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Vending of prepaid meter and the criminality thereof

By Joseph O. Uche
16 March 2017   |   4:00 am
Except those who have been through the excruciating and awful experiences trying to procure PHCN or EEDC prepaid meter, one would think once payment is made through bank draft, the meter is supplied to a customer as advertised.

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

Except those who have been through the excruciating and awful experiences trying to procure PHCN or EEDC prepaid meter, one would think once payment is made through bank draft, the meter is supplied to a customer as advertised. On the contrary, the assumption is wrong; you have to pay through your nose, even then the meter is but supplied on time. You are considered lucky and should thank goodness to be supplied with the said ‘almighty prepaid meter’ within a period of three years. The agony a customer is exposed to for daring to follow due process to obtain the prepaid meter is better imagined than experienced. To say the least, they will milk you to poverty. At times they boast you can go to blazes to petition them and nothing will come out of it and, so it is. In fact corruption dwells with us and gets deeper into the fabrics of our nationhood as a people.

In this part of the country where the writer hails from, if a servant or an apprentice is found to be fraudulent and/or stole his master’s money, his service or apprenticeship is determined and thereafter sacked with ignominy. The reverse is the case in power sector, it is where corrupt workers demand for their disengagement allowances or they will go on rampage and hold the entire country to ransom, demand for their entitlements which in real sense they do not deserve. They feed facts on people’s hardship and poverty situation. Even the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s directive on 50% tariff reduction is flouted by these cultic and devilish beings in the power sector. They are heaping curses upon themselves and their generations yet unborn without knowing it. May God speedily judge them all!

At first I did not border to write this piece but after serious thought over the issue in view of the fact that I am also a victim by circumstance of domicile; my long felt disinclination to write later gave way, hence this publication for public consumption and for the government of the day to intervene and halt the evil in power sector.

However, there is hardly any organisation or parastatal that is corrupt-free in Nigeria. Like it is said, the difference between corrupt Nigerians and saint-like Nigerians are those who have not been caught in the web of corruption. It cuts across all segments of our systems and sectors like Judiciary, Army, Police, Ministry, Parastatals, party politics, INEC and elections, ministerial appointment or political appointment, House of Assembly, Customs, Navy, Airways, banks, hospitals, market executives, selling of police quarters to private individuals, public sector, private sector, churches, mosques, Fulani herdsmen and rapists, sponsor of Boko Haram, kidnapping of over 200 Chibok secondary school girls for both sexual abuse and rituals for political ambition of some wicked politicians, assassins, kidnappers association and union executives elections. Name them. It is very unfortunate! Just as the saying goes, evil triumphs over good when those in a position to effect a change could do nothing to stop it.

Little wonder, majority of the people prefer sharing meters to beat the power sector continuous upward review of energy tariff and bill for those on analogue meter who receive estimated bill even with the poor service in the sector. Estimated billing to customers pays well to EEDC officials as it makes their private pockets richer every day. It is disheartening to say that there is no perimeter to determine electricity billing of consumers other than estimate bill. This is the reason for their reluctance to supply prepaid meters to Nigerians and customers as directed by the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan. Worst still, the euphorbia of EEDC sluggishness in response to distress calls from public power consumers is still unaddressed and persists even with the change in political power; the story is same.

Former Minister of Power Professor Chinedu Nebo who by his track record was a no nonsense man could not help the situation. He failed to give us his words of promise that those importing generators into this country should look for another business as they would soon be out of job because of envisaged steady public power supply in Nigeria. Regrettably, a million question on every Nigerian lip is: what do we do to end vandalisation of EEDC equipment? Just as the fight against insurgence in Nigeria is being frustrated by saboteurs among security personnel and prominent Northerners, so it takes PHCN or EEDC officials to aid the theft of EEDC equipment successfully without being caught or electrocuted. It follows that whoever comes in the name of EEDC official may be an impostor notwithstanding EEDC identification card on him. At times they hire ladder from private individuals to threaten consumers with cutting light and by so doing earn fantastic money that does not enter EEDC or PHCN coffers.

Both the touts and staff in the power sector are having field day to enrich themselves before they are disengaged or sacked. At times consumers do not ask who those carrying ladders everywhere cutting people’s light are and who they are working for? You have to settle them to enjoy light or the wires connecting you to national grid are cut. Even those on prepaid meters are not spared. The fact that you pay your PHCN or EEDC bills is not their concern. What they are after is the much money that enters their private pockets on daily basis. They always find one accusation or the other to level against the customer and cut off his light. Such allegations are short circuiting meter, by-passing meter, meter tampering, late recharging of credit and/or illegal connection. The important thing is that you must be given one reason or the other to cut your light. All these alleged offences boil down to on-the-spot-cash-payment to allow you enjoy your light which does not include payment for energy every month. It follows that once you settle them and the money gets into their private pockets, you are no longer causing loss of revenue to EEDC.

It is very painful that it is the Igbo nation, that is, the South East that suffers it most to buttress further, the type of meter supplied to the South Eastern Nigeria is quite different from those supplied to their counter-parts in the South-West, South-South and Northern areas. The quality of meters supplied to these other parts of the country other than the Igbo nation seems more superior and of high quality. The worst hit is Onitsha in Anambra State.

Well, they won’t exhibit this criminal act in the North otherwise they will be dealt with by Boko Hara militias. Well, of course, they will not do it in the South-South because of fear of Niger Delta militia(s). In the South East, we are helpless because the Igbo are too Nigerians! Corruption has gone to its peak in the power sector and the stink is emitting to the sky into the high heavens for redress. It is growing worse each passing day especially now that privatisation of the power sector has been concluded with over 50 companies to manage the establishment for the good of all and sundry. I wish privatisation of power and its management should be left in the hands of foreigners and they could have given Nigerians the best of service. A black man at the helm of affairs in power sector could be exploitative and shylock with the attendant astronomical and irrational increase of tariff often and on.

One may be poised to ask these pertinent questions: what is vending of prepaid meter in the power sector? What is processing fee? What is sorting fee? What is installation fee paid to the installers of prepaid meter? Does the money from all these avenues go into the PHCN/EEDC coffers or into private pockets of the staff and touts in EEDC? Simply put, why should customers pay ransom in the name of procuring prepaid meter meant for the well being of the consumers in this country by the government? Who should be culpable of this criminal act? Provision of positive answers to these questions assuages the minds of generality of Nigerians who have been on the receiving end. The recent increase of electricity tariff is additional headache. Worst still, one has to pay in bulk the sum of N39,000,00 for one to procure prepaid meter which according to them it will be deducted by instalment from one’s monthly recharge till the amount presumably loaned to them is cleared. They claim they do not have money to purchase meters that will serve all consumers of electricity notwithstanding the huge sum of money being ejected into the power sector.

If the interpretation of vending of prepaid meter should be understood to mean conversion of old meter from analogue to digital then there should be no ransom or palm-grease attached to it. One is confused on the mind bugling sum attached to vending of prepaid meter, one must pay before one can recharge after the exhaustion of the initial 100 units PPM energy. Inability of some poverty stricken customers to meet up with the aforesaid exploitative financial demands leaves them with no option than to abandon their prepaid meter and prefer sharing meters with their neighbours to save them from high blood pressure; a diverse to beat the exploitation from public power supply management.

Another pertinent question is why should this money be paid for one to recharge one’s meter? Does the proceed from vending fee be applicable to newly acquired meter and/or is it compulsory? Let me digress a little on the foregoing. The above explanations given to vending of prepaid meter are geared towards enriching individuals working in the power sector. One wonders why the staff and touts working in EEDC are all big boys and ladies, land and car owners and robust looking. A visit to the residence of the least paid worker in power sector keeps one to wonder. One may mistake such edifice to be residence of bank manager or governor’s lodge. Their attire and boarding of public transport to work is a disguise to avoid suspicion. The truth is that every meter supplied to a customer has someone enriching himself or herself therefrom in the power sector. I my own opinion, conviction and or observation, the vending fee is estimated bill in disguise. It should be outlawed.

Unfortunately, it is the same people who criticise the former President Goodluck of being insensitive and weak that flout his directive and good intention to cushion the harsh effect of the economy on the Nigerian masses. These unscrupulous elements swore to resist the privatisation of power as they dread the experience of NITEL.

The estimated bill to a consumer is billed on assumption that the customer has been using light before the installation of the meter. Little wonder they delay the supply and hoard the meter for years to accrue more money into their corrupt private pockets. Once you meet their financial demands the alleged meter scarcity is a bye gone issue as it will be available even at your door steps. To them it does not matter whether you have been sharing meter with co-tenants before applying for your own meter. This is a way to swindle unsuspecting customers of huge sum of money in Onitsha because of the general assumption that greater percentage of the inhabitants of the area are predominantly traders and seem not to have time to fight for their rights and end this ugly trend once and for all. It is very disheartening that months of suffocation as a result of total black-out do not reflect on the estimated bills within the period of such black-out. Instead of reducing bill for non-service delivery, it is rather doubled. Some of the staff use their position in EEDC to connect their wives and relatives to national grid without paying for the electricity consumed.

It is only in this part of the country that the EEDC increases tariff on estimated bills that cannot be quantified as to the rate of consumption of energy by consumers. This is the area President Muhammadu Buhari should spread his corrupt fishing-war-net and make a big catch to endear him to the majority of Nigerians in preparation for his second tenure bid. This way he would bring to bear his campaign slogan “change” cutting across every stratum of our economy, making the generality of Nigerian poor masses heave a sigh of relief. God hear our cries and deliver the suffering Nigerian masses.
Uche lives in Onitsha, Anambra State

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