After years of trudging helplessly over the inhumane and irresponsible exploitation deployed through estimated billings by electricity providers under the supervision of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), there appears to be relief in the offing following the aggressive step being taken by the Federal Government and electricity distribution companies (Dis- Cos) to roll out pre-paid meters.
Prior to the current face-saving rush by the DisCos, the Federal Government had directed that there should be an end to estimated billing and arbitrary charges imposed on Nigerians, when, in fact, electricity supply has remained as elusive as ever. Although it is not the first time such a directive would be issued, the latest one appears to carry more weight judging from the DisCos recently falling over themselves to put an end to the sheer embarrassment.
Even if they feel they have finally reached the bus stop with the gale of excitement in their faces last week, it is actually not anything to revel over considering how much they have disappointed Nigerians.
Under the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP), which commenced on October 30, the free meter distribution is in fulfilment of Federal Government’s promise to ensure mass metering in the country and in the process put an end to the problems of estimated billing in the electricity sector. As it is, the NMMP is to roll out six million meters for all connections points on grid without meters over the next 18 to 24 months, estimating to impact 30 million consumers nationwide.
Following the disappointment recorded in the sector so far from the 11 distribution companies, the Central Bank of Nigeria (VBN) at some point approved guidelines for funding the mass metering programme, which entailed that all meters under the scheme would be locally sourced, creating thousands of manufacturing jobs through lead manufacturers such as MOMAS, MOJEC and others.
The launch of the NMMP would be part of a continuous effort where all DisCos go from location to location across the country with their respective Meter Asset Providers to install meters for all Nigerians.
As fulfilling as the process might appears, the development has also put a question mark on the process of privatisation if the government still has to intervene as far as compelling investors to do what they were supposed to do in a sector that is assumed to have been fully privatised. It also becomes more appalling that it is the Federal Government that would have to direct the investors to increase electricity supply to the citizens. It signifies nothing, but a proof that those who purportedly put their monies into the business were never prepared for it.
To say the least, Nigerians have, for years, been subjected to the most unthinkable exploitation as far as electricity supply is concerned. Even before the privatisation of the sector, government officials in charge of electricity under the defunct National Electric Power Authority, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and whatever the nomenclature was in the past took delight in exploitation by deliberately not making meters available. It is grossly unfortunate that the situation even became worse after privatisation.
Nigerians, who had expected the sector to transform almost immediately like what obtained in the telecommunications sector after the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited was privatised, have been reeling in disappointment, more so, as the sector regulator appeared to have been sedated by the DisCos. Most unfortunate had been the tariff increase trajectory even in the face of estimated billings.
To say Nigerians have been taken for a ride for too long remains an understatement as one marvels at the process with which the tariff is indiscriminately increased without meters for commensurate analysis.
The madness reared its head two months ago when Nigerians woke to more miseries as NERC made good its promise to hike electricity tariff. The 100 per cent tariff increase when electricity remains elusive amid estimated billings, though initially suspended after members of organised labour threatened nationwide industrial action, is to say the least inhumane. For the tariff to have increased from N30.23 for one kwh (kilowatt unit of energy per hour) to as much as N62.33 per kwh was a subtle decision that was well thought out to further assist the electricity distribution companies milk Nigerians before they eventually supply pre-paid meters to customers.
Coming under the guise of ‘Service Reflective Tariff’ to take its decision is most untenable as much as it is unreasonable. Electricity investors have been known to dish out bills that are not reflective of their output. Additionally, the fact that the DisCos were directed to commence implementation immediately speaks volume of government’s insensitivity considering the fact that certain businesses have just been allowed to operate in some locations. Even though the said categorisation is arranged in such a way that the hike won’t impact much on the poor, the fact remains that Nigeria is a country where service providers have taken advantage of the poor more than the rich.
Except pre-paid meters are urgently made available, as the distribution companies are out to do now, ordinary Nigerians would be highly victimised within this period for as long as estimated billing continues, no matter the rules on ground. While we commend the Federal Government for the steps taken so far in ensuring that more Nigerians are properly metered, we, however, advised that the DisCos should not foot drag the process as they are known to benefit more from estimated billing.