Tuesday, March 19, 2019 emerged like any other day. And I was pre-occupied with the hectic schedule ahead of me in the office. But just as I was set to have my bath, two men from the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) announced their presence at my doorstep.
Within a spitting distance was an unmarked vehicle that conveyed them to my estate. I went to attend to them. Such a visit was normal. They were regular callers in every home that is connected to their services: to distribute bills and/or read your metres, to check pre-paid metres in case electricity consumers have by-passed the legal route of accessing power supply and such other routine calls.
As soon as the gate was opened, they muscled their way to the prepaid metre point without uttering a word. My prepaid metre which I paid for years ago had been removed by the staff of the AEDC because it had developed a fault. That was in August, last year. When I first experienced the malfunctioning of the contraption, I got it fixed and paid about N15,000 for the repair. It was when the fault reoccurred after some months that I complained to the AEDC folks who were on normal prowl in the estate. It turned out to be a costly mistake. And I regret it till this moment.
By October, last year, they started bombarding me with estimated bills. At first, the billings were reasonable, falling within what I was paying on monthly basis when I had the prepaid metre. But by November, the bills began to swell like Ijebu garri immersed in water. They doubled! I scrambled to their Area Office in Kubwa and lodged a complaint on January 21, this year. I was given a form to fill, hoping that the overbilling or what others now call crazy bills would be looked into. When the January and February bills came, it was like I committed an offence by lodging the complaints for the overbilling… more bloating!
I was in the process of re-lodging the complaints when a near disaster was visited on my flat in the dead of the night about three or so weeks ago. It was at about 2.30 am. We were startled awake by some sparking sounds from one of the cables that supplied current to the flat. It was like fireworks and it was occurring at intervals of about a minute or two. I swiftly took a precautionary measure by pulling out the cutout to disable power supply to the house. Imagine if we had travelled, leaving no one at home.
We stood awake for more than two hours and had our hearts in our mouths. It was so scary. At a point, the sparks sent down a hail of fire that illuminated the neighbourhood. Eventually, the cable severed into two, letting out an explosion that sent the entire household backpedalling in fright. We had to call a Muslim family who were awake for the early morning prayers to contact a staff of AEDC and relay our SOS or save our souls to them. They showed up around 11 o’clock in the morning. On inspecting the lines, I was to replace the cables with a high quality type. The replacement cost me N15,000.
Back to the March 19 encounter. What first came to my mind as the duo headed for my prepaid metre point was that a replacement was going to be made. I was wrong. One of the two shoved a slip to my face and declared that they had an order to disconnect my line for accumulating a huge sum of N60,000. I was enraged. A kind of anger suffused my face that could ignite petrol fire! I queried the basis for their action when the March bill or guesswork had not been brought and I had serviced the bills up till February while awaiting my complaints for their crazy billings to be looked into.
Besides the crazy billings, what actually fuelled my anger was that in recent months, the services of the AEDC had been very terrible. Aside from regular outages, the current had been very low… so low that it could not power the cooling systems. The quality of light is such that even stabilizers have been rendered useless. The ceiling fans run at a miserable motion of 10 revolutions per minute! The aging transformer in our neighbourhood is being fingered for the frustrating low voltage.
Imagine the heat that is currently choking every Abuja resident. We can’t even power our air conditioners due to the low voltage. We rely on our two generating sets (one big and one small) to run the fans and power the fridge and deep freezer in the house, investing heavily on fuel. And to add to our frustration, outrageous bills are served monthly for poor services rendered. Although I was extremely miffed by the unfair disconnection, I found solace in the fact that we were not even enjoying excellent services. And I wish I had the means to bypass public power supply until services improve.
Rather than going to sort out the light issue, I chose to go to the office. The next day, I decided to battle for the reconnection and eventually got the power restored after shelling out N40,000. While running from pillar to post to fix the problem at their Area Office in Kubwa, I discovered that nine out of every 10 customers there came to protest against crazy bills. One young man even complained that they were subjected to pay estimated bills despite having a prepaid metre installed. I must confess that one of the senior female officers (name withheld) who attended to my case was amazingly helpful.
Looking back now, I have come to accept the hard fact that successive electricity suppliers have not been fair to me, to you and even to themselves. The first time I saw NEPA cashiers using generating sets to power their cash and billing machines, I lost hope in the system and this country.
I remember how the stubborn NEPA plunged this country into total darkness for one whole week during the Shagari era. The National Assembly has abolished the estimated billing system. That resolution may turn out to be a paper tiger as far as the recalcitrant electricity suppliers are concerned.
I also remember how my flat was thrown into utter darkness for almost a month in Jos. It was a frustrating experience until I wrote a scathing piece in my column in the Sunday Standard of Jos in the late 70s entitled: “NEPA, am I a LEPER?” to know why the electricity supplier was avoiding my flat as if I was a LEPER, even when I owed it no dime!
NEPA and its evil offshoots have destroyed many lives, homes, businesses, etc, directly and indirectly, in this country through the instrumentality of power surge. The indirect victims are those who use generating sets in their homes and die of fumes.
Until the federal government does something about the albatross called Discos (what an acronym for supposed serious organisations!), the critical sector of our economy will continue to suffer. I learnt that our current electricity generation is hovering around 7,000mw and the distributors can only evacuate about 3,000mw which is about the quantum that the London Heathrow International Airport consumes!
I laughed when Nigeria was ranked as the largest economy in Africa, pushing South Africa to the second place. The population of South Africa which emerged from the lethal jaws of apartheid in the early 90s stands at 50m and they can boast of 60,000mw of electricity, the critical infrastructure to drive the economy. When shall we wake from our reverie?
Lest I forget, this piece was written with the help of “I pass my neighbour.” There was rainstorm in Kubwa on Thursday evening that frightened off electricity supply as usual in most parts of the sprawling settlement. And the light had not been restored by 2 pm on Friday when I concluded writing! I keep wondering why the Nigerian electricity and rains/breeze are immiscible like oil and water… even if the breeze is as gentle as the breath of a new born baby!