Electricity consumers across the Southwest and North Eastern parts of the country are groaning over the persistent high bills being given by the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) without corresponding energy supply.
A cross section of them told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in separate interviews across some South West states and Kwara that the phenomenon of crazy bills had become a monthly ritual which they had to contend with.
But some of the DISCOs have denied the claim, saying what is being perceived as crazy bills were actually a merger of accumulated monthly bills or a product of human error in the billing process.
In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, residents and business owners accused the Ibadan
Electricity Distribution Companies (IBEDC) of presenting fictitious bills to consumers.
Mr Sola Adedeji, who owns a business centre in the metropolis, lamented the persistent high bills he was being served every month.
“It is painful that this is happening in this country. How will one access light from the IBEDC for just 18 hours in the entire month and the bill is mind boggling.’’
Mr Gideon Adeoye, a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly, had at a plenary accused DISCOs of cheating him and other Nigerians.
Adeoye (APC-Oorelope/Irepodun) had told IBEDC officials summoned by the House that officials of the electricity company were indulging in sharp practices.
Also speaking, Gbenga Oyekola (LP-Atiba) lamented the crazy electricity bills inspite of epileptic power supply, adding that many had waited for years to obtain prepaid meters.
He described the fixed and estimated system of billing as fraudulent, saying the system had also been faulted by National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
In Akure, Alhaji Abdullahi Edun, the Manager of Idowu Oloruntobi Blackman Welding Factory, also decried the arbitrary billing of consumers by DISCOs.
According to him, complaints made to the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) were not treated.
Edun, who said that the estimated billing system had become a means to exploit Nigerians, urged government to intervene by making durable prepaid meters available to consumers.
“I started this vocation over 30 years ago and I had stopped using public power supply two years ago due to the epileptic power supply and unscrupulous officials of the distribution company.
“The officials would bring between N5,000 and N7,000 monthly when their company did not supply us power up to 24 hours in a whole month.
“I am no longer interested in the arrangement; even in my personal residence, I have stopped using electricity from the national grid,” he said.
Also speaking with NAN, Mr Domina David, a studio manager, described the huge bills in the face of irregular power supply as a very serious problem.
“Consumers are getting annoyed with the high bills and erratic or no power supply because it seems as if they are being cheated.
“Most times, the power is supplied only at night which is not useful to most people with businesses to run in the daytime,” he said.
He, therefore, advised the regulatory body to go round and ensure that exorbitant bills were not given to consumers who do not have pre-paid meters.
In Abeokuta, Ogun, business owners called on the Federal Government to tackle the issue of epileptic power supply in the country.
In separate interviews with NAN, they lamented the unstable power supply, saying it is crippling a lot of businesses.
The owner of a popular relaxation centre in Abeokuta, Hammod Entertainment, Mr Mufutau Ibiniola, said that lack of stable power supply was driving him out of business.
He said that a large sum of money was being used to purchase diesel to power his generator.
According to him, all his four outlets now rarely made use of supply from the national grid, adding that the energy cost was huge.
“Before now, we used Direct Assessment metre; we didn’t make use of the prepaid metre.
“This means the light is connected directly from source and we pay N20, 000 on a monthly basis.
“There’s a prepaid metre for our type of business but it’s quite expensive; we cannot afford it; it is called MD meter.
“The meter is connected directly to the transformer for supply but at the end of the month one would pay over N200,000 for the bills, it is mostly used by big factories and companies.
“Presently, due to irregular power supply, we now depend on generator. We spend well over N1.2 million to run all the outlets.
“If we pump the money we use to purchase diesel into the business, I believe it will impact on the growth of the business.
“We spend over 75 per cent of our running cost in buying diesel to run the generator for us to sustain the business and this is not fair,” he said.
He urged the government to find a permanent solution in improving and fixing the country’s electricity power supply, saying a lot of businesses had died.
A sachet water manufacturer, Mr Jimoh Osinbayo, said his company did not bother to connect to the public power source.
He noted that it would be a waste of money and resources; as such he powered his business using alternative supply like generator.
“We depend on our generating set and the amount of fuel we use is dependent on the work load we have for the day,’’ he said.
But Mrs Regina Adelokun, the Regional Communication Officer for IBEDC in Ogun, blamed pipeline vandalism for the epileptic power supply across the nation.
Adelokun said the situation was unfortunate, adding that outage is not intentional.
“If these things have been tampered with, automatically it affects our operations, where it happened is the Niger Delta and this is its effect in the remote part of Ogun.
“It is not an intentional thing; we are praying that the government will be able to arrest the situation because it has become a national issue,’’ she said.
She said the issue of crazy bills sometimes had to do with computer errors, saying that whenever customers complained, the issue would be solved.
On the non-supply of prepaid meters, she said the IBEDC was the most transparent among the DISCOs when it came to the issue of metering policy.
She said the IBEDC had been trying to ensure that all its consumers were given prepaid meters.
“The gap between those that have the meter and those that don’t is huge. It is going to cost our company N30 billion to be able to meet our customers demand and for a new company that is barely three years, it is not possible to have done that.
“There is a policy where customers borrow us money to buy meters and we install the meters in 45 days and this policy is very open and transparent.
“All you need to do as far as IBEDC is concerned is to walk into any of our offices; the form is free; the procedures will be explained to you, then we give you an account number, where the customer will pay.
“The single phase is N24,832 while the three-phase is N53,820.
“We refund the money in form of energy with 12 per cent interest.
“Your information would have been captured, then you start benefiting from the refund anytime you come for the next 36 months; we will be giving you 47 units.’’
She advised consumers to ask questions through the right channel before jumping into conclusion and should always visit any of their offices for necessary information.
Operators of micro and macro business enterprises in some states of the North East region decried the huge bills charged by electricity distributors, without commensurate power supply.
Expressing their dismay in separate interviews with correspondents of NAN, the consumers said it was now even cheaper to rely on generator sets.
They also said that efforts to purchase the pre-paid meters to guard against ‘crazy bills’ were being thwarted by the DISCOs through scarcity of the meters.
Malam Ibrahim Muazu, a metal fabricator in Bauchi, said power supply had dropped drastically, yet over-estimated bills kept coming every month.
He said that he had requested the Bauchi Business office of Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JEDC) to withdraw its service as he was no longer interested.
“Since we use diesel to carry out our business, I have directed JEDC to disconnect me from their source of power supply,’’ he said.
Also speaking, Mr Samaila Lamba, Chairman, Electricity Committee, Technology Incubation Centre, Bauchi, observed that the privatisation of Power Holding Company ushered in an era of ‘crazy billing’.
He said that in spite of the glaring non-availability of power, the bills had remained constant at N10,000 per month.
Manager of a waste recycling plant in Bauchi, Malam Mahbob Ibrahim, said the bills had remained same with or without power supplied.
Hajiya Fatima Abubakar, a school proprietor, explained that despite the fact that there was no constant supply of electricity, the company raised her monthly electricity charges from N5,000, to N12,000.
On his part, Alhaji Muhammad Rijiya, Chairman of Borno Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the attitude of the distribution companies was inimical to the economic advancement of the country.
Rijiya explained that the practice of billing by estimation was not favourable to industrial development.
“These people (managers of electricity companies) just sit in one place, create unimaginable figure and pass same to us as electricity bills.
“Why should a road side barber be asked to settle a monthly electricity bill of N10,000?” he queried.
The Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar, described the practice of billing by estimation as an act of exploitation of customers.
In an interview with NAN, he wondered why customers were encountering difficulties in securing the pre-paid meters.
He also lamented that Maiduguri, the state capital, had been without electricity for many months and therefore appealed to the appropriate authorities to address the matter.
In Gombe, Malam Iliyasu Shuaibu, a Fashion Designer, said he had been using an alternative source of power for the last two weeks, yet received a bill of N5,000.
Mr Adamu Aremu, Managing Director, Metal and Fabrication Company, Gombe metropolis, said the crazy electricity billing had added to their problems, especially with the current down-turn in the economy.
According to him, he has been using an alternative source of power supply in the last four months, but every month he receives bill.
Malam Nalado Marke, Chairman of Ice block producers and Soft Drink Sellers Association in Jigawa, said his members were incurring a collective loss of about N1 million daily due to lack of power supply.
He explained that their commodities were always getting spoilt due to lack of electricity supply in Dutse.
He therefore appealed to the Federal Government to take urgent steps to address the challenge of inadequacy of power supply.
Some small scale entrepreneurs in Hadejia, Jigawa, who also complained of incurring losses, called on the state government to complete the Jigawa Independent Power Project (IPP) to enhance power supply in the state.
The IPP project was initiated by Saminu Turaki’s administration in 2003, but had been abandoned 10 years ago.
The project was designed to provide about 100 megawatts of electricity to Dutse metropolis and its environs.
Meanwhile, the Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YEDC) in charge of Adamawa, Borno, Taraba and Yobe states, blamed consumers for not taking the appropriate steps at resolving the problem of crazy billing.
Senior Corporate Communications Officer of the Company, Mr Kingsley Nkemneme, told NAN in Yola that those affected hardly tendered formal complaints.
Nkemneme said that customers had the right to complain formally if given such bills, adding that “in most cases, we only hear such complaints through the media”.
Nkemneme urged complainants to always write a formal complain to the management, saying if the management and a customer failed to agree, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) that had an office in Yola, would intervene.
He urged customers to go for prepayment meters as a solution, adding that the company had so far provided such meters to about 5,000 customers in the past three months. (NAN)