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Published On: Mon, Jul 14th, 2014

Mindless extortion in the name of electricity

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By I.D Nga

Given the ongoing extortion being visited on Nigerians by the private electricity distribution companies which took over power distribution in Nigeria from the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), President Goodluck Jonathan must quickly and personally intervene to save Nigerians from these clearly rapacious characters. The president does not need anyone to tell him that as these companies greedily suck Nigerians pale with their outrageously inflated bills and smile happily to the banks, he (the president) is the one at the receiving end of the people’s odium.

Of course the buck ought to always stop at his table when things go wrong in Nigeria . Moreover, Nigerians are yet to be sufficiently informed about the existence of these new companies so as to be duly reconciled to the fact that they are no longer dealing with a government agency but some private business men who are bent on stretching their ungodly craving for unmerited profit beyond what anyone could comprehend. And despite the unbundling of the power sector and the emergence of several electricity companies with various names, Nigerians still see them as “NEPA”. For them, whatever they are suffering at the hands of the new power distributors are part of the activities of government. No doubt, this is one very ugly development the president cannot afford to treat with kid-gloves, especially, on this eve of the very crucial 2015 elections, in which he would most likely be a leading candidate, and in which the state of electricity supply in the country would certainly be a major campaign issue.

In some way, the people are right. Government is supposed to monitor and duly regulate the activities of these new electricity companies and ensure that they do not oppress Nigerians with over-inflated bills. But the sad situation is that while the National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) remains passive in Abuja , Nigerians are abandoned at the mercy of these greedy companies. Is it that the NERC lacks the capacity to know what goes on at every corner of Nigeria , and ensure that Nigerians are not unduly exploited by these companies?

This article was provoked by what happened in Lagos last May (2014), and was repeated in June, specifically, in the area formerly known as Sanya Undertaking of the defunct PHCN in Aguda, Surulere. The area is now under the control of the company that goes by the name, Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC). During the reign of the PHCN, the Sanya Undertaking was famous for the heartless extortion visited on the people residing in that area and the perennial darkness they endured. It got to a stage that residents of a particular street there had to write a petition to the PHCN high command demanding to know why the PHCN staff had turned their street into “a huge lucrative industry.” Now, their relief that the PHCN had gone was only vey brief as the Eko Electricty Distribution Company is making their ordeal at the hands of PHCN staff look like a tea party. The situation is now unbearable!

Although the staff of this company have been flooding the area with huge bills, in the last two months (May and June), they have taken their extortionist tendencies to a most ridiculous extent. What appears very clear is that they just sat in their offices and allocate unspeakably fat bills to the hapless people in that area, thereby causing a lot of outcry from the people.

The arrogance of their staff when the May bills were issued and people left their work and business places and trooped to their offices to complain about the horribly inflated bills in the face of egregiously dismal services was grossly repelling – like adding salt to an injury; extremely offensive. They spoke as if the government has handed Nigerians in that area over to them to treat the way like. Even though many of the people have functional meters, it was clear that they no longer relied on the meters to issue bills.

The solution would have been to create options like what obtains in the telecommunications sector. If one is not satisfied with a particular telecommunication company, one can easily discard the company’s SIM Card and obtain another. But this is not the case in the electricity sector. The country has been shared out to the electricity distribution companies and each company is made to be solely in control of a particular area, thereby, denying the people the power of choice and making it impossible for anyone to migrate from one company to another no matter the amount of terror unleashed upon him by the company controlling his area. Their bitter cry for deliverance must not continue to fall on deaf ears. They may be forced to resort to self-help.

There is also the issue of pre-paid meters which ought to have been issued to Nigerians before handing them over to these distribution companies. Initially, these meters were issued to the people free of charge, but that arrangement was halted. Now, its price has been placed far beyond the reach of the average Nigerian. Something must be done urgently to make pre-paid meters available to Nigerians to enable them pay ONLY for only the amount of electricity they consumed.

By the way, are these companies operating without any form of control? They are free to treat Nigerians like conquered victims? The danger in this excessive freedom they are enjoying now is that as the people start becoming aware that they are mere private businessmen intent on over-exploiting them, they may start resisting them. And this may lead to crises whose dimension no one can predict. History has shown that no set of people endure oppression forever; they always seek to secure their freedom from their oppressors in any way or manner they can. Government has a responsibility to halt the excesses of these electricity companies now before they push the people to the wall and we could have violent unrests in our hands.

It is in the interest of this government to show clearly that it is not on the side of these exploiters against the people. There should be codes of operations for these companies and a provision to revoke licenses for exceeding boundaries. The president must act fast before his political opponents exploit the situation to compound his image problems and hash-tags begin to flood the internet and everywhere else.

I.D. Nga is reachable on idnga2000@yahoo.com

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