As electricity consumers in the country have continued to express their frustration over poor services and alleged exploitation by peer companies and PHCN officials, it is interesting that two government agencies, Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) have agreed to ensure that consumers are not exploited and their rights violated by service providers.
In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and states of the federation, electricity consumers have been lamenting that the poor condition of power supply. Many businesses are down while some business premises are shut down. To worsen the situation, customers have been lamenting that officials of electricity companies and Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, keep bringing bills and charges even when there is no power supply.
In Kubwa, a satellite town in FCT, many customers said that power supply is rotational in most places as many people go to bed without light. Aliyu Mohammed operates barbing salon in Phase 3, Kubwa. He lamented that power supply in the area is very poor. “It is difficult to have power supply for ten hours here. Even if you do, it is on and off. I spend a lot of money to buy fuel at the black market to fuel my generator on a daily basis to keep my customers coming. It takes an average of 30-40 minutes to cut one person’s hair. It also depends on the type of hair and hairstyle. Here we charge N300 per haircut. Now, many customers prefer to grow long hair than do regular haircut because of the economic situation.
“How many customers do you attend to a day? You pay shop rent, power and other bills. At the end of the day, your gain is nothing to write home about. Do you quit the business or stay put? It’s a survival war, Oga. Sometime ago, we were told that the transformer supplying light to this area was faulty. Infact there was a time we were asked to come and contribute money to give PHCN officials to help us fix it or facilitate procurement of a new one. Sometimes the whole thing is confusing” he said.
In Kagini, a settlement immediately after Kubwa, residents of the area said that power supply in the area is also rotational even though it has improved slightly. Their problem, they said is the exorbitant bills power consumers are charged by the PHCN officials.
According to Elder Moses Aturu, a civil servant who reside in the area, the monthly bill he pays to PHCN is outrageous. “How can I pay N9,000 for a four bedroom local house with no air conditioner, one refrigerator, three standing fans and one TV in this kind of area? Is it because of my wife’s small shop? What does she sell? When I went to PHCN to complain, they told me to go and get prepaid meter. My neighbour paid for a prepaid meter, for more than one year, she didn’t the meter.
“The other man living across my house got a PHCN electrician who helped him arranged and got a prepaid meter. Other officials went and disconnected his light saying that he stole the prepaid meter, or else he should have come through them. The man asked them whether anybody complained that his or her meter was stolen, they just argued and left.
“It was when the man threatened them that he had a connection in the EFCC and that he would report their corrupt activities for immediate investigation that they went to his house the next day to reconnect his light. Is this how we will continue?” he asked in despondency.
Most houses in the community are not metered and so, Elder Aturu alleged that the situation gives “PHCN officials opportunities to defraud customers in the name of monthly electricity bills”. Officials of PHCN would not respond to any question when contacted but our correspondent learnt that they complain about customers doing illegal connection, using some of their dubious staff.
When our correspondent tried to convince Elder Aturu that his problem could be addressed, his face brightened. He was told that if he could lodge a formal complaint to the Consumers Protection Council, CPC, his case could be handled. Upon investigation, if the PHCN is found guilty, he could be compensated. He was informed a few examples where CPC’s interventions led to peaceful resolution of customer relations dispute in favour of customers whose rights were violated by service providers in recent times.
When he heard this, he excitedly called out his grown up daughter out of the house to take note of the important information.
“If you tell our Chief this development, the entire community can sue PHCN because people are suffering in this place”, said Miss Lilian, Elder Aturu’s first child/daughter.
In many, if not all parts of the country, the cry is the same. The complaints are: why should we pay for power we did not enjoy? Why should we continue to suffer and authorities are not doing anything to help us.
Some persons like Alhaji Haruna Inuwa, a supermarket owner who lives at Lugbe Extension, a suburban satellite town in FCT, expressed reservations that all government agencies work for government and that they will defend the policies of government whether they are right orwrong.
“In most cases, you don’t get any good result. You end up wasting your time and efforts. My belief is that they are doing all these things because President Muammadu Buhari has not really given proper attention to the power sector yet. We are being exploited, Wallahi”, he said.
It is notable that both the Federal Ministry of Power and the electricity regulatory agency, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, as well as electricity distribution companies have all contended that one of the best options for the country’s efforts at improving power generation and distribution to millions of Nigerian power consumers is by increasing electricity tariff. However, the Senate shut down the policy till further notice citing overwhelming public outcry over poor power supply, exploitation of customers by power companies and PHCN officials.
It is good to equally note that, it is not all bad news. To allay suspicions or public distrust being expressed by some consumers like Alhaji Inuwa above, there is a new positive development in terms of official efforts to safeguard the interest of Nigerian electricity consumers.
For instance, On March 1, 2016, NERC and CPC formed a synergy to ensure that consumers are protected from criminal exploitation by service providers. The two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to enforce the agreement the electricity distribution companies, DISCOs, had with the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, so as to ensure that electric consumers get prepaid meters. What the MoU also implies is that NERC and CPC will work together towards ensuring that any one volunteered that pays for meters under the Credit Advance Payment Metering Implementation, CAPMI, scheme must get their meters within 60 days or they should not be billed until they are supplied their meters.
At the occasion, the Director-General of CPC, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, observed that, “Consumers who are paying for services that they have not fully enjoyed need protection. We understand that the way the CAPMI system was introduced is to buffer the operators and to help them in the infrastructural challenge they have by making consumers to pay upfront.
“If consumers at the end don’t get the required supply of electricity and their funds are being used to support infrastructural deficiency, then we wonder how that can rest well with us. It will, therefore, not be fair for consumers to continue to pay for meters when the meters are not installed at the prescribed period and they are being charged arbitrarily.
“I believe that NERC has come up with a very sound directive that all consumers who have paid for meters should not be disconnected or billed if the meters have not been provided.”
Also, Dr. Anthony Akah, the acting chairman of NERC, explained that “It is our believe that with this collaboration with the CPC, complaints that may arise in the course of the implementation of the good tariff and other electricity consumers related ones would be effectively managed and addressed in line with the Commission’s redress mechanism.
“The CPC has a member in each of NERC’s consumer forums located nationwide; we intend to intensify enforcement of consumer protection regulations on metering, billing and the perennial complaints of estimated customers. There shall also be concerted efforts aimed at reducing the incidence of estimated billing and eventually eliminating them completely.
“The increasing incidents of vandalism of electricity infrastructure, energy theft, hostility to operators are also issues we hope to jointly address”, he said. Explaining the reason for the current decrease in power supply, Dr. Akah expressed regret that gas pipeline vandalism in recent time was responsible. He equally called on for increased security measure to tackle the problem.
The NERC-CPC synergy is seen by many as a positive step towards protecting the rights of electricity consumers in the country and so the it should not only be sustained, but there is a need to embark on serious public enlightenment so that consumers should know their rights and privileges.