The Chief Executive Officer of Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission [FCCPC] Tunde Irukera has described as scandalous penchant by electricity distribution companies to disconnect consumers, saying this is tantamount to hostage taking and kidnapping.
He gave this charge during the four day programme in Lagos by the FCCPC in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation, to facilitate dialogue and proffer solutions to difficult consumer issues in the electricity sector.
Condemning the idea of disconnecting consumers from source of electricity while there is a pending dispute, he likened it to hostage taking and kidnapping. “Disconnecting when people are exercising their legitimate right to dispute the bill is not different from kidnapping, it is hostage taking because there is a process but the moment you decide to make their lives miserable unless they do as you dictate amounts to hostage.”
Regretting bitterly that complaint about electricity still tops the complaint list in the Commission, Irukera said that services in the electricity sector continues to define the reputation of the Commission poorly.
Apparently discomfited, Irukera noted that electricity is not just any other product but so vital, and “until everyone in that value chain understands and appreciates the importance, that is when we will make significant progress if not we will continue to have electricity as the greatest source of consumer complaints.”
“If the Discos can be more sensitive, more transparent in their dealings with consumers I suspect that the complaints we receive may then go down to half.”
Regretting the way most of the Disco staff treat electricity consumers, he said it should not be so. “The officials of the electricity Discos should not be arrogant, they should not carry on as if they are divinity because they are not. Their uniform and other apparatus does not confer divinity on them, they should be happy to listen and attend to electricity consumers because that is what they are paid to do.”
According to him, “Discos have gotten to a point where no one takes their bills seriously anymore, because they are considered outrageous. I think the pressure on metering will not be so bad if the estimated billing was more transparent and reasonable.”
Irukera, while charging the distribution companies to stop the arbitrary billing system, asserted that “connecting balance sheet to an opaque arbitrary metering system is the worst form of abuse, especially for an essential public utility.”
He also contended that group disconnection usually adopted by distribution companies because of the debts owed by some members of the affected groups unfortunately disregards and undermines the rights of other consumers in the groups who did not owe.
“For me, there’s something fundamentally, absolutely irreparable and inexcusably wrong with penalising people because of the conduct of others. It is just not excusable. Government should never do that to its people. But if government does it as a state actor, as inexcusable as it is, it might even be permissible. But one person who has absolutely no right and should never have the prerogative to do it is a private citizen to another private citizen. And that is what Discos do. They group-disconnect consumers. If there’s one responsible consumer who is being disconnected unjustly, what you are doing is that you are discouraging responsibility,” he added.
While commending FCCPC for the event, Shittu H. Shaibu, Deputy General Manager Consumer Affairs Division, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission [NERC], said that the interest of consumers was paramount to the existence of any business.
On metering, he disclosed that the Federal Government has released funds to the various distribution companies to cater for the 6million metering gap currently existing in the country while adding that estimation is not the ultimate but metering.
Several electricity consumers took turns to narrate their displeasure of the Discos officials’ delays in resolving their issues, disconnecting them arbitrary, giving them crazy billings and collaborating with their Community Development Associations [CDA] to extort them.
They also decried poor service, as well as being forced to fund the purchase of electrical installations like transformers by the Discos.
One of the cases that is quite noteworthy is a quite estate Phase 1, community development association, Igbelaara Ikorodu, which Community pressurised the Government of Ambode to provide them with a transformer. Though the transformer is there, members of the community do not have light.
According to the three members representing the community, Isiaka Hassan, Engineer Alilu Usman, and Sowole Mudasiu, the Ikeja Disco in connivance with their CDA is demanding they pay N3,900,000.00 for the installation of the transformer.
In a letter of complaint made available to The Nation, addressed to the FCCPC, signed by Jamiu N Yusuf, some of the members stated they have not had light since 15th November 2020.
Another case of note is that of Clement Akpene of Lekki Gardens Phase 3, who is alleging that the CDA in his estate in connivance with Eko Disco is selling electricity to members of his estate at a very exorbitant price. “While the Eko Disco approved N21.00 per kilowatt of electricity for members of the estate, the CDA bills each household N80.00 per kilowatt of electricity and makes remittance to Eko Disco”.
According to the two residents of Lekki Gardens Phase 3, Mr. Akpene and Aisha Usman, this extortion has gone on for over four years in the estate and they brought it to the attention of EKO Disco that referred them back to the executives of their CDA.
While the Eko Disco Lady Commercial Manager declined explaining the situation to the Press, the Disco’s Lawyer, Ifeanyi Okoro said the DISCOS was working on the matter. He said that the difference of what the members of the estate were paying is for the maintenance of the Estate generator and purchase of diesel.
Reacting to that, the FCCPC CEO condemned the whole scheme, insisting there should not be middle men between consumers and DISCOS
Source: The Nation