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Why five million metering gap may persist

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PHOTO: Nigeria Electricity Hub

• Import charges, COVID-19 worsen situation
• Enugu, Ikeja, Jos, Kano DisCos unable to account for rollout
• Implementation stalls in Adamawa,Taraba, Borno, Yobe

The persistent inability of power Distribution Companies (DisCos) to provide prepaid meters to consumers across the country has worsened amid high import duties and the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in China and other countries.

With over five million Nigerian households still facing estimated billing, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had last year launched the Meter Asset Providers (MAPs) policy to bridge the gap.

The scheme transferred the cost of meters to consumers. Most people, who registered and made payment to DisCos and meter licensees, however, remain unmetered, even after NERC had stated that they must be metered within 10 working days.

Also, the increase in import duties on meters(from 15 per cent to 45 per cent), bottlenecks at the ports, and the outbreak of COVID-19 could further weaken the plan, especially with the bulk of the meters being imported from China.

Akin to motion without movement, The Guardian reports that the initiative is snail-paced due to poor capacity, poor finance and other challenges that question the readiness of the 22-meter outlets selected by NERC.

Besides, with doubts over the integrity of some of the meters amid calls for a review of the entire metering scheme, industry players have faulted the selection of the 22 companies, concluding that some are mere briefcase outlets without meters in stock.

NERC had been expected to implement the programme through 108 companies, which were offered licences. Only 22 companies however were eventually engaged.

According to the NERC’s report for the third quarter of 2018, out of a total of 8,310,408 registered active electricity customers in the country, DisCos metered only 3,704,302 (44.6 per cent), leaving out 55.4 per cent of end-use customers.

Notwithstanding the expected average deployment of 1,640,411 meters per annum (i.e., quarterly average of 410,103), DisCos installed only 157,173 (i.e. 38.3 per cent) meters during the third quarter of 2018.

The report stated further that only three DisCos (Abuja, Benin and Port Harcourt) had metered not less than 50 per cent of their registered customers as at the end of the third quarter of 2018.

While 10 private utility companies are struggling to implement the MAPs policy, the government-owned Yola DisCo, expected to serve Adamawa, Taraba, Borno and Yobe, is at a standstill due to bureaucratic processes.

Following Boko Haram activities in the northeast, the Federal Government had taken over Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YolaDisCo), as the Nigerian Senate approved N26.9 billion as refund for the acquisition of the company by private investors.

The Managing director of the company, Mustapha Baba Umara, had told The Guardian that though about 4000 applicants registered for meters under the policy, the company was awaiting approval by the Federal Government to begin the rollout. The development, however, has left electricity end users in the affected northern states stranded.

Earlier in the year, The Guardian wrote to Enugu, Ikeja, Jos, Kano DisCos requesting details of their meter rollout under MAPs. There was no response for over a month despite repeated reminders.

Following a telephone conversation, The Guardian sent a request to Emeka Ezeh, who heads the public relations section of Enugu DisCo, on February 4 but he failed to respond. Repeated reminders sent on the 7th and 18th were also ignored.

A similar conversation was initiated with Ibrahim Shawai of Kano DisCo. He simply asked the reporter, “Where are you based?”Following a response, he said, “I will get back.” He never did despite reminders.

Saratu Aliyu of Jos DisCo promised to provide details but failed to do so for over a month. Reminded after many attempts, Felix Ofulue of Ikeja Electric also failed to provide details. On one occasion, he said: “I spoke with the guys (department in-charge of MAPs) this morning and they promised to send to me. I guess we all forgot. I have to share with you tomorrow.” He was reminded about 10 days later but failed to revert before this report was compiled.

Since the scheme came onboard, not less than 30,000 customers have applied for meters under Eko DisCo. The company claimed it has rolled out over 7,000 meters, leaving a huge gap of 23,000.

The General Manager, Corporate Communications of the company, Godwin Idemudia, explained the slow implementation. “It is a new initiative. We were keen on getting it right, to avoid complications in the future. We hope to bridge the metering gap in three years,” he said.

Abdulazeez Abdullahi, Head of Corporate Communication at Kaduna DisCo, said the company installed over 140,000 meters in Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara States. Out of the 7,000 customers, who registered to be metered, only 2,000 were offered under the MAPsscheme, leaving a shortfall of about 5,000.

He admitted that the MAPs implementation had been slow, adding, “We are working to sort out the cost of payment by instalments with the MAPs. Hopefully, that will encourage more customers to come forward.”

The Port Harcourt DisCo noted that over 13,000 customers had registered for MAPs since August.It said the implementation, though seamless and encouraging, was determined by the purchasing power of the customers.

Of the over 50,000 registered applicants under MAPs in Ibadan DisCo, covering the largest franchise area in Nigeria (Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Kwara and parts of Niger, Ekiti and Kogi States), only 10,000 customers have been metered.

In Abuja, Niger, Nasarawa, and Kogi States, statistics from Abuja DisCo showed that 81,533 customers have been metered under MAPs. In total, the company said it had installed 160,832 meters.

The spokesperson for Benin DisCo, who said the deployment of meters under MAPs was progressing speedily, could not back up his claim. While some of the DisCos admitted that the implementation of MAPs was crawling, they blamed MAPs licensees, who have had to grapple with increased import duty, which affected their earlier plans and projections.

“As you know, many of them rely on importing the meters. That slowed the process. Customer response has also been slow perhaps because of the cost involved,” said Abdullahi.

Idemudia said: “Many customers’ premises are not ready for metering due to the following: internal wiring, standardization and safety hazards. Customers are not willing to make upfront payments. However, we are already working on amortization with the MAPs.”

In his contribution, AdetayoAdegbemle, the convener of PowerUp Nigeria, an electricity consumer right advocacy group, said the group had received complaints from customers, who paid for meters but were yet to have them installed. Some customers were inspected and verified but have since not heard from their MAPs.

“There are also issues with MAPs, who do not have meters in stock, but yet are under the scheme. Some DisCos are giving out bogus unverifiable data on customers that have been metered. I am not satisfied with the implementation,” he said.

Dr. Sam Amadi, a former chairman of NERC, stated that metering remained as bad or even worse under MAPs. “Some of the MAP firms have one complaint or another. Anyway, all regulatory interventions suffer initial crisis. It is for NERC to reassess the scheme and tweak it, to address some of the shortcomings.

“That is why we say that regulation is iterative; you study what is happening and reorganise errors of omission and commission and fix them. We should not be discarding policies that face challenges,” Amadi said.

The executive secretary of the Association of Power Generation Companies (APGC), Dr. Joy Ogaji, said there was the need for NERC to come up with quality assurance structures for the programme, to ensure that the meters deployed under MAPs are of excellent quality, even if they want to promote local content involvement.

She sees the initiative as a step in the right direction, stressing that NERC must ensure full enforcement and operationalisation or else the scheme, like many other initiatives in the power sector, would fail.


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