Unending controversy over rising electricity tariff

Recent increases in electricity tariff amid poor services have continued to draw the ire of consumers though the authorities insist that the emplacement of a commercial tariff regime is necessary to guarantee the success of the power sector privatisation programme. CHIDI UGWU reports.

Going by the prevailing economic situation in the country many believe electricity consumers have considerable reason to cry out over the high electricity tariff which some describe as another source of pain.

Over the last few months, complaints about the high electricity tariff, which has allegedly been increased by over 200 per cent, have dominated most public discourse generating reactions and counter reactions from relevant parties.

The latest increase which sparked off a deluge of criticism among Nigerians took the form of what has been described as “fixed charge.” This new tariff, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, makes it mandatory for electricity consumers to pay between N700 and N800 monthly, up from N500, regardless of whether the consumer makes use of electricity for the period or not.

According to new Multi Year Tariff Order (MYTO) 2 released by NERC, residential customers in Abuja increased to N702 in 2013 from N500 in 2012.

This increment will also jump to N986 in 2014 and N1, 384 in 2015 consecutively. The industrial customers who fall under the category of Industrial D3 paid N102, 767 last year, and N123, 321 in this year and will pay N173, 169 in 2014 and N243, 168 in 2015 as service charge.

In every class of customer there are progressive increases in the service charge on a yearly basis notwithstanding the location. The tariff schedule showed that consumers would have to pay higher on two fronts.

Every year, the fixed cost will go up. Similarly, the energy cost or cost per kilowatt hour of electricity will also go up. Analysts have argued that this yearly tariff adjustments for the inflation-hit masses would push many Nigerians further down the economic line and would snatch a sigh of relief from those who are already bearing heavy brunt of long hours of power outages, inflated prices of daily use items, edibles and already high ceiling power tariff.

This raise in power prices is set to add miseries and would ultimately leave the inflation-hit masses in complete lurch. While some accuse NERC of foisting on consumers, regular and unjustifiable tariff increases, others blame corrupt habits of some PHCN officials who preferred exploiting helpless customers by hiking their bills in the name of estimated billing system.

For, instance, the Association of Electricity Consumers of Nigeria, AECN decried the high electricity charges being imposed under the new Multi Year Tariff Order, MYTO2 introduced last year.

The President of the association, Mr. Gani Makanjuola had alleged that the PHCN officials were extorting consumers by the new tariff regime. According to him, electricity consumers are being charged outside the MYTO2, thereby forcing consumers to pay in excess of power consumed.

“Many consumers do not have prepaid metres which can accurately measure power they consumed,” he said. “We want the PHCN and NERC to instruct the distribution companies to massively roll out the new metres,’’ Some electricity consumers in Awka, Anambra State capital also recently appealed to President Goodluck Jonathan to compel NERC to stop its planned new electricity tariff regime. The consumers said the increase was “ill timed” adding it has brought misery to the common people.

A tricycle operator, Mr Fabian Okeke, pointed out that many Nigerians are still struggling to cope with the effects of the new price regime of N97 per litre of fuel, adding that high electricity tariff charges can only add to their misery.

“Since the price of fuel was increased from N65 to N141 and later reduced to N97 per litre, life has been very miserable for ordinary people in the country. A civil servant, who pleaded anonymity, said that the tariff increase was uncalled for, as Nigerians had yet to see any improvement in the power supply.

“PHCN keeps sending bills to consumers every month for the electricity we do not enjoy,” he said.

The civil servant urged the president to prevail on NERC to stop the new electricity tariff. Also, an aggrieved customer, Ezinne Nwankili told our correspondent that the situation is becoming unbearable necessitating poor consumers to shout for relevant authorities to know their plight.

She said, “I also want my own situation to be documented so that the appropriate authorities can know Nigerians don’t just cry for nothing.

“Before now, I used to pay like N2, 000 per month as electricity bill for my three-bedroom bungalow, but since the tariff was increased, I pay around N7, 500 per month. There are many households that pay more than that. A neighbour was recently presented with a N19, 000 bill.

This new tariff is killing Nigerians, and it is high time government compelled the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) to reduce the tariff, except it wants more Nigerians to leave the power grid”.

The Chairman, Alaba Market Electronic Association of Nigeria, Mr Dele Dawodu, alleged that PHCN were hoarding prepaid metres for their selfish motives of arbitrarily hiking electricity bills in an estimated billing system.

Dawodu suggested strict punishment for any erring worker, threatening that the group would embark on a protest if the trend was not checked.

“We will not accept cheating and we will never pay estimated billings. God has put standard measurement on everything He created, even the market women use measurement to sell their goods, why did PHCN desist from accurate measurement for power.

“You can imagine, if a worker earns a minimum wage of N18, 000 and PHCN charges him N15, 000 for electricity consumed for the month, how will he survive? But, the Assistant General Manager (Public Affairs) in Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company had stated that it was an offence for marketers not to read the metres.

He said that the issue of estimated billings arose where customers did not have metres or when the metres were malfunctioning.

“If the metre is working, it is supposed to be read and if it is not read, the marketer should be sanctioned. But when the metre is faulty and cannot be read, we estimate the bills,” he explained.

The Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo had insisted on 100% metering of customers saying the DISCOs would curb wastages by ensuring that all electricity consumers are adequately metered.

In response to the pains of electricity customers across the country, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has engaged NERC on the protection of electricity consumers in the country, insisting on more consideration for consumers on issues of redress and enforcement of regulations.

CPC Director General Mrs. Dupe Atoki, who insisted that consumers’ interests are adequately protected in accordance with the law, took the case of electricity consumers to the commission while paying a courtesy call on NERC’s Chairman, Dr. Sam Amadi. Atoki advocated a deeper protection of consumers in the energy sector stressing that more critical look should be given to the interface between consumers and the distribution companies (Discos).

NERC boss NERC), Dr. Sam Amadi, blamed inflation saying that the prepaid five-year tariff plan on electricity ought to make the price remain stable was forced the price to go high as a result. Amadi explained that the price of electricity ought to remain constant until the next regulation, which he said would take place in 2017; the rise in inflation had caused the rise in the price.

“The last regulation and review of electricity price took place in 2012 and is expected to remain constant till 2017, when another and fresh regulation would take place. But the reverse is the case now as the rise in inflation has forced electricity tariff to be high.”

While the leadership of NERC and CPC have agreed to strengthen their collaboration in protecting the interests of electricity consumers to ensure adequate service for their money, Nigerians complain they are yet to see any improvement in service delivery.

NERC had earlier in the year issued an Order on Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) a response by the regulator to address the lingering issue of nonissuance of meters by the electricity companies.

CAPMI, was designed to allow for any interested and willing customer to advance money to their electricity distribution company and in return will be given electricity credit until the cost of the meter has been recovered by the customer.

The order, amongst other things, stipulated that all distribution companies forward to NERC data of all customers who paid for meters but had not been supplied. It would be recalled that in 2011, a N2.9billion metering intervention fund was made available to the companies with a view to closing the unacceptable metering gap. One year after, no appreciable progress was made by the companies.

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