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Electricity bills go haywire, as DisCos deny tariff hike

By Gbenga Akinfenwa (Lagos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) and Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
07 June 2020   |   4:25 am
Despite the appeal by the National Assembly and power sector stakeholders for a two-month electricity bill waiver for vulnerable Nigerians...

• As Nigerians Groan Under Tariff Hike
• No Directive Anywhere For Pallative —IE
• EEDC Has Increased Tariff, Says Customers, We Have Not—EEDC
• Nothing Good Can Come Out From PHED, Rivers Residents Lament
• EKEDC Not Sensitive To Our Plight—Customers

Despite the appeal by the National Assembly and power sector stakeholders for a two-month electricity bill waiver for vulnerable Nigerians, to cushion the effect of the coronavirus pandemic, the Electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) flagrantly flouted the demand.

The Guardian investigations across states revealed that regardless of critical engagements with the DisCos and some power sector stakeholders, the electricity companies have gone ahead to issue April bills, not acceding to appeals by well-meaning institutions.

To make the matter worse, investigations showed that the DisCos might have sneaked-in new tariff regime, against the advice of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), as well as the National Assembly.

Recall that NERC announced the planned tariff increase in its December 2019 Minor Review of Multi-Year Tariff Order 2015 and Minimum Remittance Order for the year 2020.

But on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, the commission suspended the plan, earlier scheduled to commence on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. In the directive tagged /198/2020, the regulatory agency noted that “following global effects of the pandemic and the negative effect it is having on Nigerians and the industry, the right thing to do was to postpone the date of commencement.”

It was confirmed that despite the directive, some of the electricity firms claimed they were not issued any directive from NERC as regards reversal of the plan.

The Guardian investigations revealed that the bills issued for the month of April across the states, are far beyond the capacity of consumers to pay, especially at this period when the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is biting harder on households.

Survey showed that the tariff hike in some areas were up to 100 per cent, while in some areas it was between 90 to 95 per cent.

For instance, in Ekoro area, Abule-Egba, Agbele and other communities under the Abule-Egba Business Unit of the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IE), the bills issued to customers were tagged ‘crazy bill,’ prompting protests in some areas.

It was the same scenario in Isolo, Agbado, Agege, Meiran and Oshodi, up to Oke Afa Business Unit, where customers are groaning under excessive charges in the midst of economic crunch.

Chief Oluronmbi Idowu, who resides in Ekoro area, Lagos, said IE issued him a bill of N16, 348.82, while the previous bill for March was N8, 838.44, meaning an increment of about 100 per cent. In Aboru area, Mr Jimoh Sulaiman said he was issued N6, 000 plus for March, but for April, he was issued N11, 541.44. It was the same angry story in other business units under the electricity distribution firm.

But the Corporate Affairs Manager of IE, Felix Ofulue, told The Guardian that: “There is no directive anywhere, no modalities have been defined. NASS made a proposal to waive electricity bills for two months and this has still not been approved by the Federal Government. So until government considers and approves the request, it is the responsibility of customers to pay for the electricity they have consumed.

“By the way, your question only considers postpaid customers who are getting estimated billing. Are you also saying that Prepaid meter customers should not load their meters because they are waiting for free electricity?”

Ofulue said his organisation made a commitment to its customers to ensure that they have steady and quality supply for the period of the lockdown and that is exactly what happened.

“The average availability of power for April on IE network was not less than 16 hours. So it is only logical that the bill will reflect the level of consumption. I can categorically tell you that IE did not increase tariffs and do not even have the capacity to do that without the authorisation of the regulator. Also, do not forget that during the lockdown, practically everyone was compelled to stay at home. This also played a huge role in the consumption,” he said.

CUSTOMERS under Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC), Lagos State, were not left out of hike in tariff, as residents of Surulere, Ojuelegba, Barracks and beyond are also having their fare share.

Mrs. Tokunbo Williams, who operates a frozen food outlet in Surulere said despite her non-appearance in the shop for the month of April due to the lockdown, she was issued a bill of N19, 837.50, as against N9, 453.38 brought for March.

Alhaji Adetunji Onimole, who resides along the Lawanson road, Surulere, also lamented that the EKEDC is not sensitive to the plight of their customers at this critical time. “Imagine, from N14, 800 bill brought for March to N22, 680.40 for April, this is criminal. The fact remains that the bill is not commensurate with the power supply.”

Efforts to get response from EKEDC for two days proved abortive. Several calls were made to the General Manager, Corporate Communications, Mr. Godwin Idemudia, he didn’t pick. Text message was also sent to his mobile phone, followed by Wattsapp message, but no response. Calls were also made to Mr. Victor Nwahim, who is in charge of the Social Media of the firm, but he was yet to pick calls, as at the time of filing this report.

In the Southeast, some electricity customers told The Guardian that the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) might have hiked their tariff, following astronomical increase in their March and April bills. In fact, the aggrieved customers who claimed to have protested the development and got assurance of the company that the matter would be redressed, added that while pursuing the matter, officials of the company disconnected their supplies for failure to settle their bills.

One of the victims, Mr. Larry Nweze, said his bill was increased from N3, 000 to N7, 000 for a three-bedroom apartment he occupies in Emene, Enugu, for the month of March and almost N8, 000 for the month of April.

Nweze said when he received the bill for March, he had protested to NERC, which ordered the EEDC to wade into the matter and resolve it. “Now, officials of the EEDC asked me to send details of my meter and the bill in question, which I forwarded to them. They said they were looking into the matter. I discovered that the bill rose from N3, 000 to N7, 000, even when Federal Government asked them not to increase tariff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I returned to my house one day to discover that I have been disconnected. This is even when my protest had not been addressed. So, I went and paid and they reconnected me. That of April is about N8, 000 and from then, until now, nothing has happened to my protest. The tariff increased by 100 per cent. I have a meter, which they say is analogue and that I should come for prepaid meter.”

Another customer, Mrs. Jane Nnaji, said despite not being around for one month in March, the bill she received was far above her monthly consumption. She said she had protested the matter to their office, stressing, “I am yet to get an answer to why it is so.”

But EEDC, the firm distributing power supply in the Southeast said it did not grant waiver nor increased tariff to customers within its network. It stated that it does not have the financial capability to embark on such when it has to purchase the energy being distributed in the zone.

EEDC’s Communications Manager, Emeka Eze said: “There is no such thing like “two months waiver order by NERC to cushion the effect of the covid-19 on electricity consumers.” It is only a proposal by the House of Representatives, which we (EEDC), together with our counterparts (other DisCos) commended and expressed our support; and we have gone ahead to assure our customers that once the proposal is approved and all necessary modalities agreed on by the relevant stakeholders, we will comply and implement.

“It is important to also note that we pay for the energy we distribute to customers. Therefore, there is no way we can distribute energy without the bill being paid for. Bill to customers is a function of availability and customer class; and when a customer feels he or she has been issued “crazy bill,” the aggrieved has the right to contest or challenge the bill. We have well-established procedure for attending to such cases.

“We did not waive bill for customers because we are not financially in a position to do so. However, we are doing everything possible to ensure we provide them with good service and enhance our turnaround time to treatment of faults. We did not increase tariff and by regulation we are not allowed to do so until approval is given by our regulator, NERC. So, there is no increase in tariff at the moment.”

Residents of Rivers State who had anticipated that the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED), would issue a moratorium on payment of electricity bills are currently in a state of disappointment.

Though the PHED, has clarified that it never made such promise, as it was a suggestion by the leadership of the National Assembly, some residents who are used to the sad system of the country said, they were adamant on the promise because ‘nothing good can come out of the company.’

They hinged their position on their past experiences, noting that the Federal Government and the relevant agencies do not take things that affect the poor masses serious.

Findings show that there was no waiver of electricity tariff in Rivers State amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bills were issued with over-bloated tariffs; some residents have complied by paying, while some have had their supply disconnected.

Further checks showed that some residents experienced improved power supply within the period while some did not have power supply till date.

Speaking on the proposed waiver, an Analyst, Mr. Karl Chinedu Uchegbu said: “It was a shock to many to realise at the end of April that the DisCo had not only brought bills, but that it was higher than the previous month.”

He said prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DisCos had mounted a campaign for an upward review of electricity bill, but it was rejected by the National Assembly, following a huge outcry by Nigerians.

“The bills given to consumers were over-bloated despite that few consumers actually had steady power supply. We are forced to believe that the DisCos unilaterally and secretly increased the tariff despite its postponement by NERC.”

Uchegbu who is a member, Board of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in Rivers added, “Since the so-called privatisation of the country’s power sector, the DisCos, especially PHED has failed to deliver equitable services to consumers.

On his part, another resident and a public analyst, Jackson Armstrong, said: “I laughed when I heard about the waiver because I know it’s not possible, you don’t expect anything good to come out of an organisation that likes exploiting people.

“Even before now, the tariffs we pay don’t justify the electricity supply, the DisCo don’t have the moral fibre to do such thing because the system is rotten, if such a thing is done in this country, it will be a miracle because the government and the system we found ourselves don’t pay attention to anything that affects the poor masses.”

He described crazy billing, despite the NERC’s order as wickedness and lack of morality.

Reacting to the suggestion of two months electricity waiver, the Manager, Corporate Communications of PHED, Mr. John Onyi, said the firm never promised two-months free electricity supply to cushion the effects of the COVID-19.

Onyi explained that the proposed electricity waiver was a mere suggestion by the leadership of the National Assembly and that the firm welcomed the idea, noting that there was no signed document or concrete agreement to that regard.

According to the PHED spokesman, as there is no concrete agreement and directive from government and the relevant agencies on the matter, the company would continue to operate as usual until discussions on the proposals are concluded and directives given.

Onyi said: “PHED supports the idea of free electricity to consumers in line with the suggestion by the leadership of the National Assembly, however, customers should note that the proposal is still under deliberation by all stakeholders.

“As a responsible organisation, we will not hesitate to comply with such directive if served according.”

He however, urged customers to pay their bills pending the final decision of government and relevant stakeholders on the matter.