By Adeniyi Kurt
The House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee set up to probe and curb excessive electricity charges by Distribution Companies (Discos) yesterday accused the latter as well as the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) of conniving to extort and shortchange Nigerians.
The committee, chaired by Hon. Israel Ajibola Famurewa (APC, Osun), noted that both NERC and the discos had failed totally in ensuring that Nigerians get value for money spent on electricity consumption.
Essentially, the committee is seeking to curb the exorbitant electricity charges being levied on consumers by discos and believed the distribution firms and prepaid meter vendors are currently managed by “fraudsters” who are masters in shortchanging electricity consumers across the country.
In one particular instance, one Mojeec International Limited, a local pre-paid meter manufacturer and vendor, was accused of overbilling a customer, who consumed as much as N70,000 monthly.
But following complaints by the affected consumer, the meter was reevaluated and adjusted, bringing the monthly consumption to only about N30,000 presently.
However, the Deputy Managing Director of Mojeec, Mr. Hakeem Balogun, told the committee that the special case of over-billing had been traced to wrong meter installation by the company which had now been corrected.
The committee believed several other electricity consumers in the country are being cheated through illicit methods by the operators.
However, Chairman of NERC, Prof. James Momoh, told the lawmakers that the commission was making efforts to ensure that the billing reflects actual consumption pattern adding that it had fined some discos to the tune N134.1 million due to violations of electricity regulations, and that the same money was duly transferred to the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) account.
He said: “All the reports related to the fines are published annually. NERC is taking measures to improve on the services by discos.”
But the committee, nonetheless, chided NERC for doing little or nothing to curb the arbitrary billing system against consumers.
A member of the committee, Hon. Raphael Nnanna (APC, Imo), said: “With all what NERC said, they’ve not addressed the issue of excessive and outrageous billing. Nigerians are suffering, and they’re not addressing that. All these things NERC said amount to stories. How are you proffering solutions to the issue of estimated and outrageous billing?”
Hon. Muazu Lawal (APC, Zamfara) said: “It appears discos and other stakeholders are not ready for the job before them. You just go about billing people the way you like without considering the actual power they consume. This happens everywhere in the country and even in Abuja.
“From what’s happening, I think discos are either operated by fraudsters or they’re just extorting money from Nigerians. If you’re not ready for the job, tell us you’re not ready.”
Also, Hon. Olayonu Tope (APC, Kwara) said: “If Nigerians are to cast their votes on the performance of NERC, it will be that the agency is a complete failure. The failure of Nigeria’s economy today is lack of power. NERC is one of the major stakeholders leading Nigeria to failure. NERC, you’re a failure.”
The lawmakers said Nigerians are tired of excuses and needed results.
However, some of the discos argued that they inherited inaccurate data on the power situation in the country, adding that energy bypass by consumers remained a big challenge to their survival.
This is as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, wednesday disclosed that the federal government had disbursed a total of N158. 74 billion to electricity discos, generation companies (GENCOs,) GASCOs and service providers under the CBN-Nigerian Electricity Market Stabilisation Facility.
Speaking when he appeared before the ad-hoc committee, he said seven Discos received N49, 841, 913 billion; 18 Gencos got N73, 545,871 billion; six Gascos received N24,892,952 billion while service providers were paid N10,463,904,265 billion.
He said to ensure that electricity become efficient, the apex bank also intervened by providing a payment assurance facility and has so far disbursed N330 billion out of a projected N701 billion.
Represented by CBN Head, Infrastructure Finance Office, Power Intervention, Mr. Boma Benebo, the bank governor said: “The intention is that power should continue to be supplied while the sector sorts itself out in the following areas: reduce the losses that have plagued the industry, increase collection and arrive at a realistic tariff that phases out shortfalls.”
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, said: “The House is aware of the financial hardship being experienced by most of our people due to the high electricity charges by Discos. This has further compounded the difficulty brought about by the economic downturn in the country. We are therefore determined to get all the facts on the matter with a view to addressing it.”
He, therefore, charged the committee to “unravel the veracity of the allegation of the presence of wrongly configured prepaid meters that are overbilling the already impoverished masses of this country.”