NIGERIANS who expected that the unbundling of the erstwhile Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) would lead to an end of their travails at the hands of the electricity bureaucracy in the country didn’t have to wait long before experiencing utmost disappointment. Since they replaced PHCN, the distribution companies, otherwise known as Discos, have become a thorn in the flesh of electricity consumers in the country. While the problems associated with electricity in the past have not in anyway lessened, the companies have become a source of worry to the people. The problems range from the festering of the estimated billing method system to inadequate supply of electricity which the DisCos attribute to the inability to convert the generated power into enough units to distribute to consumers.
One of the most familiar problems attending the interface between consumers and the distribution companies is the issue of prepaid meters. Penultimate week, the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) complained that its customers were denying it access to its property, namely prepaid meters. Like a festering sore, the issue of prepaid meters has generated so much bad blood between consumers and the distribution companies. There was a very untidy system of transmutation from the old system where consumers paid for their meters to a system where, according to the distribution companies, they are not expected to pay for the meters. Many consumers have paid for meters for more than two years now and have not got the meters they paid for. In the same vein, while the distribution companies claim that the meters are free, they are not available to the millions of consumers of electricity.
Last week, a retired General of the Nigerian Army whose home’s power supply was disconnected was reported to have threatened the Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) officials with a gun, saying the power supply must be reconnected. Sadly, such a cat and mouse relationship between the distribution companies and their customers also characterised the relationship between the erstwhile National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and its successor, PHCN, and their customers. It is certainly a thing of concern that this same recrimination is being recycled at this time and age.
While the DisCos claim that the meters are their property and they should have unqualified access to them, many customers who paid for them in time past have continued to query this claim. In fact, there were several communities who obtained not only their meters but their transformers solely from communal efforts and donated them to the erstwhile PHCN. When the distribution companies now arrogate to themselves possessory rights over these commodities, the affected communities feel that they have a justification for challenging them on this score.
The DisCos should realise that they are no longer a parastatal agency of the government and, as such, they must act professionally. They are private concerns which are expected to use a combination of customer appeal and enlightenment in getting whatever they desire from communities and electricity consumers generally. The Nigerian electricity consumer has had such a history of nasty relationships and experiences with electricity companies in the country that he or she sees them as enemies. Efforts must therefore be made to repair this centuries-old perception rather than aggravating it.
It is trite that the laws setting up the DisCos forbid them from disconnecting houses without 30 days’ notice. Why the companies do not adhere to this law beats the imagination. In a very atrocious and disingenuous way, the companies also demand that their customers hang photocopies of their electricity consumption receipts in front of their houses, provoking the question whether Nigeria is still in a bygone age where electricity companies did not have adequate data on how much was purchased or consumed by their customers. Failure to do this attracts disconnection of the customers from the power grid and reconnection of electricity is a very painful process that makes Nigerians wonder why they are perpetually under the servitude of the electricity companies.
The other painful regime that Nigerians go through under the electricity companies is the issue of high bills that are given at random to consumers. Despite the consumers’ lack of access to the abracadabra used in arriving at the bills, they are forced to pay up anyhow. This exploitation has reached such a crescendo that the government cannot continue to stand by and watch the people suffer interminably at the hands of the distribution companies. Estimated bills, possessory rights over meters and the unprofessional attitudes of officials of the electricity companies are some of the ancillary problems that Nigerians confront daily. The government and stakeholders must immediately wade into the matter and save consumers from the taskmasters which the distribution companies have turned themselves into.