NEPA OFFICE. The office is a small one. It has a small window to the right and a door to the left. The only furniture consists of a table with an old leather chair behind it. There are two plastic chairs in front of the table. The window is wide open to let in air as there is no electricity supply. There are stacks of file on the floor at the far end which fills the office with a damp smell. There is a ceiling fan that looks as though it was installed at Nigeria’s independence.
A NEPA OFFICIAL is sitting on the leather seat. He looks very flamboyant and cuts the image of a senior executive of a mega company on the cover of a magazine. He is however a junior-level manager. He is reading a newspaper.
There is a knock on the door followed by a creaking sound as the door opens. A customer enters.
NEPA OFFICIAL: [without looking up] Eh Ehn?
CUSTOMER: Can I sit?
NEPA OFFICIAL: Sure. It’s a free world. [looks up and assesses the customer, then Smiles.] Good morning Sir. How can I help you sir?
CUSTOMER: It’s my bill o. I have few appliances but just two days ago, I received a bill of twenty thousand naira. That’s exorbitant! We didn’t even have light for over two week last months!
NEPA OFFICIAL: But Oga, you know that…
CUSTOMER: Why am I paying for electricity I didn’t use! This estimated metering is not fair!
NEPA OFFICIAL: Oga, buy meter na.
CUSTOMER: [clinches his fist] I paid for a meter over five months ago. You have still not delivered it.
NEPA OFFICIAL: Not me o! I am not NEPA. But Oga, it is not our fault. When the meter arrives, it will be installed.
CUSTOMER: No, it is not your fault. It is my fault. I’m the one who is bothering myself with paying your outrageous bills.
NEPA OFFICIAL: [lowers his voice] But Oga, if you treat me well, maybe I can do something about your bill.
* * *
The above scene is one that we are familiar with in Nigeria. That we do not generate enough electricity has been debated long before some of us were even born. I’m not sure there is any Nigerian, born and bred in Nigeria, who knows the real meaning of stable electricity supply (that is if saying those three words together is still legal). Whenever we say those words it is usually in abstract terms or future tense. So every household has become a local government, generating their own electricity through generators. But that is not the most painful part. The most painful part is being forced to pay for the darkness that NEPA (or whatever appellation they go by these days) generates. And for the purpose of this article, NEPA shall refer to all electricity companies in Nigeria. They are all the same thing anyway.
Last week a friend of mine was given a bill of N16,000 for the month of August. What appliances does he use? A television, two ceiling fans, a fridge, and about five light bulbs. And don’t forget that getting up to eight hours of electricity supply in a day is a miracle. It is not funny. He is expected to pay up or get disconnected. I remember when my mother was billed N6,000 every month just for using a television, fan and light bulb. And for weeks there was no electricity supply. When there was, it was low voltage. She had to use a generator. Then at the end of the month they would bring an outrageous bill for electricity they never supplied. She felt helpless. The same way most Nigerians feel. It’s like we are in bondage in our own country.
Most people’s bills are estimated. NEPA officials look at your house and estimate your bill. God help you if you are living in a fine house! When you complain, they will ask you to buy a meter that they will use to bill you. So you pay for a meter and six months later, it has not arrived. They continue to appropriate to themselves the amount of your salary that they want. And you are supposed to take it all with equanimity. You complain too much, they get angry. You refuse to pay, they disconnect you, roll up your wires (that you bought with your money), and take everything to their office; never to be seen again forever and ever, Amen.
NEPA complains that people don’t pay for the electricity they use. They try to convince us that the reason they are generating so much darkness is because we refuse to pay. Let’s assume that they are right. What would you expect a serious company to do? Immediately introduce prepaid meters. In that way, they won’t have to force people to pay bills. If you don’t recharge your meter, no light! So why is NEPA not doing that? The answer is, they lack the motivation. The present situation favours them. They can bill you whatever they like. They can ask any amount of bribe from you legally.
NEPA still operates like a seventeen century company. I believe it is deliberate. When they want cash, some of their staff hit the streets with ladders. If your bill payment is not up-to-date, it is either you bribe them or get disconnected. And they always send those who are arrogant, insensitive, and with no regard for the customer. I witnessed a scene a couple of weeks ago. A customer had registered a new account. He paid N15,000. He was told that he’d start getting bills after two months. A week after opening the account, the collapse of a fence affected some electric poles. NEPA officials came and disconnected the whole street from the transformer. For more than two months, the street was in darkness. Then the residents contributed money and bought some concrete poles and wires. They were reconnected. Two weeks after reconnection NEPA officials arrived with their ladders. They asked for the customer’s bill. The customer explained to them but they would have none of it. The annoying part was the constant “Oga, it is your duty to go and get your bill!” they kept repeating. When did it become the customer’s responsibility to go and get the bill? Despite all the explanations they still disconnected the customer. Then they revealed their real aim. “Oga, give us three thousand and we’ll connect you back.” That was it! They reason they go about with their ladders is to get bribes.
I’m not saying that there are no honest people at NEPA. There are honest people but they are very few. The bad guys run the place. They treat customers with such disdain you’d think they are doing them a favour. Who can call them to order?
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) can call them to order! According to the NERC’s website, “The Commission is to, among others, license operators, determine operating codes and standards, establish customer rights and obligations and set cost reflective industry tariffs.” The NERC also has consumer protection as part of its goals which include fair pricing rules. But is the NERC doing its job? From all indications, it is obvious that the NERC is doing a very poor job. NEPA operates like a predator in the wild. It does whatever it likes. It is high time the NERC called NEPA to order. It is difficult not to question where the NERC’s allegiance lies. With its constant attempts to increase electricity tariff, it appears that the NERC thinks it is a subsidiary of NEPA. They do not see themselves as the regulator. But why is the NERC not motivated to carry out its duties? Your guess is as good as mine. Who can call the NERC to order?
The National Assembly can call the NERC to order! The National Assembly should mount pressure on the NERC to do the right thing through its oversight function. They should stop the criminal extortions of Nigerians by NEPA. This is our country and we should at least be treated with dignity, respect and fairness. How much does the average Nigerian earn that their electricity bills should be that much? The minimum wage is just N18,000 for God’s sake! In this economic recession that has been foisted on Nigerians, they don’t need more hardship.
We elected representatives to the National Assembly to represent our interests. Electricity companies are working against our interests. Therefore, the National Assembly – our own National Assembly – should fight for our interest. The impunity of NEPA must be stopped. NEPA should provide pre-paid meters. The National Assembly should set a deadline for it to so, failure of which will lead to forfeiture of bill collection from customers without meters. That will serve as enough motivation.
Enough of the Extortions!
Photo credit: http://www.newsflash.com.ng