Energy is required to power industrial processes and to produce goods, equipment and services in a vast majority of productive sectors within the economy, as well as serve individuals in homes and businesses in Nigeria.
However, insufficient, unreliable or costly access to electricity has remained a binding constraint to individuals and businesses in Nigeria due to the antics of the Electricity Distribution Companies in Nigeria (DisCos).
Nigerian customers have been groaning about this development, coupled with the estimated bills that have been churned out monthly by all the Electricity Distribution Companies in Nigeria (DisCos). The directive from the Federal Government to provide Nigerians with free pre-paid meters failed to produce the desired result, as the programme has stopped abruptly.
As communities are now being compelled by the DisCos to purchase, replace or repair electricity transformers in their areas for them to enjoy electricity supply, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has disclosed that it is not the responsibility of the customer or the community to purchase, replace or repair electricity transformers.
The FCCPC, on its official Twitter handle @fccpcnigeria, warned electricity distribution companies (DisCos) against pushing responsibilities to customers which was against consumer electricity rights.
The commission also revealed that it was not the responsibility of consumers to purchase poles or other associated equipment used in the distribution of electricity in line with NERC’s investment in Electricity Networks Regulation 2015.
“It is not the responsibility of the customer or the community to purchase, replace or repair transformers, poles or other associated equipment used in the distribution of electricity,” the commission said.
The commission, however, cited NERC’s regulation which reads, “Faulty transformers are supposed to be replaced by the Electricity Distribution Company within 48 hours of the official complaint being made.
“The DisCo is responsible for such replacement or repairs. However, if the DisCo is unable to speedily replace the faulty transformer, residents may go into discussion with the company and agree on the terms of replacement of the affected transformer if they wish to assume the responsibility of the company.
“Consumers that intend to go into such discussions with DisCos are strongly advised to read the commission’s guidelines for such agreements.
“This is bearing in mind that any equipment purchased and integrated into the electricity system or grid automatically becomes the property of the electricity DisCo,” NERC said.
The commission advised consumers to visit https://nerc.gov.ng for details of the NERC Investment in Electricity Networks Regulation 2015.
Findings have shown that since the Nigerian government handed over the operations of the distribution of electricity to the private sector which is the DisCos, consumers are still left with the responsibility of providing electricity infrastructure for themselves.
The DisCos have also abandoned the responsibility of buying items such as electric poles, repair and replacement of transformers, cable and related equipment used in the supply of electricity to the consumers.
Currently, the DisCos have concentrated on tariff hikes, while overwhelming electricity costs are passed on to customers by the DisCos through estimated billings and discriminative charges on prepaid meters.
Justus Adebayo, a public commentator in Lagos, informed The Journal that the DisCos have never compensated or given incentives to consumers who incurred extra expenses on the acquisition of power equipment, such as transformers, poles and cable – a responsibility which is solely that of the electricity distribution firms.
“Instead, the DisCos will inform the communities that make such provisions on their behalf that those equipments have automatically become the property of the DisCos in whose jurisdiction such provisions were made.
“It is a complete rip off on the consumers’ fund and right to power supply. Those who draft the Nigerian laws always create lacunas that affect the masses during implementation. It is quite unfortunate that we will continue to live with this situation ad infinitum,” Adebayo explained.
The Consumer Right and Obligations Rules of the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005, obtained from NERC, says, “It is not the responsibility of electricity customers or community to buy, replace or repair electricity transformers, poles and related equipment used in the supply of electricity.”
A Benin Distribution Company (BEDC) customer, David Ofile, who lives in a community of Okotomi Quarters, Okpanam, in Delta State spoke with The Journal recently. He narrated how the BEDC made them purchase a new transformer worth over 7 million naira to replace the one that broke down in the area.
According to him, “After the transformer was mounted, the contractor refused to connect the transformer the community purchased to the national grid until the community paid the contractor another N1million before the transformer was connected to the national grid and energized.
“The community has been in darkness for the past three years after using their own money to purchase a new transformer for the BEDC, while a faceless contractor is holding the community to ransom to cough out N1million before they can enjoy power supply. He refused to energize the transformer because the community could not cough out the N1million he demanded.”
Indeed, consumers are speaking in unison that they are being ripped off, as they are forced to tax themselves to raise money for the procurement of electrical equipment, after waiting for many months and years for the DisCos to replace the bad transformers, to no avail.
Those who also succeed in energizing their transformers would still have to contend with the persistent issue of crazy billing, thereby pushing more financial burdens on them.
It is heartbreaking because while the equipment purchased by the customers are being integrated into the electricity system or grid automatically as the property of the DisCos, there is no Bill that seeks to amend the Electric Power Sector Reform Act to provide for the DisCos to reimburse any power consumer and communities who incur expenses in the acquisition and maintenance of electrical equipment connected to the national grid.
It appears that the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is not doing enough for customers who have been petitioning the commission because these issues continue to surface without solution.
The DisCos are dominating this energy ecosystem because there is no competition and the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria has not been able to solve the Nigerian power problem but has been compounding it.
Nigeria’s national electricity grid collapsed for the second time in a month recently and the whole country was plunged into darkness, and at the end of the month when power was restored, consumers were still made to pay the same bill for “darkness.”
The nation’s power grid and its precarious energy supply are often cited by businesses as a key issue hindering growth in Africa’s most populous country.
The failure of the DisCos to provide infrastructure to distribute power to consumers, but leaving the consumers to carry out their responsibility and rip them off by acquiring such infrastructure may continue unabated unless the government intervenes to save the masses from the DisCos’ exploitation.