By Oji Odu
Besides the problem of poor electricity generation in the country by the Generating Companies (GENCOs), the worse culprit in the electricity saga in Nigeria has been the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) whose notoriety in ripping-off the consumers through grossly inadequate metering and crazy and estimated billing is unmatched.
Also, despite governments directives and financial support to the DISCOs to meter their unmetered customers, the problem has remained, prompting the quest by many for consumers to be allowed to provide their meters.
Ideally, electricity consumers are not supposed to buy meters. It should be provided for them by the authorities. What if the consumers are made to provide their meters, will there be improved power supply? Will the crazy billing stop or will other bills spring up similar to the fraudulent maintenance fees that were stopped?
After providing the meters, who will be the real owner? Is it the DISCOs of the consumers? Will there be any agreement between the DISCOs and consumers on how to recover their money through deduction in their electricity bills?
In a chat with the Magazine, Jonas Ameh, an energy expert said: “ For now, I think this will be the best for the industry aimed at checking the myriad anomalies that have bedevilled the sector since.
“ On the other hand, this will expose the poor quality of the owners and managers of companies in the power sector who will start looking for ways to opt out of the business, even with all the Federal Government interventions.”
Meanwhile, confusion has trailed the directive of Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, that electricity customers could negotiate with electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) on how they would be metered while also reiterating that the DISCOs are obligated to meter their customers.
Speaking at the 18th Power Sector Operators meeting in Kano, he said: “Some DISCOs have come back to say that their customers still want to pay for meters and they can reach agreements with them on how to pay for it. Government will not stand in the way of such an agreement. It is consistent with the intent of privatisation envisioned by The Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) or at least it does not violate the Act.
“What I will reiterate is that the DisCos have the obligation to meter customers, because they are the ones who charge for electricity which must be measured.”
Unfortunately, even the DISCOs are not clear on how the model will work. They see so much confusion around the policy on meters by this minister.
In his reaction, a top official of a DISCO who craves anonymity said, “CAPMI ( Credit Advance Payment for Metering Implimentation) was abolished without any viable alternative, now on one hand he is mandating DISCOs to meter their customers and in the same breath telling customers to buy their own meters. How will this work?”
The CAPMI is a model that allows electricity consumers self-finance their meter acquisition and installation due to DISCOs inability to promptly meter their customers. However, due to much lapses, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) accused the 11 DISCOs of abusing the process. In October 2016, in a letter sent to DISCOs last September, the commission said it was abolishing the scheme.
The NERC data revealed that between November 2013 and June 2016, only about 500,000 meters were deployed by the 11 DisCos within their networks. Less than 35 percent of that figure was directly done by the DISCOs.
This new kind of agreement as different from CAPMI is that it is not a government initiative which CAPMI was. Through NERC, government will monitor and regulate to ensure that DISCOs do not use this as an excuse to abdicate their responsibility to provide meters, Fashola said.
With government not able to check the excesses of the DISCOs who have continued to call their bluff in the issue of metering, and with the DISCOs purposefully refusing to release alleged meters in their warehouses to meter their unmetered customers, this may just be another of the soothing directives to allow DISCOs, most of who are allegedly owned by those in the corridors of power to continue in their fraudulent practices.