The town hall meeting of critical stakeholders in the nation’s power sector, especially those of Ikeja power district, could not have come at a better time. The sector is ailing. Near total absence of quality customer service has been a source of concern for many a stakeholder. Perhaps, more worrisome is the fact that despite the poor service delivery, consumers are still being made to pay for services not consumed.
The forum organised by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council, in collaboration with Mac Arthur Foundation, therefore, was designed to give electricity consumers in Ikeja District and other stakeholders in the power sector a rare chance to interface and iron out grey areas, concerning electricity distribution, consumption and billings in the area.
While the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of FCCPC, Mr Babatunde Irukera was quick to caution the audience, comprising aggrieved consumers and other critical stakeholders in the sector, that the forum was not meant to ‘bring anybody to the slaughter slab,’ but to provide a platform for charting a new course as far as consumerism is concerned, it still never failed to elicit the much-anticipated pent-up anger from teeming consumers.
Everybody seemed to have one complaint or the other about the Disco to share.
For instance, Alhaji Isiaka Babatunde Lawal, a retiree from Ojodu, had complained about his community being in darkness for over four months.
According to him, the transformer of the community where he lives was taken away on January 24, this year, and residents of the community were told they would have to pay over N26 million debt on the transformer before it would be brought back. The transformer, according to him, supplies power to 92 houses in the community.
“We’ve been without light since January 24, this year. The transformer developed fault and was taken away for repairs by men from Ikeja Disco. Unfortunately, we are being asked to pay N26 million debt on the transformer before it would be returned. Despite the fact that the community had struggled to pay over N1 million, we are without light till date,” complained Alhaji Lawal.
Another complainant, Mrs Ashiru, prayed the electricity distribution company to give Shonibare Estate, a community within the district, power.
According to her, the society had been wallowing in darkness for months now despite the fact that the people have always been prompt in the payment of their electricity bills.
Interestingly, while making his remarks before the deluge of complaints at the event, the FCCPC boss, Irukera, had stressed the need for players in the value chain of the nation’s electricity generation and distribution to give their consumers value for their money.
Irukera argued that the main concern of the average Nigerian electricity consumer today, is value added services and not complaints from the electricity companies.
He also called on the top management of various distribution companies (DisCos) to look inwards and fish out saboteurs among technical staffers who extort consumers from time to time on issues related to poles and transformers.
While educating consumers on the fact that power issues quite go beyond the distribution companies, Irukera said the onus was on the DisCos to educate and address the problems facing electricity consumers.
“Though the DisCos are the ones interfacing with us consumers, but electricity supply doesn’t start and end with them. It starts with power generation companies before it goes to transmission companies. After this, it goes to distribution companies, which is the last on the value chain.
“But as the gate keeper in the entire process, it is the responsibility of the DisCos to address issues, feel consumers’ pulse as well as proffer solutions. Let me tell our DisCos that as consumers, we are willing to understand what the problems are, but not willing to excuse the problems,” he said.
While admitting that the DisCos sometimes do not get the required quantity of power from the generating companies that would go round, he, however, called for fair and equal distribution to consumers whenever such cases arise.
Irukera also described as ‘abnormal’ the idea of disconnecting electricity supply of those that have paid because of the debts of others in the neighbourhood.
The FCCPC boss also frowned at the idea of consumers buying equipment like transformers, poles and others, describing such as a rip-off since they are paying for services rendered.
“There must be responsibility and dignity that will enhance trust from consumers. There must be fairness and justice on the part of DisCos officials. Besides, it is absurd for DisCos to assume that they are doing consumers favour because it is the other way round.
“For instance, I don’t see anything bad in bill estimation but it is bad if it’s ‘crazy’ as consumers often say. Also, there is no justification for DisCos to disconnect electricity of those that do not owe because of those that are indebted. It is also illegal for technical staff of DisCos to mount pressure on communities to buy transformers when they have them in their offices. This is one area the management should look into very well,” he added.
Also speaking at the meeting, the Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Professor James Momoh, lamented the low level of metering in the country, while putting the present metering gap at 57 per cent deficit.
He, however, assured Nigerians that the present metering gap would be closed within the next three years with the effective implementation of the DisCo meter roll out plan under the Meter Asset Providers (MAP) scheme.
He expressed the belief that the MAP scheme would go a long way in assuaging the long pressing issue of metering in line with the regulatory requirement.
The NERC boss further appealed to electricity consumers to be patient in dealing with the DisCos on meter installation while assuring that the commission would not sit back and watch Nigerian electricity consumers being extorted .
Expressing his delight over the opportunity provided by the regulatory agency to meet with critical stakeholders, the Managing Director, Ikeja Electric Distribution Company, Anthony Youdeowei, expressed the company’s confidence in the FCCPC to successfully enhance consumerism in the sector.
He also expressed the company’s readiness to collaborate with the commission with a view serving electricity customers in the zone better.
“We have witnessed several hostilities from the customers and we have witnessed cases where we had to resolve such issues at the police station. You can’t believe that most of the electricity consumers who are complaining about meter, when we go and install such meters, we also have challenges with them as customers,” he said.
He however assured stakeholders, especially its consumers of the company’s commitment to quality and improved service delivery that would make such consumers get value for their money.