EKEDC  charged my bungalow for 1,141kwh in a 960kwh zone. The audacity of the men in your Marketing section is symptomatic of an organisation which has become a parasite on society.”

In July 2022, another letter was sent to the MD of EKEDC. It was the sort of letter which no self-respecting company should ever receive and not take action. The title itself was absolutely contemptuous of EKEDC: EKEDC Please Make This The Last Lunatic Bill Sent To Me. Two statements summarise the entire letter. First, “can anybody who is not deranged actually believe that the power consumption in that building can range from 389 to 1,141, drop down to 396 and then shoot up to 602kwh in May 2022?” Second, “in February 2020, when average national power supply was 3,600MW, your company alleged that my power consumption was 389kwh. Does it make sense to anybody else, but the CUSTOMER relations people employed by EKEDC, that in May 2022, with the national grid collapsing, you would have 602kwh to supply me?”

As stated earlier, the letters were received and ignored with impunity.

Several questions arise immediately. First, should any organisation foisted on helpless Nigerians, and abusing its statutory powers, be allowed to continue to behave as a social parasite? Second, what should the FG and the victims do about this unrelenting assault on their pockets and their psyche? For how long must this outrage continue before the victims bring an end to this bare-faced robbery on their own? Given the lukewarm attitude of the NERC about protecting consumers, should we continue to wait for the Commission to act or take legal action on our own?

 Permit me to start from the folly of reliance on NERC. Like most government organisations, they respond to the highest bidder. I sat in the same room with NERC officials at the Odunlami Street office in Lagos Island in 2021 after writing half a dozen letters to EKEDC protesting fraudulent bills and lack of prepaid metres – despite applications for them.

Before the meeting, apparently called to resolve the issues, a thorough month by month audit of lunatic bills sent to me was prepared. Despite being physically challenged, I had to climb to the third floor of the building to confront public officials who told me that they had very little time to spend on the case. Predictably, they listened politely, even when yawning continuously, and then, without a glance at all the records brought, ordered EKEDC to adjust my monthly bills downwards and to provide me with a prepaid metre. Till today, EKEDC has failed to comply with the instructions. My attempt to engage NERC again was turned down on the grounds that they have many customers to attend to. It was just as well that I belong to the old school; and have voluntarily renounced violence. Otherwise, EKEDC would have paid dearly for this insult – at more than hundred times what they took from me. As far as I am concerned, asking NERC to help us amounts to appealing to a frequent receiver of stolen goods to help put a stop to burglary. We have recently observed what they did to fellow Nigerians with recent tariff hike. That approach alone will not take us far. Discos have the deep pockets.

Nigerians seldom organise themselves to fight injustice – unlike Americans. That is why Discos, literally, get away with murder without a pang of conscience. If not, people in every state and the FCT, should have organised themselves into groups – each of which would engage a lawyer to file a class action suit against the Discos. I am embarking on that step now, and very soon, we shall be searching for a strong lawyer who will accept this case as the moral equivalent of war. We are not up against ordinary human beings. Disco executives are like predators eating us alive. Now, they have been empowered to consume more of us by NERC. We have two choices. We can hang together and survive or die separately. There is no middle course of action.

Tribute to Gani  Fawehinmi, GCON, SAN

Where is another Gani Fawehinmi, now that Nigerians need one? I met the late legal giant when he was still a middle-weight lawyer by accident. A car dealer near the National Stadium attempted to cheat me after buying a car from him. I mentioned the matter in a discussion with a late friend, Oscar, who was Gani’s classmate at Victory College, Ikare. He asked me to see Fawehinmi. I had no money to fight a wealthy car dealer. I went anyway; not expecting anything. He took the note from Oscar; asked for the documents and told me to “leave the matter with me.” A week after; somebody was trying to break down my front door; before I could open it. It was the car dealer. He came to apologise and settle my claims. Gani had gone to his showroom in full legal regalia to announce he was representing me.  Fellow Nigerians need another Gani now.

LAST LINE: On April 8, 2024, EKEDC sent the March 2024 bill. The building  was alleged to have consumed 206kwh only. Not once since EKEDC took over was the bill less than 320kwh; it went as high as 1,411kwh. Case closed.