RECENT events have exposed the morbid predilection of the government and the private power sector operators for an incessant electricity tariff increase over and above the need to have consumers properly metered to ensure that they pay only for that which they consume. This has been amply demonstrated by the recent enforcement of an over 45 per cent tariff increase – under the Multi-Year-Tariff-Order – when over 70 per cent of consumers remain unmetered, according to Sam Amadi, an insider, and the quality of service offered continues to tumble.
From all indications, it appears that the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, and the acting boss of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, Anthony Akah, have both bought into the phoney idea canvassed by the electricity distribution companies that Nigerians do not want to pay for the electricity they consume.
In an interview published last Saturday, Akah said, “So, what we are saying is that people should pay the right price because the cost of bread last year is not the same today.” Fashola had earlier been quoted as saying, “We must pay for what we consume, whether we like it or not.”
They are both wrong. The issues in the power sector go beyond just incessantly increasing electricity tariff. They include improving the quality of service provided for home and industrial use, and ensuring that electricity consumers actually pay for what they consume, which is not the case for now. Agreed that many are not happy that they have to pay more when the quality of service has remained at its current abysmal level, there are so many people who are forced to pay for what they have not consumed, by being foisted with ‘crazy bills’ in the guise of “estimated billing.”
As it is now, it does not matter whether the DisCos are providing services or not. As long as they have the liberty to “estimate” what consumers are supposed to pay, they will continue to remain in business. It does not matter, too, that a consumer has been away from home for months. Upon returning, the consumer will be confronted with a bill, which must be paid. Such a consumer does not even have the right to cut down on his cost, by being economical with the use of electricity, which should be an option to be embraced by many in the light of the new tariff regime.
Although Fashola and Akah have admitted the incongruity and arbitrariness of estimated billing, their efforts to tackle it have been less than satisfactory. Rather than focus squarely on ensuring that every consumer is appropriately metered and in the shortest possible time, which should be the first step to take, the cart has been put before the horse. There has been a morbid fixation on tariff increase, which the minister himself, a chief promoter, has described as a bitter but necessary pill.
For us, it is both bitter and unnecessary. No matter what tariff is pushed out, it only addresses the concerns of about 30 per cent of the consumers, who are metered. The other 70 per cent, who are not, are left at the mercy of the DisCos, who inflict on them bills that have no bearing with the electricity consumption rate. In this regard, it is patently unfair and uncharitable to accuse Nigerians of not wanting to pay for power consumed. Their fate is tied to a mere guesstimate from the imagination of the convoluted mind of a brazen profiteer.
This is why the two years being proposed by the DisCos, purportedly in line with the so-called “performance agreement” signed with the government, to meter every consumer, should be rejected outright. What does it take to provide meters to consumers? According to the DisCos, the performance agreement permitted them to roll out meters in five years, starting from the November 2013 date that the process was consummated. This is hogwash and a good reason why the rigged power sector privatisation process should be revisited and thoroughly reviewed. There are many companies in Nigeria that are manufacturing prepaid meters and are ready to effect supplies if offered the contract.
It is unfortunate that in the face of the extortionate tendencies of the DisCos, NERC, the government agency responsible for regulating the activities of these firms, has remained clueless and helpless. Right from the beginning, the grossly incompetent and financially handicapped successor companies have been enjoying the protection of the government, which ought to keep them on their toes. Every deadline given to ensure an improved service delivery has been flunked without consequences.
Despite the fact that their continued hold on to the power sector is hindering the nation’s economic growth and industrial development, the government is still propping up the ineffectual power sector charlatans, perhaps hoping that, one day, they will come good. This is an illusion, for there is no way they can give what they do not have.
It is heart-warming that Akah has urged Nigerians to pay only what, in their own estimation, they have consumed in a month. “It is that you reserve the right to reject any bill that you think is not a fair representation of an estimate of what your bill should be and pay only the last bill that you accepted to pay,” he said. This is a window of opportunity that consumers should take advantage of. We fully support the nationwide protests against the DisCos’ tyranny staged by the Nigeria Labour Congress and urge Nigerians to exercise their civil rights peacefully and in accordance with the law.
Customers could also help themselves by taking advantage of the Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation initiative, which allows a customer to pay an approved deposit for a meter. This will eventually be turned into credit for the customer who should be given a meter within 60 days.