Band A Diesel Customer




One day in 1998, I peeped through the window of my office in New Nigerian Weekly in Kaduna, and I saw the company’s managing director, Dr. [later Prof] Abubakar Rasheed walking out in a great hurry. He was walking towards the west of the vast New Nigerian premises. I thought he was going to the mosque, but it was not prayer time. Dr. Rasheed always walked briskly but, on that day, he seemed to be in real haste. I emerged from my office and asked the MD where he was going in such hurry. He said, “Come with me. I am going to CPD [New Nigerian’s near-comatose Commercial Printing Department]. In six months they did not print anything. But because we got a job from NECON [National Electoral Commission of Nigeria] Chairman Sumner Dagogo-Jack to print non-sensitive election materials, they had to work overnight in order to meet the deadline. This morning, all 100 staffers of CPD filled forms claiming overtime. I am going there to make all of them to fill forms for undertime, for the six months that they did not do any work but were collecting their salaries.”

I thought we should apply Rasheed’s formula to all electricity managers and workers in Nigeria after last week’s shock unrolling of a 231% tariff hike for consumers in the Band A bracket. These, allegedly, are those who receive a minimum 20 hours’ power supply every day. Within a week, “Band A” as a parlance joined the ranks of Nigeria’s most notorious parlances including poll tax, austerity, Imo Formula, Second-tier Foreign Exchange Market, Structural Adjustment Program, balance of payments support loan, right-sizing the civil service, subsidy scam, under recovery, legislative oversight, constitutional amendment and palliative. It was Waziri Adio who game me a link to check which band my house fell into. With trepidation I punched in my house’s meter number and, lo and behold, it was Band A! Two days later Waziri urged me to check again, and this time I had been adjusted to Band B. I thought Band Z was more appropriate for my area, if number of hours of power supplied is anything to go by.

Okay, since people will now be paying the various Discos under Band A, what about them repaying us for the millions of hours that we went without power supply? The Rasheed formula: if you are paid for overtime, you must repay for undertime. All the nights we went without sleep due to heat and mosquitoes; all the productive days lost when office tools shut down due to power failure; all the businesses small and big that crumbled due to poor power supply; all the houses and buildings that caught fire due to electrical sparks when power made its infrequent appearance, who will pay for it? Back in the 1980s, I personally lost many electrical appliances due to NEPA power surges. I wanted to sue, but a lawyer advised me that the 1972 military-era decree that created NEPA ousted the jurisdiction of courts to entertain complaints about destroyed appliances.

Even though Abuja Electric has now redesignated my meter as Band B, the truth is that is has already made me a Band A diesel customer. Ten years ago when I moved into my new area, I used to summon a diesel truck to come and fill the tank of my 30KVA generator. The full tank was 140 litres and it cost N32,000. On other days when I could not fill the tank, I took four 30-litre jerrycans to the petrol station and filled them for N24,000. Now the same four jerrycans are filled at N180,000. Guess what? My area of Abuja has no public water supply. Every single house in the estates after Apo has a borehole, so we must start the generator frequently in order to get water.

One of the first acts in office  of FCT Minister Nyesom Wike was to bulldoze away the fruits and vegetable market at Kabusa Junction. As I watched the stalls go up in smoke, I silently prayed that Wike will reorder his priorities and extend water supply to our estates. Five years ago, FCT Water Board’s contractors dug trenches all over the place and huge water pipes were laid besides them. We never saw the water; if I didn’t have to pump so much diesel in order to operate a borehole, I will probably be in Band M of diesel consumption by now.

Not only Abuja Electric and its collaborator, Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission. Meat sellers at Abuja’s Area 8 market, where I have been buying beef for the last ten years, have apparently reclassified me into a Band A consumer. When I phoned my customer and asked how much a kilo of beef now costs, he hesitated before he mentioned the new Band A price. He claimed that the abattoir from where they source meat is having a hard time because of shortage of cattle. I didn’t believe him. Shortage? All the cattle rustling that we read about in the news media, are they not all destined for the abattoirs? Where else will a cattle rustler take a cow if not the abattoir? Last time I checked, former Agriculture Minister Chief Audu Ogbeh’s cattle colonies and cattle ranches never took off. Despite its desperate search for money, the government has not yet demanded royalties on roadside grass, so why is the cost of meat rising astronomically? What is the dollar component of open grazing, if I may ask?

At Garki Area 8 market, chicken sellers sit side by side with beef butchers. Which is regrettable because they seem to coordinate price hikes among themselves. I urge Minister Wike to separate them, relocate the chicken sellers and confiscate their phones so that they don’t coordinate effectively like forex dealers do. Why because, within minutes of the butcher telling me that the cost of beef had risen, the man from whom I buy chicken also told me that the price of chicken had risen. One medium sized fowl cost N5,000 last week. With Sallah at hand, I can only imagine what will happen between today and tomorrow. I was moved to a Band A chicken customer!

All other foodstuff sellers followed suit. Rice, yams, potatoes, plantain, fish, vegetables and fruit prices all took off like a rocket and we were immediately reclassified as Band A customers. One cannot even place his finger on it; some of the traders blame the dollar, others say it is petrol and diesel price, still others say it is due to the number of security agents and inspectors on the road, especially touts of the Abuja Metropolitan Area Council who jump at every goods truck and demand to be bribed before allowing it to pass. The extorted money clearly never gets to AMAC coffers, so why are they empowered with uniforms and policemen allow the touts to jump at vehicles unhindered?

Not to be outdone, pharmacies and patent medicine stores have also reclassified us into Band A medicine customers. Two days ago, I entered a pharmacy and asked for cough syrup. The young pharmacist produced a small bottle of Benylin syrup and said, “N26,000.” My eyes popped out. Ordinary cough, costs that much to treat? Then I remembered my diabetes and blood pressure medicines. Up until last year I bought a month’s supply at N35,000, which I thought was high. Last week when I walked into a pharmacy at Wuse, two out of the four medicines alone cost N95,000. A Band A diabetic patient! It may not be a bad idea after all to try the herbal medicines for diabetes that I see being advertised on Facebook Messenger. At least they will classify me as Band F customer.

Schools also reclassified many parents into Band A school fees. Up until last year, for the schools that collect fees divided into three terms, the highest fees are paid in the first term, and they progressively reduced in the second and third terms. Not this year. The second term fees I paid were higher than first term fees and I have just received a notification for the third fees, higher than the second term ones. The school cleverly inserted a small reduction as “neighbour allowance” because my house is near the school. Is that logical? Is it not those wards whose houses are far away that should receive a “non-neighborhood allowance”? More seriously, the school has quietly abolished what they used to call “sibling allowance.” If you had up to three kids in the school, the third child paid nothing. This time around when I pointed out to the school that I have three siblings, they said since one is in primary school and two are in secondary school, these are two different schools [under the same roof!] and they don’t qualify for sibling allowance.

It is NEPA that started all of these with its organising us into Band A customers. The Minister of Power even served notice that in the next two to three years, every electricity customer will move to Band A. With his pronouncement, we are already thinking of our alternative to electricity. Early last century when the American billionaire Howard Hughes, owner of Hughes Tool Company, was accused of monopolising oil drilling technology, he said, “There is no monopoly. Anyone who does not want to use the Hughes tool to drill for oil can use an axe and a shovel.”  He is right. Anyone who does not want to use NEPA’s electricity can use bush lamps, three-legged firewood ovens and charcoal-fired pressing stones.

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