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Pre-Paid Metres: Hike in price compounds woes of electricity consumers

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Maria Diamond (Lagos), Ahmadu Baba Idris (Birnin Kebbi), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia), Monday Osayande (Asaba), Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Oluwaseun Akingboye (Akure), Agosi Tina Todo (Calabar) and Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri)
27 November 2021   |   2:07 am
There is worry that the recent hike in the prices of pre-paid metres in the country will worsen the woes of electricity consumers across the country.

[files] Prepaid meters. PHOTO: Amos Kobor

There is worry that the recent hike in the prices of pre-paid metres in the country will worsen the woes of electricity consumers across the country. From Lagos to Kebbi, Abia, Delta, Plateau, Ondo, Cross River and Owerri, consumers told The Guardian that they were at a loss on why they should pay heavily for an asset that doesn’t belong to them. Many also lamented the long process they had to pass through to be metered even after making the payment.

In Lagos State, many electricity consumers under Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) said that after making payments for pre-paid metres, they waited for months before they could get one.

They also disclosed that the arrangement to refund consumers who pay for metres through energy token is not working as none of them has been refunded.

A consumer in Ipaja area, Mr. Ojo Rashidi, said: “I got my metre in 2021. It took 11 months to supply me metre and that was with the intervention of the chairman of my estate in Ipaja. I paid N25, 000 bank draft for a single phase. There has been no refund of payment in the form of token till date. I have been recharging my pre-paid metre every month till date.”

Mr. Lasisi Ige said: “Getting my own metre was stressful especially because I got it quite early. Those in charge of installation and mapping out designation weren’t cooperating then and that dragged for so long. I had to be visiting IKEDC office at Ponle on a daily basis. After paying so much and clearing all the outstanding debt to the last kobo, there was no refund at all for the purchase of the metre.

“In fact, I received a message last week from IKEDC about recharging my pre-paid metre to avoid disconnection when I know my metre is loaded with enough credit that will last up to two months. So, I wonder what this is about; maybe a malfunction in their system.”

Another consumer, Olufemi Godman, said getting a pre-paid metre in the country had become a near impossible venture.

“I have a pre-paid metre now. It took me almost two years to get it after I registered. In a country where estimated billing is the order of the day, getting the pre-paid metre for me was more than a blessing. Let me also add that I got mine free and I appreciate the Federal Government for the policy to make it free at that time.

“However, I am not aware of anyone that got token as refund for buying their own metres. If there is a policy like that, it has not been implemented,” Godman said.

In Kebbi State, some consumers expressed dismay over the hike in the price of pre-paid metres by the government. This is even as observations by The Guardian showed that over 60 per cent of consumers in the state are not using pre-paid metres because they couldn’t afford it and are awaiting free allocation by the distribution company.

A consumer, who identified himself simply as Alhaji Mohammad, urged the government to find a way of making pre-paid metres available to every home that enjoys electricity from the national grid.

In Abia State, a civil servant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she applied for pre-paid metre since last year and had not been supplied, wondering why the price was increased. She also raised the issue of ownership of the metre after installation, saying the ideal thing is for the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) to liaise with landlords and install the metres so that future tenants would inherit them.  

Consumers in Asaba, Delta State, also lamented the difficulty they pass through to get pre-paid metres. One of them, Uche Anazia, said his experience with the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) was that of “come today, come tomorrow.”

“I wanted to avoid the estimated billings which in most cases always result to me coughing out between N18,000 and N25, 000 monthly for a two-bedroom apartment without air-conditioner. I have just a television set and a fridge. Paying that much for electricity alone monthly is not a tea party, considering my meager salary. So, I wanted to get a pre-paid metre, but since over a year that I applied for it, it is still story upon story,” Anazia lamented.

According to him, the BEDC claimed that the transformer serving their area has not been metered, therefore, those who applied for pre-paid metres from that area should continue to wait.

A landlady in Asaba, who simply gave her name as Mrs. Udoka, also narrated a similar experience. She said she applied for some pre-paid metres for about three years now and hadn’t got any.

“I paid N30, 000 each for 10 metres to be shared to my houses in Asaba and other locations. I also offered ‘Kola’ to some of the officials to facilitate the process of getting the metres but to no avail. I have resigned to fate,” she said.

Electricity consumers in Ekiti State expressed concerns about the recent hike in the cost of pre-paid metres, describing the development as another display of policy inconsistency by the government. They also accused the BEDC of hoarding pre-paid metres as part of its strategies to sustain alleged outrageous estimated billing it dishes out to its consumers.

Chairman of Ado Ekiti Electricity Consumers Association, Dr. Ibukun Ogundipe, accused the government of “going back and forth on the issue of metering.”

“Sometime ago, the government said that Metre Asset Providers (MAP) would metre people for a certain fee. But suddenly, they said that there was mass metering, which is for free and now they have increased the prices of metres. We don’t even know what to believe anymore.

“In any case, it is immoral to pay for metres. The metres are technological devices to measure tariffs. Just like the fuel pump in a petrol station. Can a petrol station tell its customers to buy fuel pump?”

The chairman of electricity committee of the Ajenikoko Avenue Landlord Association, Ado Ekiti, Mr. Bisi Omotoso, described the recent increase in prices of pre-paid metres as a mark of insensitivity by the Federal Government.

“How can a government be contemplating such a policy at a time when people are overburdened by high cost of living and loss of jobs. To the best of my knowledge, some of our landlords have made payment for pre-paid metres for over three years now and neither have the metres been supplied nor the money refunded.

“The government has left us more confused with the latest announcement of price increase. The same government had rolled out a free mass metering programme,” he said.

Ilugbemi Ojo, an electricity consumer in Omisajana Area of Ado Ekiti, said many people in the state heaved a sigh of relief when the government released free pre-paid metres to the DisCos to install for their customers.

“As we speak, we don’t know if the metres are being installed or not. So, the question is: where are the free pre-paid metres and why is the government not monitoring the implementation so that it could sanction erring distribution companies that warehouse them?

“Government must know that the masses are suffering untold hardship. The government must be on the side of the citizens and not take side with the distribution companies who are imposing outrageous estimated billing on consumers in the face of erratic power supply.”

In Jos, Plateau State, a welder, Jerry Pam, wondered what necessitated the increment when residents were expecting the Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JEDC) to begin installation of free pre-paid metres announced by the Federal Government earlier in the year.

According to Pam, the increase in the prices of metres has presented another opportunity for the DisCos to rip off the masses.

“I paid N60, 000 and filled forms for pre-paid metres but ended up spending up to N 100, 000 before light was connected to my family house.”

A similar scenario is playing out in Ondo State where two years after the BEDC gave assurance to its customers that it would install metres free of charge for them, nothing like that has happened. And the consumers said they were still waiting for the 114,740 pre-paid metres the BEDC said would be installed to them free under the Metre Asset Provider (MAP) Scheme.

A landlord in Imafon Community, Mr. Femi Ige, averred that BEDC’s failure to distribute the metres was a deliberate move to continue milking the consumers via estimated billing. He stated that all efforts he made to acquire prepaid metres for his two flats since 2018 were to no avail.

A tenant in Isinkan Area of Akure metropolis, Mrs. Yetunde Ejide, said she had waited anxiously for the company to fulfill its promise to roll out pre-paid metres to its customers to no avail.

“BEDC embarked on widespread enumeration of houses in 2019 with the promise to end the estimated billing system, which is the greatest form of corruption in this country, yet, it is another promise and fail.

“I have gone to their offices several times to enquire about the pre-paid metres but they always play hanky-panky with me. It is clear that they are actually playing on our intelligence and sensibility. Some of their staff who are close to me revealed that an order came from above not to distribute the pre-paid meters as planned,” she said.

A landlord in Akure North Local Government Area of the state, who asked not to be quoted, disclosed that BEDC gave metres to three to four houses in his area early last year and stopped.

“It was a ploy to largely monetise it and dupe some unsuspecting members of the public who are curious and eager to depart from estimated billing. I can authoritatively say that a neighbour, who was among those few ones that got pre-paid metres, linked me up with a BEDC staff and he gave me the assurance that if I pay N100,000, I would get a pre-paid metre.”

Some electricity consumers in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, also lamented the high cost of pre-paid metres and the delay in supplying them.

Many of the consumers told The Guardian that the increase in the cost of the metres was not their headache but the process of getting it.

A resident, who disclosed that he paid N58.661.62 for metre since last month, said: “My problem in this whole thing is that I am tired. I paid for my metre last month and they are still asking me to wait. They say that some persons who paid before me are yet to get theirs. I am tired of using estimated billing; that is why I came to pay for the metre. This country is just full of problems here and there.”

Another resident, Miss Patricia Uket, said: “You know how hard it is to save money, the increment is not fair. You know how difficult things are now. I have paid for a metre since the past three months. I have not seen the metre with my eyes. I’m still waiting.”

Also lamenting, a pastor of a church in Calabar, Josiah Adewumi, said he paid for a metre over one year ago but had not been issued one. He said he had written several letters to the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED) demanding refund of his money but it was yet to be refunded. In Owerri, Imo State, the high cost of pre-paid metres and difficulty in obtaining them have made landlords to leave the responsibility to tenants.

Many tenants who spoke with The Guardian lamented their inability to purchase the device, accusing landlords of abdicating their responsibility.

A resident, Joel Nwagwugwu Nwagwugwu, lamented: “I have complained to our landlord to buy a pre-paid metre for our flat but he is not responding well. Why should I buy the device that I will leave behind when I am moving away?”

Another resident, Joseph Nwosu, said: “I am struggling to cater for my family; buying a pre-paid metre at that price is adding to my responsibilities. It is not easy. We can live without that.”

On her part, Helen Onyeze noted: “Nigeria is fast becoming a difficult country. Everything is tough. This is not the country of our dream. Why should pre-paid electricity metres be that expensive? Even the process of buying it is not easy. When you apply, you have to wait for a very long time.”

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