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Free meter distribution, ruse or reality?

By Maria Famakinwa

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More than 60 percent of electricity customers in Nigeria are yet to get prepaid meters despite the claim by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) on its website that 171, 107 meters were installed in Quarter 1 (Q1) 2023, and several metering programmes by the regulator and government interventions costing billions of naira. 

The regulator said that of the 12,542,581 registered energy customers as of March 2022, only 4,740,114 (about 37,79 percent) have been metered. This implies that a total of 7,802,467 power users are without meters and receive estimated bills; meaning, out of every 10 registered electricity customers, six are still on estimated billing, which has contributed to customers’ apathy towards payment for electricity bills.

It would be re-called that in the year 2020, the Federal Government made announcement and assured Nigerians that six million meters would be distributed free of charge to consumers. The news was greeted with a wild jubilation and a way forward to solve lingering electricity challenges in the country. Two years down the line, electricity consumers are confused if actually the Federal Government will fulfill it’s free meter distribution promised.

Efforts by most Nigerians to acquire prepaid meters as a way out of what they called “crazy bills”, have been frustrating. Data sourced from the latest report by NERC showed the number of power consumers who lack meters has risen to over 7.8 million. Most Nigerians who spoke with The Hope revealed that they are not relying on the government unfulfilled promise of free meter distribution since two years, but appealed to the Federal Government to make meters available for sales to save them from monthly crazy bills that are estimated by distribution companies.

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An artisan, Mr Seyi Olorunda, who lamented that epileptic power supply is affecting his business accused distribution companies of deliberately hoarding meters due to their exploitative tendencies.

He said: “I have tried all I could to get meter to no avail. As a welder, my business depends solely on electricity to thrive. I hardly get electricity for two weeks in a month yet, they will serve me a bill at the end of each month. It is not possible for me to pay for the service I didn’t enjoy. They said that meter was free but I am ready to pay for it at least to be free from unreasonable charges but all my efforts to get a meter has not been fruitful. My other colleagues are complaining of similar problems. We now lock our shops and ride okada to survive. If the Federal Government can solve electricity problem in the county, it will go a long way to ameliorate the suffering of the people and provide job for the jobless.

“Electricity consumers in the country are not happy paying outrageous bills when they are not supplied power, or where it is supplied, it is very poor, far from their money’s worth. We are facing the same problem in my community. The community executives went to discuss with the electricity provider in 2019 to supply the community prepared meters, we were asked to contribute money to facilitate the supply which we did. But after waiting till 2021 without getting us the meters as earlier agreed, we requested for our money and it was refunded and they continue serving us monthly crazy bills.”

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Another consumer, Abosede Olalere, explained that the distribution companies have subjected them to paying shocking electricity bills, which do not represent the energy they consumed. “The estimated billing is a crime against the masses because this is one of the ways we are being shortchanged.

“I am a victim. Despite inconsistent power supply, each month I am sent a crazy bill to pay up or risk disconnection. Though, the Federal Government promised us free meters but we don’t want free meters again, let them make meters available, we are ready to pay. I was frustrated by the distribution company in my many efforts to remedy the situation and acquire a meter.  Poor electricity supply is killing most businesses. Some companies have relocated to other African countries because of this, yet nothing is being done to address It. The engine room of any business is electricity and no nation grows without regular power supply. We need regular power supply to cushion the effect of economic hardship facing the citizens. The government  as a matter of urgency should do something fast about it.”

Another electricity consumer, Mr Taiwo Ajileye, believed that not making meters available for interested consumers was a deliberate attempt to further impoverished the struggling masses who are still battling to cope with the unexpected hike in fuel price.

His words: “It is the poor that are bearing the brunt of the rich in this country. Otherwise, why was the free meter distribution promised by the Federal Government since 2020 not given to the masses? It is the ordinary citizens who are served estimated billings. After all, we were told to be enduring while our leaders keeps getting alerts for recess. Many citizens have closed down business either because they cannot afford huge electricity bills or due to irregular power supply. Electricity consumers now pay for darkness because either or not you used electricity, you are sure of getting a bill at the end of the month. Surviving in the country is now for the fittest. Unless they solve the electricity problems in the country, I don’t see the country developing since uninterrupted power supply play a major role in a nation’s development,” he said.

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 A staff in one of the distribution companies who did not want to be named argued that meters could not be provided free of charge to customers, given the current realities in the sector and advised customers who complained of estimated billings to visit the company with proof.

“Meter is not free. The ‘free’ they are talking about is in the sense that you are not going to pay ahead of time but when you have the meter in your house, there has to be a deduction from your payment because somebody has to pay for it. Besides, we are not hoarding meters as speculated by consumers. We give them out to consumers,  those who are yet to get should exercise patience. It will soon go round. Regarding estimated billings, People have the right to contest their bills; once you can validate your claims, adjustment will be made. Those who have complaints should make them official for necessary solutions. If somebody’s complaint is not addressed, there is probably a challenge somewhere,” he said.

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