Estimated billing: New customers pay millions, as DisCos flout metering policy | Dailytrust

Estimated billing: New customers pay millions, as DisCos flout metering policy

New electricity consumers in Nigeria are being ripped off by power distribution companies (DisCos) through estimated billing despite a policy stating that all new...

Minister of Power, Engr. Abubakar Aliyu and  Acting managing director of TCN, Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz
Minister of Power, Engr. Abubakar Aliyu and Acting managing director of TCN, Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz

New electricity consumers in Nigeria are being ripped off by power distribution companies (DisCos) through estimated billing despite a policy stating that all new connections must be accompanied by meter, investigation by Daily Trust revealed.

The Connection and Disconnection Procedures for Electricity Services Regulation, 2007 of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), which the DisCos now flout, directs that newly registered consumers must be metered at the point of connection.

Section 4, sub-section (i) of the regulation, also published in the official gazette of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FGN), states that as long as a prospective customer of any DisCo applies to get a building connected and pays the required fees (connection fee): “A distribution company shall make an appointment with the customer to fit a meter and connect electricity supply to the supply address within the period stipulated in the commission’s Customer Service Standards of Performance.”

However, an investigation by Daily Trust has shown that meters are not being fitted before customers are connected, even as the customers were made to pay all connection fees and even provide electrical materials required for the connection.

Survey shows customers not metered when connected

Out of 88 power users in 38 communities across six states spoken to for this report, 62 were residential customers while 26 use it for commercial purposes. Out of this number, 33 said they owned the houses, while 19 others were managers, and the other 36 tenants.

Among the buildings sampled, 55 of them were newly built while the 33 are old properties requiring connection or a split on connection accounts with the DisCos.

The survey found that 18 of the buildings have been connected for over a month, 47 connected for three months, while 21 others have had power supply for six months and more. After filling forms and paying connection charges, the consumers had their buildings connected to the national grid by their respective DisCos, but without supplying them with meters.

However, their connection fees and how quickly they were connected differ. Six consumers said they paid N5,000 as connection fee while two paid nearly N20,000. Eighty other power users said they paid N10,000 before their buildings were connected.

A four-storey building metered in Ogui Road in Enugu after several efforts that lasted a year

 

On how quickly they were connected, 74 of the power users said they were connected within one week, while 14 others said it took two weeks for them to be connected. This means all the 88 consumers had their buildings connected within two weeks after paying connection fees, yet none of them got a meter before being connected as required by the gazetted NERC regulation.

Further checks indicate that 33 of the consumers got meters after one to three months of having their houses connected and placed on estimated billing accounts. Nevertheless, 55 other power users are still on estimated bills, some for between three and six months as at when filing this report.

Daily Trust found that among the 33 persons who got prepaid meters, only three said they paid special fees: one paid N50,000 and two paid N80,000, but the 30 other metered  customers did not pay special fees.

Our reporter gathered that the meters obtained by the customers without paying a special fee was due to the ongoing National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP), which started in December 2020 with 750,000 meters already delivered to the DisCos by the federal government to install for consumers.

The consumers said 80 of them made requests for meters when they filled the connection form, but eight did not make requests and the DisCos did not give them any timeline for meter installation.

Consumers pay N6m estimated bills in 1 year

So far, the 55 power consumers awaiting meters across the five DisCos represents 70 per cent of the sampled population of 88 consumers who are still on estimated billing after their buildings were connected. These bills are mostly delivered to the customers by hand by marketers of the DisCos for the previous consumption month.

Among these 55 consumers, 10 pay about N3,000 electricity bill monthly, totalling N30,000. Thirteen others pay up to N5,000 monthly, which is about N65,000; and 20 other customers pay N10,000 monthly, estimated at N200,000 a month.

There are seven customers that pay up to N15,000 every month or N105,000 collectively. Three others get about N20,000 power bill monthly, about N60,000, while two other power users said they paid about N20,000 per month as estimated electricity bill or N40,000 a month for both since they have not been provided with meters.

Going by an estimate of the monthly bills, the 55 customers are coughing out N500,000 every month and would have paid N6 million in just one year of estimated billing, just because the DisCos servicing their buildings flouted a simple legal connection policy – to install a meter before connecting the building.

Customers narrate experiences

The 88 power consumers across the five states and Abuja who are customers of five randomly selected DisCos narrated their experiences.

One of the 10 customers who spoke in Nasarawa State, Mr Auta Bulus, at Jeun-Masaka community, said he had to pay N8,000 after providing his electrical materials to get connected to electricity.

“I demanded a meter, but they said it was not available and that I would have to wait. This is nearly one year since I got registered, but I have not gotten the meter.

“Every month, they bring an estimated bill of about N2,500 to my property, but I believe it would have been cheaper if I had a meter,” he said.

At Aso C, another community in Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, Mr Sunday Owuno just completed a two-bedroom property and had requested to be connected to electricity. However, Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) officials at the Aso Pada Service Centre told him to buy the materials and pay a fee before connection.

“I had to buy the materials for the connection and they insisted I should fill a form, which was stamped by officials of the Licenced Electrical Contractors Association of Nigeria (LECAN) at N5,000. And I paid N10,000 as connection fee.

“I asked for a meter but was told that the meters were not available, and that I could choose to wait before getting connected. I had no choice but to be connected (without the meter). Since then, I have been receiving a monthly bill of N2,600 for the past four months.”

Like his Aso community neighbour, Jacob Kolade got a meter after one year of connecting to the AEDC network. “I had to follow up at the headquarters in Abuja before I got the meter, which I had paid for. For one year, I was paying about N3,000 every month before the meter came, in addition to the N74,000 to get the meter,” Kolade said.

Mr Joseph Okon, one of the 14 consumers who live at Kubwa in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), told Daily Trust Saturday that he wanted a separate account for his house in a compound housing two other tenants.

“The property manager has pushed for this registration to be done for over three months and that is not happening. We are already connected, but getting a fresh account with a meter is proving difficult,” Okon said.

He added that officials of the AEDC came over a month ago to inspect the property, but they had not returned to install the meter, so he has remained on estimated billing.

A resident whose recently connected shop is yet to be metered in Jos

Abubakar Musa moved into a house in Karu, Abuja and had to be reconnected. He demanded for a meter but could not be provided with one. “Because of the pressure I gave to the officials, they quickly placed me on an estimated bill on an existing account which is not on my name. They said the bills would be cheaper for me until my account is opened,” he said.

He was made to fill a form with his passport photographs and a new account was opened for him, but there was no meter. “I was just on my own in April 2021 when an official called to say they were coming to install my meter,” he said. That was after six months within Abuja city and with pressure, he noted.

Among the 12 consumers spoken to in Enugu, the manager of Skyview Properties, Alhaji Sani Okechukwu Ani, said he was unhappy and frustrated due to his sad experience in the hands of the staffers of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), who he alleged dribbled him when he wanted to acquire prepaid meters for a new four-storey building at Ochumba Street, Ogui New Layout.

Mr Okoronkwo George is another consumer who said he paid N4,000 monthly estimated bill, “but the EEDC increased it to N6,000. We wrote again about the bills but they increased it to N8,000. We kept writing and they kept increasing the amount.

“It came to a point where the billing for one-room and parlour was N12,000 monthly. It is frustrating and we are yet to have meters, six months after they connected this building,” he said.

Among the 16 Lagos residents who were covered in this report is Macdonald Ugwuezuoha, who lives at the Ojudu area as a tenant in an old building.

“It has taken over three months since we applied for the new account so that we would be taken off these crazy estimated bills. As at now, we pay an average of N10,000 bill every month,” he said.

Emmanuel Nwanekwu is also a tenant in a brand new building around the Somolu area of Lagos. He pays between N20,000 and N30,000 estimated bills monthly. “So far, no time limit has been given and we applied for a meter over six months ago,” he said.

Ekezie Ekene, who lives in a new property around the Alaba International Market, he had a rare experience with the meter installation process for his building.

“When I applied for connection, I paid N50,000 and within just two weeks, the house was connected. The meter was installed shortly after connection. It was such a nice experience under the Ikeja Electric,” Ekene noted.

In Jos, Plateau State, a resident of Rangarasan community, Bala Pius, one of the consumers interviewed, said going through the procedure of acquiring a meter often caused delay.

He said, “People are often asked to tender several documents and other items, which elongate the easy access to getting the meters.

“I know of some residents who went through other means to get the meter and paid between N10,000 and N15,000 as tips after filling the meter request and connection form.”

Also, Pius Isaac, who owns a shop at the Tudun-Wada area of Jos, said he was paying about N5,000 estimated bill monthly as he waited in vain for a meter after he applied and his buildings connected to electricity six months ago.

Nasir Maharazu, 31, one of the 20 customers spoken to, has a new house in Kwachiri community in Kano. When he wanted to be connected, he called Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO) officials and got connected at the rate of N2,000 without requesting for a meter.

“In the last six months, they have not come to install any meter in my house or even in my neighbours’ houses. They placed me on an estimated billing of N1,000 per month, and that is (the same for) almost all of us in that community,” he said.

Amina Mukhtar, a tenant at Kofar Waika in Gwale Local Government Area of Kano, paid N10,000 before she was connected to the power grid in January.

She said, “I requested for a meter and the KEDCO promised to install it in one month, but they are yet to do so. I pay N2,000 monthly as estimated bill for now. They may even increase it, who knows!”

DisCos deny hoarding meters

When contacted on why they flout the meter connection regulation of the NERC, the DisCos operating where this survey was carried out gave different responses. They, however, generally noted that meters were not hoarded, insisting that installations have improved with the NMMP.

The public relations officer of the EEDC, Mr Emeka Eze said, “There is no way the EEDC can be hoarding meters. They are being deployed, and at no cost, to customers.”

Eze, however, revealed that the number of customers to be metered is determined by the meters available, adding, “Not all the customers will get the meters at the same time; it is a process. With time everyone will be metered.

“We are not frustrating anyone. We are metering according to feeders and transformers. Until the metering team gets to your area, you will feel as if you had been sidelined. We appeal for patience, while effort is being made to get meters to every unmetered customer.”

The head of the Department of Communication at the Jos Electricity Distribution (JED) Plc, Friday Adakole, did not deny flouting the regulation, but insisted that the DisCo was following due process in free meter installation.

Adakole said the JED was sensitising consumers. “We want the general public to cooperate with the JED and their staff in the metering exercise so that the process will be hitch-free and everyone would be contented in the long run.”

Also, KEDCO’s head of Corporate Communication, Ibrahim Sani Shawai, said the situation was as the result of the fact that they could not capture all the households in their franchise state at once; hence they phased them according to areas.

“So far, we have been metering our customers in phases. We are gradually winding up the zero phase, which targets 87,747 customers. Immediately after that, we will roll out phase one.

“We are also metering some of our new customers, especially those that fall within the areas marked. Metering, to us, is a priority and a task that must be done. So we are working assiduously with our vendors to deliver in that regard,” Shawai added.

Responding to our findings in Abuja and Nasarawa, the general manager, Corporate Communications of the AEDC, Mr Oyebode Fadipe, said power remained a highly regulated sector.

“When the NERC gives directives, our responsibility is to comply, but it is also possible that there’s one or two outside our radar,” he said.

Fadipe noted that not metering customers is not a good business strategy. “If you don’t meter the customer, it is a very bad business. So it is for our advantage in terms of billing or integrity of the billing, accuracy and realisation of revenue.

“For us, it is good business that we meter all customers. That is why we embrace every metering programme we have the opportunity to do,” the AEDC spokesman said.

On the part of Ikeja Electric, the head of Corporate Communications, Mr Felix Ofulue said the firm was putting more effort in providing meter for customers. He noted that it had attained over 99 per cent of its 106,701 customers scheduled for metering under the phase zero of the NMMP.

“We have so far metered 105,000 customers under the NMMP. And we are appealing to others yet to get their meters to be patient. We are anticipating that the phase one of the NMMP would begin soon, which will give us an opportunity to meter more customers,” Ofulue noted.

On the importance of metering, he said it would assist in reducing collection losses while increasing financial flows to achieve 100 per cent market remittance obligation of the DisCos.

Sanction erring DisCos, SERAP tells NERC

When contacted for their perspective on the plight of consumers whose rights have been violated, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said the Daily Trust report was timely as SERAP recently went to the NERC to discuss some of these socio-economic issues, which included issues with defaulting DisCos.

In a response to Daily Trust’s enquiries by the programme officer of the SERAP, Folashade Arigbabu, the advocacy group said the NERC would need to gain public trust by showing that complaints from consumers receive attention once they get to the commission.

The SERAP further tasked the NERC to sanction defaulting DisCos. “Visibly penalise these erring DisCos according to the Electric Power Sector Reform Act,” the group stated.

NERC assessing new metering scheme to end complaints – Spokesman

Reacting to findings by Daily Trust indicating apparent violation of the connection and metering regulation by DisCos, the general manager, Public Affairs at the NERC, Dr Usman Abba-Arabi, said to handle cases of poor compliance with metering customers’ buildings, the federal government initiated the NMMP to assist in completely eliminating the scourge of estimated billing in the NESI.

He said the initiative commenced in 2020 in phases with phase zero expected to roll out one million meters to Nigerians.

“The programme is ongoing; meters are presently being delivered and installed by various DisCos through their Meter Assets Providers (MAP). The commission meets with the DisCos and MAP every week to monitor compliance with the installation guidelines. This has ensured that all available meters in DisCo warehouses are effectively installed,” he said.

On how to permanent address compliance issues for metering, Dr Abba-Arabi said, “The NERC has approved a review of the MAP regulation to fast-track metering and ensure that Nigerians are adequately metered. While phase zero for one million metres is being exhausted, the phase one procurement process has commenced. It will bring in additional four million meters for electricity customers.

While noting that the commission is closely monitoring the deployment of meters throughout the country to ensure strict adherence to the guidelines developed for the NMMP, he said members of staff of the commission were assessing the implementation of the programme, and where anomalies are identified, appropriate sanctions would be meted against erring DisCos/MAPs.”

 

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Regulators Monitoring Programme