Residents of satellite towns of the Federal Capital Territory have accused the electricity service provider for the territory, the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, AEDC, of deliberately exploiting them by excluding them from the new electricity billing platform being enjoyed by consumers in the metropolis.
One of such consumers is Yahaya Enejo who lives in a two-bedroom flat apartment in Gwagwa, about 40-minute drive from the heart of the metropolis.
Mr. Enejo moved with his five-member family to the apartment in the Agwa-keria area of Gwagwa in December last year. He told PREMIUM TIMES that footing his electricity bills has become a major challenge since relocating to the house.
Most of the houses in Agwa-keria do not have prepaid meters so electricity consumption is charged by estimated billing. The system leaves consumers at the mercy of AEDC officials who, Mr. Enejo said, determine how much they pay every month by inscrutable whim.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that he paid AEDC N7500 to connect his apartment in December. His bill was fluctuating between N4000 and N7000 until June when he complained to the officials and was asked to pay N3500. In July, he paid N3000.
“Power supply here is terrible. So some months when they bring the bill you wonder what you are paying for because you can count the number of times they supplied light to us. Even when there is light, you don’t enjoy it because the current is always low.
“I am sick and tired of this nonsense. I spend between N6000-N7000 monthly just to fuel my generator, yet AEDC will bill you for what you did not consume.”
Mr. Enejo said he no longer cares if he was disconnected. “I won’t pay any bill again until this matter is resolved,” he said. The resolution he seeks is that he be taken off the old billing system and placed on prepaid metering.
The AEDC has the franchise for the distribution and sale of electricity across the133,000 km2 radius extending from the FCT to Niger, Kogi and Nasarawa states.
NO METER NO PAY
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, had directed high-end electricity consumers not provided with prepared meters to stop paying bills presented by distribution companies, DISCOs, on the basis of estimated billing methodology.
The agency, however, explained that the directive applies only to Maximum Demand, MD, customers: commercial and industrial customers who consume high levels of electricity and contribute substantially to the revenues of distribution companies.
In other words, ordinary citizens like Mr. Enejo have little chance of stopping their exploitation by the electricity companies like AEDC.
Like Mr. Enejo, Lola Owoede lives in another satellite town in the Nigerian capital. She resides in a one-bedroom flat on Arab Road in Kubwa, one of the largest satellite towns in Abuja. All the nine flats in her apartment are installed with prepaid meters. But to Miss Owoede’s chagrin, the prepaid meters in her flat and two others in the apartment are not functioning. So she has been on estimated billing by the AEDC.
“Since I moved to this apartment three years ago my bill has been rising every month even though my consumption has been constant. I started with paying N4000 but as I speak to you now, my bill has gone up to N15, 000,” she said.
Copies of Miss Owoede’s 2017 electricity bill receipts she presented to this newspaper showed that her bill varied from N6,378.75 in February to N13,854.65 in July. She paid N7144.22 in March. In April, the bill rose to N7654.54. In May it was N10716.30, while in June it was N8930.25.
The appliances in Miss Owoede’s one-room apartment for which she was so billed consist of a 32-inch LG television, a 1.5 horsepower air-conditioner unit, a mini freezer and two ORL ceiling fans. She said her bills are much higher than those of some prepaid metered consumers she knows living in three-bedroom apartments with more electric appliances.
She said she had lodged several requests at the local AEDC office for functional prepaid meter but the company refused to address the requests.
AEDC’s Head of Corporate Communications, Oyebode Fadipe, acknowledged to PREMIUM TIMES that consumers were complaining about the fluctuation of their electricity bills. But he said it was because people do not admit or realise that their consumption also often varies.
“Nobody expects your consumption to be static. It is either you are using more or you are using less electricity in a month,” he said. “It natural for consumption to be fluctuating”.
Mr. Fadipe said Discos would prefer to do away with estimated billing because they “lose virtually 50 per cent of their generated revenue through estimated billing consumers.
“I also understand what the customers are saying by estimated bill. I don’t have a meter. I am constantly being estimated.”
But the AEDC spokesperson insisted that the company was not exploiting consumers on estimated billing, “the reason being that the transformer serving your area, we have meters there.
“Unless you say that the power supply that goes to that place is static, and it is not static. Because, the more we receive, the more we also give to customers.
“If we give, let’s say section A hypothetically in August two megawatts or one megawatt, and by September there is more power available at the grid …
“Naturally electricity is not water that you can store as it comes, we are using it as it is being generated. Now, that’s the way electricity is. Nobody can store electricity and say for some time I will keep it”.
“They take the measurement of what they consume in an area. Once we have billed customers who have meters – one, post-paid meter and two, those who are on the prepaid platform – of course, the balance goes to those who don’t have meters,” Mr Fadipe said, explaining the billing methodology.
“We must account for the energy that has gone into that environment. Because the transformer in that area is metered, so you know what energy has gone there”.
He acknowledge that estimated billing is controversial.
“The customer believes we are cheating him or her and we on our part think that we are under billing the customer. From our own records we see that we lose up to 50 per cent of our revenue through estimated billing,” Mr. Fadipe stated.
METER IS FREE
AEDC disclosed that installation of prepaid meter is free to all consumers across its service area of Abuja, Nasarawa, Niger and Kogi states. But the company said it cannot meter all its customers at the same time “due to logistics”.
Many residents spoken to who secured prepaid meters said they paid for it.
Residents of Gold City Estate in Lugbe said they pay as high as N35, 000 to get their prepaid meters. But their neighbours in Trade Moore Estate of Lugbe said they were offered free, except that they were asked to pay as much as N30, 000 for installation.
A resident of G.R.A, Keffi who introduced himself as Engineer Zakari said he has been enjoying the prepaid meter since it was installed in his house last year. Mr. Zakari, however, told this newspaper that he paid N50,000 to AEDC for the meter.
Still, he thinks it is worth the investment.
“It is far better than the estimated billing because I pay for what I consume,” he said. “But the estimated billing, they charge you sporadically. Sometimes they even charge you higher when you consume less.”
A resident of Golden Spring Estate in Lokogoma Express Road in Abuja also said she was enjoying the new electricity billing system, describing her prepaid meter as “a messiah”.
The respondent who identified herself simply as Oluchi said: “We paid N50, 000 through our estate’s management before we got the meter. But to me, this platform is way far better than the estimated billing. The estimated billing was like a death sentence”.
AEDC said it does not have any issue with metering its maximum demand customers anymore. According to Mr. Fadipe, it is with the non-maximum demand customers, who are mostly residential customers, that the company has problems.
He insisted that the company had been distributing prepaid meters to “eligible consumers” without charges.
“Prepaid meter is free. We are not installing meter for any customer at any extra cost to them. Once we finish the enumeration of an area, we go ahead to meter those customers. The only precondition is, when we enumerate the area, the house is fit, and it is safe to enjoy electricity.
“Once we satisfy those two conditions, and there is availability, the customer is not paying any extra kobo. What I mean by availability is that power supply has gotten to that place. The customer is entitled to be metered.
“I also admit very quickly that we are not metering all customers at the same time. Because it is outrightly impossible to do so,” he said.
It appears that many electricity consumers especially in the satellite towns of Abuja will have to live with the agony of overbilling until AEDC finds their mostly densely-populated communities suitable for prepaid metering.