Expensive darkness: Outrageous electricity bills leave consumers groaning with pains

Eric Dumo

Mr. Damola Oyesiku watched keenly as the young technician battled frantically to fix his generator last Saturday morning at a corner of the compound he lives with his wife and three children in the Oshodi area of Lagos. A 48-year-old civil servant, he has grown tired of the poor electricity supply to his neighbourhood and the outrageous bills they are forced to pay at the end of each month in recent times. Rising from the N4, 000 the building housing three apartments used to pay in the past to around N20, 000 for far less electricity supply, Oyesiku and his neighbours have had enough of what they call “complete rip off” by the Eko Distribution Company under whose jurisdiction they reside.

“I don’t want to have anything to do with their light (electricity supply) again,” he said angrily while pouring out his frustration just before a protest was to take place in the area. “Go around this entire neighbourhood, you’ll see that everybody is tired of this problem. How many hours do they give us power supply in a month that they’ll bring such crazy bill for us to pay? Are we running a bakery in this compound that they should bring N20, 000 for us in just one month? This is absolute madness. Every one of us has resorted to using generator and abandon their light for them. It is very annoying,” the embittered man added.

Two houses away from where the 48-year-old lives on Akinpelu Street around the Bolade area of Oshodi was another generator repairer seen during our correspondent’s visit to the community. Fully concentrated on bringing the machine back to life, the owner, a 37-year-old hairdresser, Funmi Adebayo, watched closely as the technician went on with his work. Opening only one of the two doors to her shop, there is no sign of life around the place.

“This is the first time in five days that I am opening my shop,” the woman said after seeing the curiosity on the face of our correspondent. “We have not had power supply for some time here yet they brought a crazy amount for us to pay as bill. How much do the three shops in my line make that they want us to pay N25, 000 for one month’s electricity bill? If we enjoy constant power supply here, maybe our complaint would have been less but we are suffering. We have been paying for what we don’t use, we won’t do it again,” she stated as she stood to tidy a few things before joining a protest that was to take place that morning in front of a government-owned primary school in the area by aggrieved residents.

This type of anger is not peculiar to this Lagos suburb; in other parts of the city, the story is the same. Angry residents are spoiling for war in the face of dwindling electricity supply and a drastic rise in monthly bills. Popularly known as ‘crazy billing’ by most Nigerians, the development is leaving both the young and old deeply worried.

In the Ojodu area of the city for example, a handful of residents our correspondent interacted with said that they have lost count of the percentage their monthly electricity bill has risen to from what it used to be in the past. According to them, while what they get as bill has continued to be on the increase, supply from Ikeja Electric, under whose area of operation they fall under, has dropped significantly in recent times.

“What we are supplied and the bill we are given at the end of the month don’t correspond,” a landlord, Sumonu Lawal, a 65-year-old man, said during a chat with Saturday PUNCH. “My entire building used to get between N3, 500 and N4, 000 as electricity bill every month but now, it is usually between N18, 000 and N20, 000 for that same period of time. What is the meaning of that? Is there now a factory here?

“For more than one year, I have been struggling to get prepaid meter from them but they keep tossing us back and forth. They prefer to operate this system because it allows them to rip us off. We are tired of it, we won’t take it anymore,” the elderly man added bitterly.

In the Ikosi area of Lagos, affected residents could be seen gathering their electricity bills in a huge sack during a recent visit by our correspondent to the community. Also enraged by the drastic rise in monthly bills in recent times amidst poor supply to the area, the people appear bent on taking their frustration out on officials of the distribution company under which they fall under.

“All these bills we are gathering, we will take them to Ikeja to dump at the office of the electricity company because we don’t need them,” Kayode Busari, a resident of Taike Street, told Saturday PUNCH. “We have asked for prepaid meters but instead of installing that for us, they bombard us with crazy bills. They want us to pay for want we don’t use, that won’t work again,” he added.

For Mrs. Felicia Opurum, a fashion designer, who has long lost faith in public power supply in the area, her generator is handy whenever the need for electricity arises. While tying her decision to the “unacceptably high” monthly charge brought to them in recent times, she told our correspondent that they have been paying for what they never consume.

“I really wish the government can tackle this matter once and for all. What we are given as bill is far higher than what we are supplied and this is not fair by any standard.

“We are Nigerians; we shouldn’t be made to suffer unnecessarily in our own country. I can count how many times we have power supply this year. Even when it comes, it doesn’t stay for long. If we had prepaid meters, we wouldn’t be complaining like this because we will know that it is what we use that we will pay for. Something has to be urgently done to address this problem,” she said.

Head, Corporate Communications, Ikeja Electric, Mr. Felix Ofulue, while explaining ongoing efforts at addressing issues of metering, said that claims of the company or its officials ripping off customers through estimated billing were untrue.

“There is no proof of such claims,” he said. “They should show proof that we have meters somewhere and we are not giving them out. Estimated billing is not peculiar to us. It happens across the whole discos in Nigeria. There is a methodology we use that was sanctioned by the regulators.

“We have even gone a step further by installing measurement devices on our transformer. We know how much energy comes into your area and we now apply the parameters as defined by the regulators.”

Disturbing as it is, the situation is not limited to Lagos. In other parts of the country, electricity users are groaning in pain as distribution companies force them to pay for supply they barely get.

For example, customers of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company in Ondo State have alleged that the firm has continued to make it difficult for them to secure prepaid meters, forcing estimated billing down their throats, instead. Even after lodging several complaints at the business offices of the BEDC in the city, nothing, residents claim, has changed.

“They have been giving my house outrageous bills every month and I have gone to their office in Akure to complain but they keep promising to do something about it but nothing had been done.

“I was asked to apply for a prepaid meter with the hope that that will solve the problem but up till now, nothing has changed.

“It was later somebody in their office told me in confidence that I can’t get the meter, that those that could get the meters were those that were owing the company up to 2016 and were ready to pay up.

“He advised me if I did not belong to that category, I should not worry myself again that the meter is very scarce to get,” one resident in the capital, Akure, Mr. Ayo Ajao, said.

Another customer, Mr. James Sadare, who runs a restaurant in Akure, said he had applied for a prepaid meter but he had not been supplied.

He added that he had gone to the office of the BEDC in the city several times but the meters were not available and yet the company kept bringing outrageous bills to his shop on monthly basis.

“Government needs to look into this matter, the BEDC is cheating us, we have our money to get the prepaid meters but they are not available and I wonder why the meters are scarce. Something has to be done; the company is ripping us off. We don’t know what to do.

“Before, they used to give me N4, 000 monthly but all of a sudden, they brought N10, 000 and when I went there to complain, somebody told me to go and pay any amount I have. I think this is unfair to customers,” he said.

Manager, Igbara Oke Business Unit of BEDC, Mrs. Iyabo Adefemi, when contacted, said she was not in the position to speak on the issue before referring our correspondent to the Public Relations Officer of the company in Akure, Mr. Kayode Brown.

However, efforts to reach him were unsuccessful as his telephone line failed to connect when calls were put through to it.

In Edo State, residents without prepaid meters have had their fair share of exorbitant bills from the Benin Electricity Distribution Company and have not failed to air their grievances during a meeting organised by different stakeholders.

A customer in the Sapele Road axis of Benin, the capital, Okechukwu Sunday, told Saturday PUNCH that he had been given a bill eight times higher than the N2, 000 he used to pay in the past.

Sunday, who described his recent bill of N16, 000 as outrageous, lamented that the BEDC had yet to provide a prepaid meter more than one year after he made the request.

“I believe that the BEDC does not know what it is doing because my apartment was empty before I moved in. But the bill I have with me covers the period when the apartment was still under lock and key. How did it (Disco) arrive at that amount?

“My landlord had applied for a prepaid meter over a year ago but he has not been able to get one. The meter is important because it will address the exorbitant bills I get every month. I will only pay for what I use,” he said.

But reacting, the BEDC said that while Discos across the country were faced with a huge shortfall of prepaid meters, it had provided a mechanism to hear and address complaints from its consumers over high billing.

“When people have issues bordering on estimated billing, we ask them to walk into our customer complaints unit, either at the business unit level or at the head office. Once they get there, the complaint will be registered.

“Thereafter, our officers will call the customers, based on the information supplied, to book an appointment to do a load assessment to enable us determine whether the customers was over-billed, under-billed or rightly billed.

“The power availability period is a factor in determining the bill. If whatever we get (from the load assessment) is higher or lower than the bill given, the customer will be given an adjustment in the next billing cycle.

“Pending when such a complaint will be resolved, we and the regulator request such a customer to pay the last undisputed bill,” company’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Tayo Adekunle, said.

Onyekachi Eze, a Port Harcourt, Rivers State-based customer, while lamenting the situation, said that his electricity bill rose from N1, 200 a month to N7, 600 without an improved power supply and any sort of explanation from any quarters.

According to him, efforts to get explanation from officials of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company and to have the situation reversed have since failed.

He however, said he was going to continue paying the N1, 200 and would not allow anybody to rip him off.

“Why should I pay N7, 600 as electricity bill for a single month when I only occupy two rooms? I can never fall for that. If they like, let them not rectify it. At least, I have complained several times to PHEDC and I am still waiting for them to do something,” Eze said angrily.

Another resident of the city, who lives around the Iwofe area in Obio/Akpor, Mr. Stanley Obi, said that he and others in the neighbourhood are paying for what they don’t consume. Describing it as injustice, he called on the PHEDC to correct the situation.

“For about two weeks, there was no light, but it did not reflect in the bills that just came in; this shows that we are paying more than we get and that is not justice,” he said.

Reacting to the complaints, spokesperson for PHEDC, Mr. John Onyi, told Saturday PUNCH that they were addressing most of the issues raised by consumers.

“We are having some challenges in few area and we are working towards rectifying any technical fault affecting the normal supply of electricity. We know there is always this issue about bills. However, we always have a reconciliation team that has been addressing some of these issues.

“People are not conversant with the tariff structure. So, once the tariff is applied, it looks as if the bill is on the high side. We will not ignore any complaint, we will always address them,” he maintained.

Carved out of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria in November 2013, the existing 11 power distribution companies today have not had easy meeting up with customers’ expectations. Even though data from Presidential Taskforce on Power showed that an estimated six million registered electricity consumers are in Nigeria, half of them are without meters, contending with estimated billing of all kinds, a development experts have continued to condemn.

“The current billing methodology prescribes an avenue for overestimated billing,” Founder of Power Up Nigeria, an electricity consumer rights advocacy organisation, Mr.  Adetayo Adegbemile, said. “The discos have noticed loopholes in the system and have capitalised on it. They call it community billing which implies that they measure all the power they supply to an area. That alone is fraudulent.

“One, there is nowhere in the Electric Power Sector Reform Act that says a community can be billed from a transformer,” he added.

  • Additional report by Chukwudi Akasike. Alexander Okere and Peter Dada

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