With power generation and transmission now averaging about 4,500 megawatt, consumers are reporting improved supplies to households and businesses. This new capacity owes largely to improved gas supply to power plants which have in the past one year generated far below 50 percent capacity.
But with the coming of the new government of President Muhammadu Buhari firm action seems to have been taken to safe guard the pipelines carrying gas to power plants.
So with stability now in the generation and transmission, attention needs to shift to distribution, where the Electricity Distribution Companies (Discos) hold sway. The eleven companies have since taken over in November 2013 showed little zeal in developing their networks and most importantly providing meters to consumers.
While the Discos see estimated billing system as the best way to generate revenue simply because they bill consumers for electricity not supplied, the recent improvement in supply, makes it imperative for meters to be provided.
Presently, according to the Ministry of Power, the metering gap is estimated to be around 2.8million, a figure which is daily increasing as new buildings and businesses are connected to the network.
Past attempts at tackling metering challenge
The most recent attempt to tackle poor metering in the Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) came through the regulator, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) which declared that Discos would no longer be allowed to collect revenue from unmetered consumers by October next year.
The commission said the move was to compel the Discos which have showed unwillingness to provide meters to consumers to do so. NERC had two weeks earlier set a limit on the amount of revenues the companies could generate from unmetered customers.
NERC’s Chairman, Dr. Sam Amadi said the discos would be given the first four months to provide meters to consumers under the Credit Advance Program for Metering Implementation (CAPMI), noting that the commission decided to employ these means in pushing the Discos to engage in widespread metering of electricity consumers in their networks.
According to him, “There are three-prong approaches to this; one is that there is a moratorium between now and the next four months for the capping of estimated revenue to start. Two is that the capping means that within that period of four months, you must have metered all your Credit Advance Program for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) customers and as many of them as you can.”
“After four months, you have extra an 12 months within which to meter all customers who are in your network. After the 12 months and four months which is 16 months, every unmetered customer will no longer pay electricity bills until they are metered”.
Amadi explained that the proposal “is to be sent to the Discos for their final comments and opinions. Don’t forget we had a first public hearing on this and we will still call a last consultation after we send to the Discos. We have taken an extra safeguard to have two public consultations on this because we consider it an important regulation that customers and operators will have a lot to think about”, he stated.
CAPMI was introduced by NERC when the defunct PHCN was still in charge of the Discos. Following the corrupt and inept manner the metering provision system was managed by the state owned companies, CAPMI was supposed to make it easier for consumers to get meters. But it failed to address the situation.
Acknowledging the challenge faced by consumers, the last government of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 provided N50billion to bulk purchase meters for consumers.
The Federal Government admitted that it was aware that Nigerians were unhappy over having to pay for electricity without having power supplied to them, assuring that it was working hard to eliminate estimated billing from the sector.
Permanent Secretary Ministry of Power, Godknows Igali stated then at the graduation of trainees from the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN) in Abuja that government was making effort to address the situation.
According to him, “Nigerians are not happy because power supply is not enough whereas they have to pay for electricity. Why is the supply not enough? It is because some Nigerians go to destroy our pipelines. They don’t allow gas to get to our power plants. We were doing 4,500mw but now we are doing about 2,000mw. But we are going to solve that problem. The nation will go over it. It is a phase and we will all go over it.
“I say this because the amount of gas we have now can give us more than 6,000mw. If we have 6,000mw, most parts of Nigeria can have power for at least 16 hours. But then people (vandals) will not allow that to happen. Even when the light is not there, what people are meant to pay for is not commensurate to what they consume. And that brings a lot of anger among consumers who complain that they don’t get enough electricity but are billed very high.
“This is as a result of the estimated billing system. For what they (power distribution companies) do is that they guess, based on the size of a house and approximate and charge you. So the country is going to be embarking on a robust metering scheme. The Federal Government is involved in this and it is working with private companies in the sector. And that’s where you (trainees) come in, to ensure that the meters are properly installed and consumers are billed correctly”, he added.
Consumers’ reaction to lack of meters
First, consumers through the Electricity Consumers Association of Nigeria (ECAN) threatened class action against the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) over the company’s plan to raise electricity tariff in its area of operation.
ECAN in a letter dated 17 June 2015 and signed by its National President, Chijioke James objected to the move, and accused the AEDC of failing to fulfill its responsibility to consumers of providing meters to consumers despite revenues generated from them.
ECAN stated that AEDC refusal to discharge its responsibility makes the planned tariff hike inequitable and unjust. It said it had already complied particulars of infractions by Abuja Disco awaiting its refusal to stay action with regard to its intention to review upwards the electricity tariff `in the region.
ECAN pointed out that the distribution company has failed to provide meters for customers with over 50 per cent of the consumers in the area yet to be metered hence the company has continued to rely on estimated billing system which customers have kicked against.
Also, the National Coordinator Electricity Consumer Enlightenment Initiative; Ganiyu Makanjuola has insisted that provision of meters would work better for consumers than any other policy being put in place by NERC or the operators.
Makanjuola noted that “what the consumer wants from anybody is meter, by the time you meter us, we now tailor our consumption to our pockets. All the issue of switching off of lights will not come and that will really make Nigerians to really stand that electricity is expensive. You will not see someone going to buy a bulb of 500 watts and leave it on.
“Metering is very key and we have been telling them that they should first of all give us meter, the issue of tariff will not be argued because if I want to use a tariff of N5 I know how to do it. Those who use prepaid meters now know how to switch off their electricity appliances if they are not around and that is the key thing,” he stressed.