Electricity users in Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State now have the unique customers’ clout with which they demand for improved electricity services from their vendor – Enugu Disco. Chineme Okafor writes
Anecdotal studies have shown that a good number of Nigeria’s vast electricity consumers captured in the 11 electricity distribution zones which are serviced by 11 distribution companies (Discos) are absolutely unacquainted with the service privileges owed them by their respective vendor Discos.
Also, for those that may be aware and would want to fairly push through these rights, their abilities have overtime been restricted by the deficiency of an impartial conciliatory platform which could interfere and bring sanity to the service relationships between consumers and Discos.
Until recently when the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) opened a consumers’ complaint forum office in Abakaliki, the capital city of Ebonyi State, Mr. Wilson Enwerejiaku has had to live with the difficulties of putting up with the unfair service contract he has with the Enugu Disco which supplies power to his home.
Situated on a building which is on Ezekuna Crescent along the busy Nsugbe Street in the heart of Abakaliki, the multifaceted forum office was set up by NERC to enhance the confidence of electricity consumers like Enwerejiaku in demanding for fair handling of their service complaints by Enugu Disco. Similar platforms, THISDAY understands have been set up in other parts of the country.
Nevertheless, Enwerejiaku, a resident of Abakaliki turned up at the inauguration of that of the city, furnished with a folder which contained all acknowledged copies of the electricity bills he had paid to Enugu Disco over the years, as well as other related documents. His intention, he stated was to demand for integrity of service delivery.
He also told THISDAY that he came to put an end to the unfair treatment he was getting from Enugu Disco which he accused of being unfair to him and failing to uphold its own end of the service contract he entered with it.
“The issue is that for a very long time especially in this part of Abakaliki, we discovered that every end of the month, the NEPA staff or EEDC bring electricity bills where they didn’t supply electricity,” said Enwerejiaku.
He added that the electricity vendor had some times in the past calculated his monthly electricity consumption such that it was above his monthly house rent of N9000, saying that such anomaly had persisted with perpetual rebuff of consumers’ complaints by officials of Enugu Disco.
According to him, “In so many occasions, they billed me so high and at a point, it was above my monthly house rent. When I was living at Afikpo Road, I paid above my house rent in a month and when I complained they said it was what I consumed.
“They know the way they do their mathematics but then I arrived at nothing when I complained. I had to pay because I needed the light. I paid over N9000 and my house rent was N9000 as well as.”
Just like other consumers who were at the inauguration with various shades of complaints against the Disco’s poor consumer service delivery, Enwerejiaku said the practice had continued even though he has changed apartments.
“Currently where I live now, I didn’t see a glimpse of light in February but they still gave me a bill of N3500. But I refused to pay because I can’t pay for what I did not consume,” he added.
He relayed the uncanny experience he often encountered in the hands of the Disco officials, one that is quite relative across electricity consumers in Nigeria, saying: “Initially, when we get to the EEDC office to complain, the staff will snub you and will not even look at your face.”
He added: “We get frustrated with this and when they come to disconnect your supplies, you still go back to beg them to reconnect you.”
To him, the setting up a consumers’ forum office in Abakaliki could be a huge reprieve from the Disco’s alleged unhealthy acts.
“With the presence of this NERC forum, I have read through the guidelines and discovered that we have a better mechanism to lay our complaints now. We have a place to run to now when we have these kinds of experience.
“But above all, I want them to push the EEDC to bring the prepaid meter so that I can pay for whatever I consume and not the other way. I want to be responsible for my consumption, I want to know that if I don’t have light, it is because I have no units in my meter,” he said.
The acting head of NERC, Dr Anthony Akah however said when he opened the forum office, that it will handle all appeals on complaints lodged by customer like Enwerejiaku at the various customer care units of the Enugu Disco but which have received unacceptable treatments.
Akah explained that instances of untidy handling of service complaints lodged by electricity consumers by Enugu Disco would now be checked by the forum office which has its members from representatives of all the customer classes, industrial, commercial and residential, as well as professional bodies such as the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE); Consumer Protection Council (CPC); Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and indeed the Enugu Disco.
Fortunately, he added, the forum offices are localised across the 11 distribution networks in the country both in terms of constituent members and location.
Akah said it was the job of Enugu Disco to serve its customers satisfactorily and that occasions of poor service delivery with no reasonable explanations would be taken up by the commission through the forum office.
He added that the Disco also stands the risk of having its service profile downgraded based on the frequency of complaints against its service deliveries by its customers. According to him, the more frequent customers complain against a Disco, the more profound the Disco’s operational inadequacies are made, hence the tag of inefficiency on the Disco.
Akah also took the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) to task over rising complaints of estimated billing by it. He noted that the Disco’s metering gap was huge and unacceptable.
NERC, Akah said was closely monitoring EEDC to ensure that they cut down their metering gap and estimated bills to its consumers. He said about 50 per cent of that gap should be cut down within the shortest possible time.
Akah also said that available statistics with the NERC indicate that EEDC which has a customer base of 732,423, still has up to 70 per cent or 512 335 of them unmetered. He said the development was unacceptable for quality service delivery.
Similarly, he decried the fact that EEDC has not commenced its meter roll out plan as contained in the performance agreement it signed with the federal government when they took over the electricity distribution company in 2013.
According to him, the EEDC which signed in its performance agreement with the government to install an average of 100,000 meters within its network on an annual basis over the next five years, has failed to live up to this.
That agreement, Akah noted has since been reviewed to ensure that the present metering gap of 512,335 would be closed within the next three years.
“It is sad that Enugu Disco has not commenced the implementation of its meter roll-out in accordance with the performance agreement signed with the government under the privatisation programme.
“The Commission has instituted measures to accelerate metering through very close monitoring of distribution companies meter roll-out plan. The present metering gap in Enugu Disco alone is about 512,335 when compared to its total customer size of 732,423. It is expected that the present metering gap would be closed within the next three years,” said Akah who also called on Abakaliki consumers to help the Disco protect its distribution infrastructure.
“In as much as we want consumers to take up their rights with Enugu Disco, we also urge you to live out your obligations to this Disco.
“You can do this by shunning acts of violence, vandalism of electrical infrastructure and stealing of electricity. I will also advise you to pay your appropriate bills and channel all such electricity complaints that were not satisfactorily treated at the Disco level to this forum office for resolution,” said Akah.