From these robbers called discos

Regular electricity supply still an mirage

Chris Ubah

In the beginning it was called Nigeria Electricity Supply Company (NESCO) and became Electric Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) five decades later. After about twenty years, precisely in 1972, it was renamed National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), which Nigerians interpreted as Never Expect Power Always because of its lack-lustre performance.

As if  the potency of this electrical behemoth lied  change of name, in 2005, which is after about thirty years, it  was re-christened  Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN)  ostensibly, ‘to set the machinery in motion for the privatisation of the electric power sector with a view to increasing market competition and consequent efficiency’.  And this has happened.

Electricity distribution is now in the hand of the private sector following the unbundled. The successor companies are already operational and they include – Eko Distribution Company, Enugu Distribution Company and the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited among others which have already been sold to the new owners.

These are known as DISCOs. The question now is: has there been any improvement in power supply in the country?  The answer is no. This cheap utility has been eluding Nigerians.

Aside from the billions of the naira incurred in each of these series of name change, which was christened reform or transformation, by the authorities, Nigerians expected significant changes but regrettably, this was not to be as power supply gets progressively worse in the country from each of the so-called reforms.

The DISCOs now fully in charge of electricity distribution have become a thorn in the flesh of consumers of the utility. Ordinarily, Nigerians expected these DISCOs, which are private sector organisations, to transcend the era of public ownership of the power sector, which was characterised outages and inefficiency and corruption, they are making things worse than their predecessors.

The latest addition to the unending exploitation of electricity consumers is to deny them access to the metres. They deliberately refused to meter households in order to continue with the estimated billing system, from where they rake in huge funds for services not rendered.

Even those homes that are metred are spare. What obtains now is that somebody seats in his or her and cook bills for service not rendered. Is this what reform is all about? To collect money for service that is never rendered.  This is evil! Now the sight of DISCO officials smacks of hostility because of their devilish activities.

The history of electricity in Nigeria dates back to 1896, 15 years after the launch of commercial electric power activities in the United Kingdom. The first generation plant then was constructed by the Public Works Department (PWD), a municipal authority.

The Nigeria Electricity Supply Company (NESCO) formally commenced operations as an electric utility company in 1929 with the construction of a hydroelectric power station at Kurra near Jos, in Plateau State. Other municipal authorities followed suit to build and maintain power plants.

NEPA was succeeded by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, which emerged following the Electric Power Sector Reform Act in 2005. The shares of this holding company were then held by the Ministry of Finance and the Bureau of Public Enterprises.

This Act thus set the machinery in motion for the privatisation of the electric power sector with a view to increasing market competition and consequent efficiency.

With the current transformation of the hitherto government monopolised electricity sector into a very competitive one with non-government participants like in other developed nations, Nigerians believe that the epileptic state of power supply in the country would significantly improve for the better. But this is not to be. On the contrary, what consumers get every month are heaps of bills for services that were never rendered.

Before the emergence of the DISCOs, whether there was power supply or not for weeks, or one’s electrical appliances were switched off for a whole month, corrupt NEPA/PHCN workers would slam the same bill or even a higher one on the consumer, based on an estimation that suits their fancy.

Bills for consumers who have functional metres are based on estimated billing system. Now the outrageous bills regime has continued by the DISCOs despite unbundling PHCN.

Estimated billing system or crazy bills, as consumer would love to call it, is a regime of billing where the electricity provider does not need to read your meter to ascertain what a customer consumes before billing him.

The situation now in Nigeria, is that at the mention of electricity supply to homes and factories in Nigeria, it had become a nightmare many Nigerians would not want to discuss. Non availability and supply to consumers has forced many individuals and organisations to invest huge sums of money in the generation of alternative supply to homes and drive machines.

According to news reports, many young entrepreneurs and artisans have been thrown out of business due to non-availability of electricity supply in the country that crippled their trade.

Also in the market, many consumers whose business interest and survival -like hairdressers, iron benders, frozen foods dealers, and sundry traders- rest on electricity, have closed shop one after the other.

The academic environment too is not spared as school owners, compelled by the need to keep the school running, must provide electricity and have their tuition fee reviewed upwards in order to make up for the huge expenses of maintaining an alternative source of electricity. Unfortunately, in spite of this, electricity bills from DISCOs swam their homes like wild bees.

The truth is that millions of electricity consumers in the country are suffering in silence nationwide because of the crazy bills being forced down their throats without any justification. The case is made worse when such bills are slammed on consumers even when there is no electricity supply for months.

The bills keep coming regularly every month for services not enjoyed. And when you do not pay up, they disconnect your cable and you must pay reconnection fee before electricity supply could be restored.

How can this endemic proclivity for cheating the citizens be explained or justified? The difference however, is that while government may not insist on recouping every kobo it put in to provide the service, the Nigerian  private operators would not only insist on recouping but would ensure that it makes profit from its investment even if  it means robbing  consumers of  their hard-earned incomes.

In other parts of the world, a prepayment meter allows you to pay as you go for energy. You pay using a token, key or smart card which you charge up at local stores. If you do not recharge your token, key or card, you will run out of energy.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in Nigeria. Apart from deliberate effort to make prepaid-meters, those who are lucky to get it, have their cards padded with spurious charges that have no bearing on the service. These charges are designed by evil-minded officials of electricity distribution organisations to achieve their devilish goals of extorting and exploiting consumers.

The Federal Government must intervene in this matter to save electricity consumers. Between 1999 and 2015, ₦2.7 trillion has been spent on power in the country, but nothing to show for this in terms of stable electricity.

If the Federal Government closes its eyes to this unmitigated robbery of consumers by these robbers called DISCOs, it means it is telling us To Your Tents O Israel.

The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) should investigate this barefaced fraud and save consumers from the wicked antics of DISCOS’ workers. Electricity consumers should also form a strong pressure group to fight these DISCOs sharks preying on their hard-earned income. Fortunately, these DISCOs are not government monopolies.

  • Chris Uba is News Editor of The Union. 

First published in The UNION


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