SHOLA ADEKOLA, AKIN ADEWAKUN, DAYO AYEYEMI, SUBAIR MOHAMMED and SEGUN KASALI bring to the fore, the pains of electricity consumers and how the system is frustrating them.
THE introduction of prepaid meter to electricity consumers was expected to bring smile to their faces and reduce complaints over the services being provided by electric companies. However, years after its introduction in Lagos State, the commercial hub of the country, not only are the residents not smiling but the pains they go through to access the service have become almost unbearable for many of them.
A resident, Mrs Oluremi, was close to tears narrating her experience with one of the two service providers in the state. She is one of the numerous residents coming up with complaints over prepaid meter, which was ordinarily designed to minimise direct and physical interactions with the distribution companies and their employees whom many residents have accused of being unhelpful and corrupt.
The most glaring evidence that the prepaid system is giving customers a lot of hassle is the crowds at the complaint centres of both Ikeja and Eko Discos.
A customer told Saturday Tribune that her neighbour who was handling the problem they were having with their newly-installed prepaid meters had to leave home in the early hours of the day to join about 200 other customers that had already queued up at one of the complaint centres.
Saturday Tribune gathered that rowdy crowds have become commonplace at the service providers’ offices with customers spending weeks and wasting lots of man-hours to fix problems that should not exist in the first place.
Apart from service providers reportedly coming around to mount faulty prepaid meters for customers, residents also allege demands for bribe before the meters are fixed, long delay in getting meters already paid for, as well as technicians working for the Discos allegedly frustrating customers so as to make extra money from them.
Use our app to report errant electric companies –FCCPC
Instead of spending endless hours at complaint centres, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has asked frustrated residents of the state to register their complaints through a new app developed for the purpose of tracking and tackling issues in the power sector.
The head of the commission, Mr Ondaje Ijagwu, admitted to Saturday Tribune that complaints are never short in coming from consumers in the sector.
He explained that one of the measures the agency has adopted in the past few years was to create different forums for the stakeholders, especially consumers and operators in the sector, to meet and air their feelings.
“For instance, we have had several town hall meetings in Lagos and some other parts of the country where electricity consumers meet with their Discos.
“We have also created an app which consumers can download on their devices and use to lodge their complaints with the agency,” he added.
Ijagwu gave expressed the agency’s commitment to ensuring that consumers in the sector are not cheated and called on Nigerians to help the agency by lodging their complaints through the various platforms the agency has provided.
“We are determined to protect consumers in this sector and we have been able to sort out a huge number of issues in the sector. But one thing Nigerians must know is that we are not ghosts. If infractions are not reported, there is no way we can act,” he noted.
Delay in getting meters is from customers –Ikeja Electric official
Reacting to the delay being experienced by customers in getting their prepaid meter issues sorted, a spokesperson for Ikeja Electric who wanted anonymity because he had not been authorised to speak on the matter, blamed the consumers of their services for most of the problems they were encountering.
The image maker disclosed that after installation, the expectation is that meter providers would send all information concerning the meter to Ikeja Electric.
He advised home owners to always collect the phone number of officers that installed their meters so that they can call them immediately if the installed meters are faulty or not working properly.
Besides, he urged customers to call or send mails via Ikeja electric customer care or 017000285 to lodge complaints or go online to generate Service Request Number and lodge their complaint.
According to him, through the Service Request Number, they would generate a number which would allow officials from Ikeja Electric to attend to their issues.
“We have people going round to make sure the issues are attended to. Send mail to the customer care or call the direct line 017000285,” he said.
On delay in meter distribution, he said the issue was due to a system upgrade carried out by the company a few months ago, adding that after the procedure, the system was now back.
“We have not stopped distributing meters and we are still distributing,”he said.
Going by the rule, he explained that any customer that made full payment for meter must get it within 10 days.
“Some customers use inactive phone numbers to register and when they are being called to inform them that the meters are ready for installation, it becomes difficult to reach them,” he added.
On June 16, some residents of the state under the banner of Oko-Oba/Orile Development Union trooped out o protest what they described as arbitrary billing by Ikeja Electric and refusal to make prepaid meters available to them.
The residents, led by the secretary of the union, Omotayo Ojo, marched from Oko-Oba, Agege, to the Ikeja Electric, Akowonjo Business Unit at Ponle, Egbeda area of the state, where they temporarily stalled the company’s activities by blocking the entrance of the company.
They held placards bearing inscriptions such as ‘No Prepaid Meter, No Payment’, ‘Say No to Unjustifiable Payment of Net Arrears’, ‘Say No to Unlawful Conduct of Ikeja Electric’, and ‘Say No to Illegal Account’.
Ojo disclosed that the government had not fulfilled its promise of supplying enough prepaid meters for Nigerians’ use.
“For about one and a half years, the government gave us prepaid meters and they promised they would provide others. You all read it in newspapers,” he said.
One of the protesters, Mr James Joel, said: “We have not been accepting the bills since January and this will continue until reconciliation is done to the arbitrary billings.”
While the power supply company agreed to the demand that there should be an account reconciliation committee, the protesters’ leader insisted the composition must include five members of the community for transparency. He said “until the arbitrary billings are resolved, we won’t allow staff members of Ikeja Electric to carry out disconnection.”
Checks by Saturday Tribune showed that the official timing for the delivery of prepaid meters is not really the reality for many customers despite the readiness of residents to migrate from the postpaid platform to the prepaid platform. There is the complaint that the process of migration has been designed as an opportunity to defraud customers, especially those who are not familiar with the relatively new facility.
This alleged fraud is reportedly carried out through the various bottlenecks the operators erected in the way of the residents before the prepaid meters can be purchased, delivered and installed.
Many of the customers who have managed to migrate to the prepaid platform have unpleasant experiences to share about the installers before the process was completed.
Despite the alleged bottlenecks, it was discovered that many residents of the state are still willing to migrate to the new platform as a way of minimising direct future interactions with officials of the service providers but they think that providers are deliberately frustrating them.
Further checks revealed that getting a prepaid meter installed may take up to six months or more after paying the required sum of about N63,000.
There is also a fast-track fee of N20,000 if the customer wants it delivered within two or three months of applying.
The delivery doesn’t end the trouble of some customers, as there have been cases of installers mounting faulty prepaid meters or carrying out wrong installation only to disappear into thin air.
According to available information, many residents who have issues with their newly-installed prepaid meters have been left to their fate.
Visiting some of the designated centers for complaints appears to be the beginning of another terrible experience in view of the huge crowds of residents trooping to the centers to lodge complaints. It is either the prepaid meter is not displaying the required information needed for it to supply electricity or the remote does not match the prepaid or there is no battery and at times, the customers are finding it tough to load credit on their meters.
A frustrated customer said: “The most frustrating aspect is that after paying so much to get the meter installed and it is not serving the purpose, the officials either ask you to run your generator at additional cost or remain in darkness until the issue is resolved, even as you are tossed around by the officials who rather than send their officials to the affected residences to rectify the problems, only direct you to visit the moribund complaint center close to you.”
‘Our experiences, our pains’
Narrating her ordeal, Mrs Oluremi who resides around Shasha said when she got a call from the Ikeja district office that her prepaid meters were ready for installation, she was excited that an end was coming to crazy billing on her postpaid meter.
Two days after the call, an installer from Ikeja office showed up with the two prepaid meters and installed them. Her joy was short-lived two days after the installation as the first problem that confronted her was that the installer did a very wrong installation by muddling up the accessories that came with the meters. “All efforts made to get the installer to come back to correct the bad installation failed as he kept giving the excuse that he was living far away and therefore suggested that an electrician in my neighbourhood should be invited to check what went wrong,” she lamented.
It was also learnt that electric officials do not tolerate traumatised customers resorting to help as the system rules out the possibility of getting electricians to correct noticeable faults.
According to Mrs Oluremi, due to the uncooperative attitude of the installers, all the perishable food items she stored in the refrigerator went bad, even as she stayed without electricity for more than two weeks.
Going to any of the designated centers to lodge complaints is another terrible experience for Mrs Oluremi who, having left home on a particular day as early as 6.00 a.m. for the complaint center at Ponle office at Egbeda Akowonjo, met over 200 people already seated and waiting to lodge similar complaints.
“Many of the complainants lamented how they had been coming for more than two months without any hope that their faulty meters being rectified soon,” she said.
As of press time, Mrs Oluremi was still living in darkness without knowing when her issue will be resolved.
Mr Sanmi, who lives around the same area, narrated how he had his prepaid meter changed three times before he started enjoying it because of the bad state of the first two meters that were brought to him.
To worsen matters, most of the field men that can be of help in rectifying the faulty prepaid meters are reluctant for fear of being framed up by the installers who accuse them and electricians of ploy to take over their jobs whenever the field men show up to help.
Amidst these challenges, some of the officials at the complaints centers are also accused of using the opportunity of the crowd to exploit desperate residents who want their faulty meters rectified. The officials allegedly demand for settlement before they can help.
Frustrated customers believe that the process of migrating to the prepaid platform is deliberately made cumbersome by the service providers so as to continue giving crazy bills out on the postpaid meters.
How we cheat Discos –Resident
A resident of the Igando area of the state disclosed that the introduction of prepaid metering system has impacted positively on electricity supply but claimed that it has come at a huge loss to the electric companies.
The racketeering that allegedly accompanies the use of prepaid meters, according to him, is the reason why the distribution companies are reluctant to distribute the metering boxes.
He said: “Electricity supply has improved greatly here in Igando. Many of the residents are on the prepaid metering system. It is better than the outrageous estimated billing system that was in place before.
“We are relieved and can easily track our monthly electricity consumption and the amount expended on recharge cards.”
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