‘Give Us Light’

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John Shiklam writes on how communities in Kaduna are spending millions of naira to maintain electricity installations without any compensation or improved services from the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company

When the former Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was unbounded and privatised, electricity consumers were hopeful of improved and efficient services from private owners.

However, the story seems to be the same as there seem to be no departure from the inefficient, corrupt and fraudulent activities of the defunct PHCN.

In Kaduna, what has become a source of serious worry among electricity consumers in the northern city, apart from the epileptical electricity supply, lack of prepaid metres and crazy bills, is the fact that they also have to bear the huge cost of repairing or replacing electricity installations and other accessories like transformers, burnt armored cables, feeder units, panels, fuses and many others.

Although the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC) maintained that it is its responsibility to ensure the repairs or replacement of electricity installations, THISDAY findings revealed that the company, in a deliberate effort to compel electricity consumers to bear the cost of addressing faults, will ask them to wait or contribute money to make the repairs.

It was gathered that any community that chooses to wait for the company stays without electricity supply for eternity. It was also learnt that because of the importance of electricity in the lives of people and how desperate they need it for their businesses, the electricity company, especially its staff always capitalised on this to compel people to bear the cost of the repairs as well as extort them.

As a result, many communities across the state contribute money to either buy a new transformer or repair a faulty one.

For instance in Kigo New Extension, residents of the area had to spend over N200,000 to repair their faulty transformer after they were given an option of waiting or repairing it by themselves.

Chief Donatus Eze, a community leader in the area told THISDAY in an interview that the when the transformer in his area became faulty sometimes in March 2016, the community reported the matter to the electricity company, but was told that there was no transformer on the ground and should be patient pending when there is transformer.

“We went to the Head office of the Kaduna Electricity Company to complain. They told us that they will look into it. Two days after, they came and confirmed that the transformer was bad.

“They said they don’t have transformer on the ground to give us. They said we should be patient until when they get transformer. We asked them how long it will take them to get the transformer for us. They told us that they don’t know when they will get it.

“We asked them whether they can repair the one that is spoilt. They told us that they can repair it but that they don’t have the materials to repair it except if we can take it upon ourselves.
“So each member of our community contributed N4000 and we spent over N200,000 to repair the transformer. We gave the money to the staff of the electricity company. They even charged us for the company’s crane that carried the transformer for the repairs. They collected about N170, 000 for the repairs and about N50, 000 for their crane that carried it,” Eze said.

According to him, less than one week after electricity was restored, the marketer covering the area came and to say that people were not paying their bill.

We told him that everybody in our community has a prepaid metre and it was not possible for anyone using electricity not to pay for it.

“He made a call and said he was ordered from above to disconnect us. So he disconnected us and for hours we were without electricity.

“We asked him to give us the phone number of his boss and we spoke to the man, I don’t know who the boss was. After several hours, they reconnected us around 10pm,” Eze said.

The community leader wondered why the electricity company which is now a private company will shift its responsibilities to customers, saying that the company should find a way of compensating customers for the maintenance of their equipment.

“We pay our bills promptly. Why should we be the ones to be repairing their equipment for them? This is a private business, if we are spending money to repair or replace their facilities, they should find a way of compensating us.
“Their argument is that if we cannot repair it, we should be patient until when they have the equipment. But the truth is that even if they have the equipment, they will still not want to spend their money because the staff and the company are capitalising on the fact that we are desperate to have electricity, so anything they tell us, we will do it,” Eze stated further.

In Sabon Tasha GRA, the community was solely responsible for connecting the area with electricity some years ago and has been bearing the brunt of repairs and replacement of electricity facilities ever since.
According to Mr. Appolos Fatherson, a resident of the area over N4 million was spent by the community to be connected to electricity during the PHCN era.

He noted that although the company has been privatised, he maintained that nothing has changed in terms of service delivery, efficiency and transparency in transaction.
According to him, the staff of the electricity company still exhibits the same fraudulent and corrupt attitude that the PHCN was known for.

“When the transformer got spoilt, we had to contribute money to buy 24 yards of armored cable, fuses, panel box and other materials. After that we were asked to write that we are donating these materials to the electricity company. Each house in the community contributed N5000 for the repair of the transformer.

He narrated further that when the armored cable located near the Sabon Tasha Police Station was vandalised, “we reported to the electricity company, but they told us that they don’t have the cable except if the community will contribute money and buy.”

According to him, “Each house again contributed N5000 and after it was bought, they asked the community to write an undertaking that we are donating the cable to them. The community wrote the undertaking and submitted the material to them.

“Now our transformer is faulty and we have been without electricity for about two weeks now (as at May 7) and they have not done anything. As usual, they are waiting for the community to initiate another contribution to either repair or buy another transformer. They told us that they don’t have any transformer on ground.

“They told us that we will stay without electricity if we don’t contribute money and get a transformer. Each time there is any fault, we will have to contribute money and purchase whatever that got spoilt and still pay their staff for fixing it.”

Fatherson lamented that “This has been the practice right from the era of National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), PHNC and now Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company.”

According to him, “As a private company, we thought the situation will improve, but it is the same story if not worst now. The fact of the matter is that the company is feeding fat on consumers in despite poor services. This type of privatisation will not help us.

“We need a situation that will bring about competition just like it is in the telecommunication industry so that people can have the choice of switching over if a particular company is not serving them well.”

Also the Youths Leader of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kaduna State, Mr. Danjuma Sarki who resides in Angwan Sunday area of the city said, “each time our transformer or any other thing is spoilt, we will contribute money to repair it”.

He said the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company has not live up to expectations of the people as nothing has changed.

“Many communities still contribute money to buy transformers; many communities still pay for repairs of the transformers, cables and other accessories and still pay the staff of the company for the repairs. Any community that does not bear the cost of all these is left in darkness. This is very unfortunate,” he said.

In the Nuhu Aliyu area of Barnawa GRA, residents of the area had to stay without electricity for six months for failing to contribute money to replace their transformer.

According to one of the residents of the area, Mr. Emma Ado, the transformer was vandalised sometimes in December last 2015 and the community reported to the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company.

“It took them time to come and look at the transformer. When they came, they were not categorical in telling us what to do. At one point they were telling us that we don’t need to pay to replace it, at another point somebody was saying we had to pay to replace it, there was nothing definite from them and we were confused about what they want.
“We actually wanted to contribute money to replace it, but we didn’t get the cooperation of residents who felt that it is not their responsibility to replace transformer belonging to the electricity company and still pay for electricity bill.

“So people resorted to using their generators. We stayed for six months without electricity before they eventually brought a refurbished transformer that could not service the whole area,” he explained.

Condemning the attitude of the electricity company, a resident of the area who didn’t want his name in print, alleged that there is massive extortion of electricity consumers by the company.

According to him, there is a cartel within the staff and some management staff of the company who are exploiting the desperate quest for power supply by Nigerians to enrich themselves by compelling them into repairing electrically installation.

“In fact, sometimes they have the transformers and some of the equipment in their store, but they will collect hundreds of thousands of naira from people and still go to the store and supply them and share money among themselves,” he alleged.

He urged the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to intervene in the dubious activities of electricity distribution companies and make them live up to their responsibilities.

“I have never seen a place where a business is guaranteed, whether they give you light or not, they are guaranteed a certain percent of payment, so they have incentive to improve services. The so called privatisation of the power sector has not improved anything,” he added.

From Badarwa, Nasarawa to Angwan Sarki area, to Mando and several other suburbs in Kaduna metropolis, the story is the same as communities contribute money to repair or replace electricity installations without any compensation from the distribution company.

In some instances, politicians have had to purchase and donate transformers to some of the communities.
However while reacting to the allegations, Head, Corporate Communication, Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, Abdulazeez Abdullahi, admitted it is the responsibility of the company to repair and replace its installations, saying that electricity consumers don’t always have the patience to wait for the repairs to be made.

According to him, because of the importance of power in the socio economic lives of the people, they are always in a hurry and they feel the fatest way of resolving the problem is to contribute money and do it.

He said the company does not even encourage communities to repair its installations, pointing out that the company cannot compensate anyone for spending money on its installations, because, in the first place it did not ask anyone to do so.

“It is our responsibility to repair our installations and all our electrical equipment but what happen usually is because you know how important power is in the lives of people, they don’t have the patience to wait for us to do it. So they feel that the quickest way for them is to contribute money and resolve the problem.

“Of course because we don’t have these equipments in store, for us to get them, it takes a little bit of time. And because people are impatient, they will contribute money and fix it. But ideally, it is our responsibility to fix whatever problem there is. It is not the responsibility of communities to contribute money. We don’t even encourage it officially,” he said.

On allegations of corrupt practices among the staff of the company, Abdullahi said he cannot vouch for the character of all the staff of the company.

“We have so many people out there, if this person is good, you can’t vouch for the other person. If any of our staff tells the people in the community contribute money to fix anything, chances are that we may not know and like I said, because people are desperate to get power restored as soon as possible, they will go to any length.

“That is why people do things that are illegal so that they can have power. But we keep urging people to come and report whatever faults to us, so that we on our part will do what we can to resolve such problems,” he said.
According to him, some communities have been waiting for a long time to get things sorted out and called members of the public to report any unacceptable behaviour of staff to the office.

“If any of our staff ask you to do what you feel is not right, you have the right to come to the head office and complain. He has superiors. Some of our workers will go and collect money and they don’t return it, they collect payments and put it in their pockets. There are bad eggs. But if we hear of these cases, we take action against it. We investigate and punish those found guilty.

According to him, these kinds of complaints are very common among the Distribution Companies (DISCOS)
“Anywhere you go, it is like that. Any DISCO you go, it is the same attitude. It is unfortunate. This vandalism that we are talking about, I think communities need to do more to in order to guard the installations,” he said.

He explained further that it is not possible to address the needs of all communities neither is it possible to have a large stock of equipment to respond promptly to complaints.

“We can’t have enough because of the number of the communities. Look at how scattered the communities are! You wouldn’t know where a problem will happen tomorrow. You can’t say you will buy 300 transformers and keep for faults. You can have may be 50 or a reasonable number and keep.

“Remember we are not just dealing with Kaduna alone, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Sokoto are all there. That is part of the problem, I am sure if you have been following happenings in the industry, there is a cash crunch hitting the industry.

“It is affecting the purchase of metres. The cost of getting metre is huge, yet electricity consumers don’t want to pay. People are used to not paying their electricity bills. Somebody that has not been paying his bill for many years, there is no guarantee that he will pay even if you give him metre. It is better to have the metre but people don’t appreciate what we go through to get the metres,” he said.