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The fraud called estimated billing

With a recent report by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, that electricity Ç in the country received a total of 391,066 complaints from consumers in the first nine months of 2018, the issue of crazy and estimated billing once again takes the front burner of national discourse. Consumers are asking if there is an end in sight to this menace, Babajide Okeowo reports.

Rita Ita lives in a two-bedroom flat somewhere in Ojota area of Lagos State. Her problem with the electricity distribution company, servicing her area began a few years ago. As soon as she moved into the neighborhood, she asked for a prepaid metre but was told that none was readily available and that she should hold on till a prepaid metre was available.

The first few months went well as she got a bill of about N5, 000 per month, as her power consumption bill. She smiled and went ahead pay. Few months thereafter, the bill doubled and she began to raise eyebrow. As if that was not enough, in a matter of months, the bill rose to about N25, 000 every month and thus began a back and forth game with the distribution company in her area.

Lamenting her ordeal in the hands of the Discos’ officials, Ita confided in The Nigerian Xpress that if you don’t have a prepaid metre in Nigeria, you are in trouble.

According to her: “If you do not have a prepaid metre in Nigeria, you are in trouble.Even if you have the old analogue metre, which is to be read on a monthly basis before a bill is issued, you are also in trouble because nobody comes to read your metre; they just bill you anything they like at the end of the month.

“After they gave me a normal bill of about N5, 000 monthly for a few months, the bill initially doubled and while I was still complaining about that, the bill quadrupled and all efforts to resolve this issue has proven abortive. It is not as if there was an improvement in the supply of power to warrant the increase. I have complained repeatedly, but there is no end in sight,” she lamented.

Speaking further on how all efforts to get a prepaid metre has met with a brickwall. Ita revealed that estimated billing is the biggest fraud perpetrated in the country.

“Estimated billing is the biggest fraud to be perpetrated by the Discos. It is their way of making money at the expense of consumers. I approached the commercial manager of my electricity distributing company to ask for a prepaid metre and I was told that there were no metres at the moment and that if I could bring about N100, 000, they would get me one. So, it is not as if there are no prepaid metres; I think they are hoarding it,” she lamented.

She further revealed that until the issue of estimated billings is cut-off totally, Nigerians would continue to suffer erratic power supply in the country.

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“Until they cut-off estimated billings, power supply in the country will not improve,” she concluded.

Ita is not alone. For the family of Adeyanju, their ordeal with estimated and crazy billing started when they moved into a new three-bedroom flat at 12B Abuja Drive, Abule Osho, in Olambe, Ogun State. When he rented the apartment, he had no idea of the ordeal that lay in wait for him.

“The three-Bedroom flat I rented had been vacant in the last six   months. The Disco servicing the area was duly notified in writing that there was no occupant in the house, yet they kept bringing in bills. When I saw the accrued bill, I almost gave up the ghost. As if that was not enough, the next bill I received was about N60, 000 in a month, when I am not operating a factory. The most annoying thing is that they come almost every week now to disconnect electricity with the aim of extorting us of about N3 thousand weekly. It is a tale of woe all round.”

Mr. Bolaji Olaleye’s experience with Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company was scary. As a retired civil servant with the Lagos State Government, Olaleye managed to put up a yet to be completed bungalow in the Ojodu area of Lagos. After waiting endlessly for a prepaid metre that would not come, he received his first estimated bill of N4, 000, which increased progressively to about N15,000 in the first year. He wrote a letter to the company, complaining about the arbitrary increase. He was ignored. He petitioned the House of Representatives Committee on Power and told that his case was being looked into. He is still expecting Ikeja Disco to act while his bill is now N1, 500,000.

Recently, residents of an estate in Lagos stormed the office of Ikeja Electricity to protest the issue of estimated billing. With placards bearing various inscriptions, such as: ‘No More Estimated Billing’, ‘We are overdue for the Usage of Prepaid Metre’,‘Bring Prepaid Metre Now’, ‘We are sick and Tired of Estimated Billing Methodology,’ etc., the aggrieved residents said they would be forced to charge Ikeja Electric to court if the DisCo continued to issue them crazy billings.

Similarly, residents of Orile-Iganmu community in Coker-Aguda Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos State trooped out in large numbers to protest the epileptic power supply in their area as well as outrageous bills given to consumers.

The protesters comprised men and women drawn from over 95 streets in the community. They also demanded that prepaid metres should be issued to them.

They complained that for over three weeks, the Eko Electric Distribution Company (EKEDC) had disconnected power supply to the area. The people lamented that they could no longer continue paying for ‘darkness.’

Mr. Olanrewaju Hakeem is one of the lucky few to have had a prepaid metre installed in his house and he is ecstatic about it.

“It was an arduous task before I got my prepaid metre. It took almost six months before the metre was delivered to me though I paid for it, but I have been enjoying it. Now I can recharge to the tune of N3,000 and use it for as long as two months. When I am going out in the morning, I switch off everything in my house and only put them on when I or my wife is around. So far, I have not had to deal with crazy and estimated billings. The beautiful thing is that no Discos official will come to my house to disconnect power, I am relieved,” he said.

Deluge of complaints

To underscore the menace of this estimated and crazy billing regime, the regulating agency of the Discos, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, in a recent report revealed that electricity distribution companies in the country received a total of 391,066 complaints from consumers in the first nine months of 2018, an astronomic rise form the corresponding figure in previous years.

According to NERC, metering and billing related issues dominated customer complaints, accounting for 68,749 (53 per cent) of the total complaints in the third quarter.

To further underscore the menace,The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, recently told the Power Distribution Companies, DisCos, to put an end to the estimated billing system. According to the minister, “It is subjective and prone to abuse.Estimated billings has become a major cause of distrust and conflict between consumers and DisCos and metres are the easiest way to build the bridge of trust,” he said.

Nigerians from all walks of life have called on the DisCos to provide prepaid metres to all consumers to put an end to the menace of estimated billing.

According to Mr. Femi Ariyo, the Discos should make prepaid metres available for everyone.

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“The Discos should make prepaid metres available. I prefer the prepaid metre because I have used both the estimated billing and the prepaid. The problem with estimated billing is that most times, there will be power failure for as long as a week or more, and yet the Disco will still issue huge bills to you at the end of the month. When you have a prepaid metre, you don’t get disturbed by Disco officials, once you exhaust your energy, you don’t have power and whenever you have the money, you can recharge and begin to enjoy electricity supply,” he said.

Power minister, Fashola has called on the electricity distribution companies to access Federal Government’s N37 billion fund under the Metre Asset Provider, MAP, to put a stop to the estimated billing and to provide their consumers with prepaid metres.

“Let me be clear that every DISCO is affected and, every DISCO needs to respond by providing metres quickly and seeking to end estimated billing, which is subjective, discretionary, and prone to abuse. I urge all DISCOs, who have not taken benefit of this opportunity to quickly do so, or, make their own funding arrangements to contract their own metre providers to supply and install metres,” he said

Our positions -ANED, NERC

However, the Executive Director of Association of Electricity Distributors (ANED), Mr. Sunday Oduntan, said none of the promises made by the Federal Government prior to the takeover of the assets by the power investors have been met.

He noted that these commitments or preconditions were fundamental to the Discos ability to meet the obligations of their Performance Agreement with the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPE), which requires them to improve customer service delivery, metre 1.7 million customers, expand the distribution network and minimise power interruptions.

Managing Director of Transition Company of Nigeria (TCN), Mohammed Usman, recently called for a regulation by NERC to protect its transformers in the case of any damage by Discos. He said the inability of Discos to invest in electricity distribution infrastructure has resulted in their use of their transformers for electricity supply to customers. Saying that the Discos have their responsibilities while TCN has its own, adding that Discos lack of investment is affecting their own system.