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Consumers raise alarm over crazy prepaid metres

By Paul Adunwoke
22 May 2016   |   2:16 am
The devices, when they are in their right minds, are supposed to tell electricity users how much wattage they have consumed within a given period. They may, however...
A metre PHOTO: SUSTAIN NIGERIA

A metre PHOTO: SUSTAIN NIGERIA

The devices, when they are in their right minds, are supposed to tell electricity users how much wattage they have consumed within a given period. They may, however, churn out garbage, if their brains have been tampered with.

Struggling to find the most apt expression to describe how frenziedly his prepaid metre has been running, one consumer, Mr. Emmanuel Joseph, told The Guardian: “I think the best word is kalokalo”, a Yoruba connotation for sheer uncertainty and haphazardness.

“Fortunately, I have both metres; the new and the old. The new one is in my house at Ikosi. The old one is in my church premises at Surulere. The old one at the church reads normally. But the new one! My case is even better. My landlord didn’t know that prepaid metres could run so fast. On the day it was installed, it was loaded with 40 units. He used his water-pumping machine once. And 24 hours later, 40 units had finished! Can you imagine? You cannot even use an air-conditioner. I can tell you categorically that ever since that metre was installed, I have not been able to use my air-conditioner. If you attempt it, within 24 hours, 150 units would finish!” he cried.

Joseph said there is more to the erratic way the gadgets are running than meets the eye. According to him, “Since the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) were under instruction by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to install prepaid metres, they knew that with the current reading of the normal prepaid metres, they will never get the kind of revenue they need. So, what did they do? They doctored the metres from the point of manufacture. That is sadly what we have in Nigeria today.”

Comrade Abdulsalam Aliu Fashola is the chairman of Citizens’ Access to Electricity Initiative. He told The Guardian that comparison has been made between the new metre and the old one, which according to him, the DISCOs are “stylishly phasing out”.

“What we discovered is that when the old metre reads maybe one unit, I’m using that as an example, you will discover that the other meter will read two, within 24 hours. What is the cause of that disparity? And who are the people that approved it? When you are using the former metre, if you charge, maybe N2,000, it will last you, like one month. But this, if you charge N2,000, it will end in 15 days!”

“Since the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) were under instruction by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to install prepaid metres, they knew that with the current reading of the normal prepaid metres, they will never get the kind of revenue they need. So, what did they do? They doctored the metres from the point of manufacture. That is sadly what we have in Nigeria today.”

Fashola decried another snag. He said when consumers lodge complaint, personnel of the DISCO are quick to remind them that the old metres have been phased out and that new ones, which are usually not available, have to be acquired. Consequently, residents are forced to embrace estimated billing.

“Just complain that your metre is faulty. They waste no time, at all. Quickly, they remove the appliance and place you on estimation, pending when they will bring the metre to you. And it is not free; you have to pay for the new one. Common sense says if there is a problem with that metre, they should replace it. That was the status quo with the former Power Holding Company of Nigeria. But now, you will be placed on estimated billing, also called crazy billing, and be asked to reprocess the new metre, which is not even available. You will then be placed on hold for at least a year, during which they will extort you to whatever extent they wish,” he said.

Two consumers, Abiodun and Chibuzo, both at the Ketu area of Lagos, also shared their experiences. “The new metre runs very fast. We spend so much to power our homes. The problem is even worse, now, with the recent increase in tariff. With the old metre, if I load like N2000, it lasts about two weeks. But now, when I load N4,000/N4,500, it lasts barely three weeks,” said Abiodun.

“I regret having the new metre installed,” said Chibuzo. “The cost charged is too much. With the old metre, we used the air-conditioner and other appliances. We even cook. But with this, when we recharge N10,000, it lasts just a week! The gadget is not worth having. I can’t use the air-conditioner; I can’t cook; I can’t even iron my clothes!”

Chibuzo is not alone. “You dare not use it to pump water,” said Mr. Wilson. “You realise, sadly, that even when electricity is available, you end up using the generator to pump water. You don’t even know how many units are allocated to you; you pay and are given a number, which you input into the metre. You can’t use the supply to cook. You dare not. We were told that the N26,000 cost of the metre would be refunded, but this has not happened. Besides, it’s difficult to track consumption because supply is not regular.”

Efforts to get the reaction of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA), the body charged with the “enforcement of technical standards, technical inspections, testing and certification of electrical installations, electricity meters, instruments and commercial services on key critical areas of Nigerian electricity supply industry”, proved abortive.

At the Oshodi, Lagos branch of the agency, staff declined comment but divulged the phone number of NEMSA Managing Director, Engr. Peter Ewesor, who neither picked his calls nor responded to text messages.