Estimated billing: PHCN’s monster in the house?

Over the years, the inability of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to provide all Nigerian households with prepaid meters has resulted to what is referred to as estimated billing system. This obnoxious billing system allows the electricity companies to choke hapless citizens even when they are not supplied with electricity in their homes for months. ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU in this report takes a look at the agony of the monster charges on Nigerians and why there appears to be no respite in sight.

EPSR Act and estimated billing 

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is empowered by the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005, to ensure an efficiently managed electricity supply industry that meets the yearnings of Nigerians for stable, adequate and safe electricity supply. The Act also mandates the commission to ensure that electricity operators recover costs on prudent investment and provide quality service to customers.

On the other hand, the Act identifies electricity customers’ rights as follows: “All new electricity connections must be done strictly based on metering before connection. That is, no new customer should be connected by a DisCo without a meter first being installed at the premises. All customers have a right to electricity supply in a safe and reliable manner. All customers have a right to a properly installed and functional meter. All customers have a right to properly informed and educated on the electricity service. All customers have a right to transparent electricity billing. All un-metered customers should be issued with electricity bills strictly based on NERC’s estimated billing methodology. It is the customer’s right to be notified in writing ahead of disconnection of electricity service by the DisCo serving the customer in line with NERC’s guidelines. All customers have a right to refund when over billed. All customers have a right to file complaints and to the prompt investigation of complaints. All complaints on electricity supply and other billing issues are to be sent to the nearest business unit of the DisCo serving the customer.” 

The Act further stated that: “If a complaint is not satisfactorily addressed, customers have a right to escalate the issue to the NERC Forum Office within the coverage area of the DisCo. Customers have the right to appeal the decision of the NERC Forum Office by writing a petition to the Commission. It is the customer’s right to contest any electricity bill.  Any un-metered customer who is disputing his or her estimated bill has the right not to pay the disputed bill, but pay only the last undisputed bill as the contested bill go through the dispute resolution process of NERC. It is not the responsibility of electricity customer or community to buy, replace or repair electricity transformers, poles and related equipment used in the supply of electricity.”

Interestingly, to achieve the aims and objectives of the PHCN and that of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, the distributions companies in Nigeria were decentralised into 11 distribution companies, which are: Abuja Electricity Distribution Company Plc (AEDC); Benin Electricity Distribution Company Plc (BEDC); Eko Electricity Distribution Company Plc (EEDC); Enugu Electricity Distribution Company Plc (EEDC); Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company Plc (IBEDC); Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company plc (IEDC); Jos Electricity Distribution Company Plc (JEDC); Kano Electricity Distribution Company Plc (KEDC); Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company Plc (KADEDC); Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company Plc (PHEDC), and Yola Electricity Distribution Company Plc (YOEDC). 

However, most of what are stipulated in the Act have been jettisoned while Nigerians are being made to pay for unsupplied power. So, all the distribution companies (DisCos) largely use the estimated billing methodology in their billing system and this has continued to choke Nigerians with no end in sight.

AEDC not left out

The Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) has a franchise for the distribution and sale of electricity across an area of 133,000 km2, that is the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Niger state, Kogi state and Nasarawa state. It is also required to manage meter installations, carry out servicing and billing, co-ordinate consumer credit and revenue collection. Over time, Blueprint Weekend observed that the major challenge faced by consumers in the locations covered by the AEDC include unavailability of pre-paid meters, overbilling and un-reflected payments.

According to a resident of Jikowyi in Abuja, Emmanuel Sunday, the unavailability of prepaid meters in his area has led to over billing.

Sunday noted that in most cases residents are made to pay for what they did not consume and it become difficult to make payment.

He said: “In my compound, we cleared all our bills and even applied for pre-paid meters for a while now, but AEDC has not supplied most houses in my area with the pre-paid meters. So, what they use is the estimated billing methodology to charge us on a monthly basis. This system is not effective, as in most cases they compel us to pay for what we did not consume.

“In my one-bedroom apartment, sometimes they will bring N4,000 bill and in another month they will charge N6,000, while in the compound beside mine, five apartments share and pay N7,000 in a month. This is an unfair and evil billing system; I feel cheated and most times I feel pained making payments for what I did not use.”

On whether or not he has notified the AEDC about the situation, he said, “Yes, I have called their customer care and even gone to the office to make complaints and they asked me to write, and I have written many letters; yet nothing has changed.”

Also, Babangida Salihu who lives in Minna, the Niger state capital, in a phone chat with this reporter, confirmed that they pay every time even when they are not supplied electricity regularly in most parts of the state.

“In Niger state, we are not happy with AEDC; despite being touted as the Power State, we barely have power for up till four hours in a day. Even when you are supplied with power, with this estimated billing, they will still charge you. So, in most cases, we pay for what we did not consume,” he said.

Power stable in Kano, but…

A resident of Kano state, Mohammed Aminu, when asked about the situation in the state, said power supply is relatively stable in the state, but with estimated billing by the Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC), resident are overcharged.

“KADEC because of unavailability of pre-paid meters doesn’t have accurate record and their billing system is most times faulty and inaccurate. In some houses where there are few electrical appliances they charge the same amount, sometimes even more than some houses where there are more electrical appliances.

“Our biggest problem here in Kano is overbilling; they overcharge some houses and, to be honest, they also under charge some people. We are pleading with the management of Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC) to help put an end to this by making pre-paid meters available to all,” he said.

Illegal billing, undocumented payments in Oyo

The Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) is responsible for electricity distribution within the south western zone that comprises Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Kwara states, as well as some parts of Kogi, Ekiti and Niger states. On their activities, most residents of these states told Blueprint Weekend in a phone conversation that the staff of IBEDC usually engage more in illegal billing and that sometimes consumers’ payments are either not reflected in their records or are not well-documented.

A businessman, who lives in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital, Bolanji Abdulateef, via a phone chat with this reporter, accused IBEDC staff of illegal billing.

He said: “They don’t know what you have in the house, how often you use the light and even how many hours you spend in your house in a day. All they do is to come to your apartment, write and bill you. In fact, if you offend any of them they will charge you more than what they charge others. This, to me, is an illegal billing. So, we are made to pay for what we did not use.

“Also, in January 2018, I paid N6, 000 for my apartment, but when they bring another bill, that N6, 000 was not deducted. So, I paid but it was not properly documented. I complained and they asked me to write, which I did, but up till now nothing has been done.”

79 communities threaten PHEDC in Akwa Ibom                                     

 The agony is the same in most parts of the country; in Akwa Ibom state, 79 communities in Itu local government area threatened to shut down activities at the substation of Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company(PHEDC) over outrageous billing and illegal distribution of power.

In a letter addressed to the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, jointly signed by the chairmen in council and youth presidents of the 79 villages of Itu local government area, they threatened to shut down the power substations if nothing is done within 21 days to address the situation.

The letter read in part: “We the chairmen in council of the 79 villages in Itu local government area, the village youth presidents from the different villages and the relevant stakeholders, after due consultations and considerations we have resolved that PHED should restore steady light to Itu communities within 21 working days with effect from April 8, 2019.

“That PHED should with immediate effect remove every staff or contractor that is found wanting as we are aware that the Head of marketing and the marketers are engaged to in fraudulent dealings of outrageous bills to rob Itu people and do not remit the proceeds from billings to the head office. Light should be retrieved from all quarters which it had been illegally distributed to until the primary constituents, the people of Itu local government area are settled.”

Kebbi gov, Argungu emir, others speak 

Meanwhile, the Kebbi state governor, Atiku Bagudu, has urged the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO) to involve local government chairmen in the distribution and payment of electricity bills for effective management.

Bagudu gave the advice on Friday at a meeting of stakeholders on electricity in Birnin Kebbi.

“In addition to the involvement of local government chairmen, I concur with the suggestion by the Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Samaila Mera, that Village heads be entrusted with the monthly collection of payment from consumers. The company can afterwards pay them five per cent of total money collected to avoid revenue loss,” he said.

Bagudu urged the stakeholders to evolve effective strategies to ensure uninterrupted power supply.

He also emphasised the need by consumers of electricity to pay their bills regularly in order to continue to enjoy 24 hours supply.

In his remarks, the Special Adviser on Electricity to the Governor, Alhaji Yusuf Rasheed, remanded consumers of the need to settle their bills promptly.

He announced that the state government had settled all debts owed KEDCO, and gave the assurance that, henceforth, the state capital, Birnin Kebbi, would continue to enjoy uninterrupted power supply to boost economic activities.

“We advise the House of Assembly to pass a law to ensure that all electrical appliances not in use, including light bulbs in day time be put off towards minimum usage of electricity,” he said.

Representatives of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and KEDCO, Malam Idris Muhammed, and Mr Ali Garba, commended Bagudu for his efforts in the sustenance of regular electricity supply throughout the state.

Earlier, the Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Samaila Mera, commended the role played by the state government in ensuring the people in the state enjoy­ steady power.

Mera advised KEDCO to engage traditional rulers in collection of payment of bills in view of their proximity to the people who in turn should receive five per cent of total collection.

The stakeholders’ meeting was aimed at fashioning out the best way of solving problems associated with electricity supply in the state. 

NERC reacts

In an attempt to end the agony, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) will begin mass metering for electricity consumers by May 1, this year, to bridge the metering gaps in the country.

Dr Usman Arabi, NERC’s general manager public affairs, in a statement, said the metering will be executed under the Meter Asset Providers (MAP) programme of the federal government.

“The commission issued permits to MAPs on April 5, in accordance with section 4(3) of the MAP Regulations 2018, to MAPs that were successful in the procurements. The procurement was conducted by Abuja Electricity Distribution Company Plc (AEDC) and Jos Electricity Distribution Company Plc (JEDC).

“Section 4(3) of the MAP Regulation 2018 requires all electricity distribution licensees to engage MAPs that would assist, as investors, in closing the metering gap.

AEDC has appointed  Mojec International Limited, Meron Consortium and Turbo Engineering Limited to provide 487,000, 213,000 and 200,000 meters, while JEDC has appointed Triple 7 and Mojec International Limited consortium to provide 500,000 meters,’’

Arabi said customers of Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) and Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JEDC) should expect meters to be installed in their premises within 10 working days of making payment to MAPs.

“MAPs shall charge a maximum of N36, 991.50 for single-phase meters and N67, 055.85 for three-phase meters. These costs are inclusive of supply, installation, maintenance and replacement of meters over its technical life,” he said.

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