Chineme Okafor in Abuja

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has disclosed that wealthy Nigerians, and not poor members of the society, engage more in theft of electricity supplied to them by either tampering with their meters or connecting illegally to service points.
NERC’s Commissioner for Finance and Management Services, Mr. Nathan Shatti, said this on Wednesday night at the April 2018 edition of the monthly power dialogue of the Nextier Advisory in Abuja.

Shatti also noted that the commission had met with Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC Lagos) who proposed a legislative bill to criminalise estimated electricity bills to consumers by the 11 electricity distribution companies (Discos) in the country, wherein they told him that the proposed legislation will result to chaos in the electricity market.

He explained that NERC recently had a company from Ghana that made a presentation to it on how the practice of meter bypass could be dealt within the country using a new kind of meter, and that a team from the commission will be in Ghana next week to understudy the initiative.

“Next week, a team from NERC is going to Ghana because we got a company that is actually devising a kind of meter that can detect energy theft. They came, made a presentation and we felt what they are showing is good and so our team is going to Ghana to look at it.
“But let me just explain something about meter bypass or energy theft; it is beyond regulation and it isn’t beyond enforcing the regulation. It isn’t also beyond technology. There is no amount of technology or checks that you will do to eliminate energy theft.

“However, there are things you can do and it has to do with our moral psyche as Nigerians. If you check properly, the calibre of people who steal energy are the top guys. They are those people who you think will never do such things, not the small people in the society. So, it is a problem of a society and we all have a responsibility to stop it,” said Shatti.

On Gbajabiamila’s bill and the commission’s meeting with him, he explained: “Few weeks ago, a bill was presented on the floor of the House of Representatives about criminalising estimated billing and ensuring prepaid meters supply.

“We went to meet the main sponsor of the bill and we told him that we already have a regulation on this to address the issues. And, we told him that if you go by that rule, there will be chaos in this industry.

“We then told him something; we said sir, if there is anything you can help us do in this industry today as a lawmaker, it is to please help us criminalise energy theft and meter bypass. This is because with such a law, anyone who thinks he is the boss and he bypasses his meter and is caught, he is not just going to pay N2 million, but will go to jail.

“And even if this is for one week, it will be in his record and he will not be able to contest in an election. That is the kind of law we want. And honestly, he (lawmaker) was happy with our submissions and he said they are going to look into it,” he stated.

Continuing, he noted that: “So, we really like what they are doing and this is because they are bringing to fore the sufferings of people for all Nigerians to know. They do this because they have the voice and they have constituencies to go back to. Also, remember that 2019 is by the corner, they (lawmakers) have to show their people that they are doing something.”