Electricity: Tackling ‘Estimated Billing’ Fraud
Martha Seymour is unhappy. Her unhappiness stems from the refusal of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and its successor in the Lagos area, Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) to install pre-paid meter in one of her houses in Idimu area of Lagos, for which she paid N25,000 in 2012. Till date, the house does not have a meter. Her tenant recently connected the house to electricity with the assistance of a marketing officer, pending when the meter is installed.
However, IKEDC officials have turned the house to a Mecca of sorts. Regularly visiting, threatening to disconnect the building unless the tenant parts with some ‘settlement’. This has continued for some time, yet the company refuses to install the meter, which will ensure that only electricity consumed is paid for.
“How do you expect me to pay estimated bill for an apartment that hardly sees three hours of electricity?” a tenant who refused to be named queried. He said so long the power company has refused to meter the house; they will not pay a dime even though they have connected the house to the power grid without a meter.
“See, we have paid for pre-paid meter since 2012 and these people have refused to supply the meter till date. If we started a business with that money, by now, returns would have been huge,” he said, explaining that, “once they meter us, we will not have any need to owe as it is pay as you consume. After all, power supply is epileptic here, why should we pay estimated bill?”
Going by reports from across the country, the high expectation of Nigerian electricity consumers to start enjoying improved services and better power supply as a result of the privatisation of the power sector have not manifested. Not only is power disappointingly in short supply but the Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) and their marketers are allegedly charging the consumers outrageous bills that do not reflect the actual rate of consumption. From Lagos to Maiduguri, Sokoto to Calabar, Port Harcourt to Kano, Abuja to Jos and the rest of the country, the story is not different.
Residents Protest Estimated Billing
Recently in Lagos, residents of Amuwo-Kuje went on a peaceful protest march to the Agboju Area Office of the Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC). Their grouse was exorbitant electricity bills which they blamed on the marketers’ refusal to read their meters, estimated bills in excess of consumed power, and serving them upfront bills. They also demanded EEDC to provide them with pre-paid meters to ensure that they only pay for power they consume.
Residents of Ijesha-Tedo, Ikotun, and Aguda-Surulere also in Lagos, have in recent times protested over high tariffs despite the epileptic power supply.
Aside Lagos states, the situation is virtually the same across the country where residents have been protesting either epileptic power supply or outrageous bills by the distribution companies. For instance, residents of Aladja community in Udu Council of Delta State were recently thrown into darkness following protests over epileptic power supply and perceived outrageous bills.
Besides, residents of some parts of Ekpan community in Uvwie council also led a strong delegation to the office of Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) in the area to register their grievances.
Investigation revealed that in some instances where residents complained of the estimated billing, they would be advised by officials of the power company to pay the money irrespective of the amount being charged.
Last April, some residents of Uyo the capital of Akwa Ibom State, staged a protest over alleged “uncoordinated and fraudulent charges” meted out to them by the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company and demanded for the use of pre-paid meters.
In July, 2014, thousands of electricity consumers also protested over outrageous electricity bills charged by the same DISCO.
Electricity Meter Defined
An electricity meter, electric meter, or energy meter is a device that measures the amount of electric energy consumed by a residence, business, or an electrically powered device, according to Wikipedia. Electric utilities use electric meters installed at customer’s premises to measure electric energy delivered to their customers for billing purposes. They are typically calibrated in billing units, the most common one being the kilowatt hour [kWh]. They are usually read once each billing period.
Why DISCOS Are Against Pre-Paid Meters
It is alleged that the DISCOS are deliberately delaying the initiative to provide prepaid meters to their consumers so that they could continue making undue profit by charging them outrageous estimated bills.
Indeed, a staff of one of the distribution companies in Lagos disclosed that DISCOs will not allow effective distribution of the pre-paid meters because the estimated billing will help them quickly recoup their investments.