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Prepaid Meters: Still a ding dong

By Samuel Oluwalana and Temiloluwa Adeoye
29 May 2016   |   2:38 am
For many years, consumers and electricity distribution companies have been at daggers drawn over appropriate billing, which resulted in the clamour for smart metres.
A prepaid meter in one of Nigerian Home //Photo: Sustain Nigeria

A prepaid meter in one of Nigerian Home //Photo: Sustain Nigeria

As DISCOs, metre companies differ on production capacity
For many years, consumers and electricity distribution companies have been at daggers drawn over appropriate billing, which resulted in the clamour for smart metres. Today, suspicion dominates the relationship between the providers and consumers of electricity.

While the DISCOs complained of rip-off by consumers through irregularities, consumers have also accused electricity suppliers of excessive and over estimated billing in the midst of inadequate services.

This unsavoury relationship has triggered the agitation for metering of homes, but the DISCOs are not forth coming with the equipment, despite the fact that they can be locally manufactured.

Local manufacturers are complaining of lack of patronage, even when the law is against the patronage of foreign metres.

Chairman, Momas Electricity Metre Manufacturing Company Limited (MEMMCOL), Kola Balogun said, “it is unfortunate that despite all efforts by the government, DISCOs are still bent on going overseas to purchase smart metres. Our metres are of good quality, high standard, very strong and accurate; the failure rate is minimal. It is very unpatriotic, and unethical for DISCOs to procure these items abroad, when they can be produced locally. The implication is that they are giving employment to other countries, when there are millions of unemployed Nigerian youths. There is no patronage from the electricity companies, as they prefer going abroad for foreign products.”

Giving reasons for this development, he said: “The DISCOs need funding, which they can’t get here, so they go abroad to borrow money. The countries give them the loans on the condition that the metres are purchased from their countries. The major challenge according to the DISCOs is funding. Some of them give us contract, but they don’t have money to pay. There is no deadline to beat, they are not patronising local metres. But we can meet the demand of Nigerian customers, as there are smart metres lying fallow in stores. We are already working on manufacturing prepaid metres for Sierra Leone.”

On whether the CBN should intervene, Balogun said, “People are saying the CBN should intervene, which I also subscribe to. But if the CBN wants to intervene, it should not release money for them to procure imported metres. We need to grow our local content, and that is the condition that the CBN should give for intervention. Goodluck Jonathan promised one million metres. We don’t know where the funding for the one million metres is hiding. I expected this administration to have implemented that promise, by giving one million metres free to encourage customers, so they won’t complain, when the tariffs are increased. But the first thing they did was to hike tariff, without even probing what happened to the promised one million metres.”

He urged government to enable individuals procure their smart metres directly from local manufacturers, if the DISCOs are failing to provide them to end the era of estimated bills. He also promised to install for the individuals, if government is able to back up such procurement.

“The idea for customers to buy their own metres stems from the fact that present legislation gives DISCOs the monopoly as the sole provider of metres to consumers, and that is why it has taken them a long time to metre customers. They should allow customers buy prepaid metres from any manufacturer of their choice. But there is no constituted commissioner to enforce that. NERC is only doing things on acting capacity.”

Managing Director of Mojec International Limited, Lagos, Ms. Chantelle Abdul, however, said it is not true that DISCOs have refused to patronise local manufacturers, but that their inability to procure locally made metres is mainly due to funding challenges.

“Most people say DISCOs will not work with local manufacturers, but it is not true. The challenge is that DISCOs need funding, and what we have done differently is to help them with the needed funding to acquire metres. Getting funds in Nigerian is difficult. The CBN must have intervention fund for metres, otherwise there will be a problem. If this industry dies, we will have many engineers without jobs, and most of them will travel out to where there are opportunities. We have foreign investors bringing in money with a rate as low as three percent interest, and we also need the knowledge transfer. There are also some malpractices in the industry, where some people will import Chinese metres pretending that they were locally manufactured. However, local manufacturers have the capacity to meet the demand of customers.”

On the capacity of local manufacturers, she said, “Nigeria can produce about three to four million metres at optimum capacity annually, out of which Mojec alone can produce 30 percent. We are also planning to expand internationally, but we want to be successful with the Nigerian market before moving into other countries.”

The Head of Strategy and Communications at Eko DISCO, Godwin Idemudia, said the initial problem with locally manufactured metres was failure to meet specification and requirement of the electricity companies.

“Initially, there were issues of patronage of locally manufactured prepaid metres because the indigenous manufacturers were not meeting the required specification. But the issues were eventually resolved,” he explained.

According to him, “We are patronising local metres, but because we have a deadline to meet, we are working with everyone we can to achieve metering for all customers.”

Chief Commercial Officer of the Ibadan Electricity Distribution
Company Plc., Mr. Deolu Ijose told The Guardian that his organisation sourced its first 200,000 units of metres locally, from MOMMAS in Ogun State.

According to him, although the company manufactures locally, the majority of metre suppliers in the country only assemble them.

“We patronise MOMMAS, because it is our policy to source our metres locally. We have distributed 200,000 units already and we are still bringing more. Our own policy is local contents only,” he said.