…as Globacom makes billions from complaints
By Etuka Sunday
Although the impression is that Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC)’s Customer Care Unit (CCU) and Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC)’s Forum Office are places where electricity customers get their complaints resolved, investigation however reveals differently. Those offices were set up by NERC as conflict resolution mechanism through which disputes between electricity providers and customers would be properly addressed. However, checks showed the inefficiencies of these offices in handling customers’ complaints.
On September 5, 2017, I called one of the customer care lines provided by AEDC to complain about the consistent rise in my Sister’s electricity bills at Calvary Road, Aso-Pada, Mararaba in Nasarawa State from N3, 061.80 to N4, 711.14; from N5, 457.07 to N7, 302. 27 and from N8, 008.94 to N8, 480.05, all in 2017 and how unbearable it was becoming for her to pay, but nothing was done by the company about it.
On October 6, 2017, the AEDC Marketer covering the area again came again with a bill of N8, 008.94. I called the customer care unit again to complain but nothing was done about it. So, I wrote a complaint letter using a pseudo name (John Etuk) on October 30, 2017 which I submitted at the AEDC customer care unit on November 1, 2017.
I had a funny experience at the AEDC CCU when I went to submit a copy of the complaint letter. I was told boldly by a staff at the CCU that no one would listen to me; that I should rather apply for a meter and wait for it.
“Please sir, I advise you apply for a meter, no one will listen to your complaint of overbilling’’, a staff of the company gave me an unattractive alternative.
Although I was not the only one with that kind of experience, Mr Jimoh Ishiaka who was at the NERC Forum Office at Gwarimpa, Abuja to submit a complaint for his landlord on overbilling and refusal to be metered by AEDC narrated his experience.
“We have been on this issue for a very long time now. I am living in Dutse Alhaji, Abuja, in a rented apartment. We noticed that our electricity bill continued to rise. Anytime they give us N5, 000 and we pay, the next bill will be N6, 000 without any justification. We complained to the Marketers who usually come around for disconnection but no headway, rather they advised us to pay the initial amount of N5, 000.
“As we were paying the N5, 000, the balance of N1000 was also being recorded for us. When the balance accumulated into a huge amount, the Marketers came and disconnected against their earlier advice.
“A friend advised us to visit AEDC customer care unit, so I went there. They promised they were going to resolve the issue, but up till now, nothing was done.
“I am here at NERC Forum Office for the same issue. We are now asking NERC to prevail on AEDC to either write-off the accumulated amount since it was their advice or meter us to stop the fraud they are committing against us through estimated billing.”
Another customer I met at AEDC CUU, Olusegun Adeniju told me that “having pre-paid meter is not even the ultimate. The extortion is too much. In my own case, I am using pre-paid meter and they say I owe them. How could one be using pre-paid meter and still be owing electricity bill? We do recharge regularly, we just recharged two days ago and instead of giving us the usual 500units, they gave us 200units so I came to complain.
“See let me advise you, I had similar experience on over billing, you know the way they do it now is that they give you the bill ahead of the month, whether the light comes or not, or even if the transformer is faulty, you will still pay. If you don’t pay, the marketers will disconnect your light. I have applied for a meter for close to three (3) months now but I have not been given,” he said.
But how could I have applied for a meter when those who applied are yet to be given? Some communities like Pyakasa, a suburb in Lugbe, and part of Nyanya in Abuja where customer enumeration took place a year ago, are yet to be metered.
Although I refused to listen to the warning therefore, I submitted a copy of my complaint letter but that was exactly what happened. I waited for one month against the 15 working days specified by NERC but nothing was done by the company to resolve the issue.
What was my complaint? I was billed N7627.56 plus 5% VAT of N381.38 amounting to N8008.94. That I was billed that amount was not the issue, but that I was billed unjustly. I was billed for electricity not consumed and to me, that was fraudulent.
I was billed that amount, when my area was out of supply for two (2) weeks. Consequently, I demanded an explanation for the formula used to arrive at that amount, I argued that the bill was fraudulently calculated, if not, as a Residential Customer, there was no way I would have been given 6.80 as Average Daily Consumption (ADC) since I am not using Air Conditioner or Refrigerator.
In villages like Aso-Pada, Mararaba in Nasarawa State and Pyakasa, a suburb around Lugbe in Abuja, a customer is given 11.67kh as Average Daily Consumption (ADC) and 425.25 as 5% VAT amounting to N8, 930.25, when Pyakasa complained, the whole community was disconnected.
However, NERC standards and Procedures Regulation contemplates a 3 –stage process for the resolution of a customer’s complaint against a Distribution Company (Disco).
According to the regulation, a customer is supposed to first of all approach Disco’s Customer Complaint Unit (CCU) and file his or her complaint, and all complaints to be resolved within 15 working days.
Secondly, if issue is unresolved, or customer is unsatisfied, or delay in resolution, customer can escalate to NERC Forum Office in writing, which is expected to be resolved within three months from the date of submission.
Thirdly, if either party (Customer or Disco) is dissatisfied with the decision of the NERC Customer Forum, a petition may then be submitted to the commission.
As part of Quasi-Judicial power of the Commission, when a formal Petition is brought before the Commission, the Commission conducts a formal Hearing to determine the Pleadings in the Petition with a view to resolving disputes between operators and consumers, and other stakeholders in the industry. It involves the presentation of testimonies, evidence and arguments before the Commission, with a view to arriving at an informed decision.
The Commission may conduct a Hearing on its own initiative or upon the receipt of a formal Petition. The procedures for Hearing are contained in Sections 45, and 62 (4) of the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act, 2005, and Chapter II of the NERC Business Rules of the Commission Regulation, 2006.
If after this, a customer is still not satisfied, he or she can then approach a court of competent jurisdiction for justice.
According to NERC Guidelines, “It is the customer’s right to transparent electricity billing. Unmetered customers should be issued with electricity bills strictly based on NERC’s estimated billing methodology.
“It is the customer’s right to contest any electricity bill. Any unmetered customer who is disputing his or her estimated bill has the right not to pay the disputed bill as the contested bill go through the dispute resolution process of NERC.”
At NERC Forum Office in Gwarimpa, Abuja I discovered that some cases were over four (4) months old and still yet to be resolved, against the three (3) months stipulated by the Commission’s regulation.
Recall, NERC regulation said, if issue is unresolved at Disco’s CCU, or customer is unsatisfied, or delay in resolution, customer can escalate to NERC Forum Office in writing, which is expected to be resolved within three months from the date of submission.
However, NERC Forum Office has over 60 new cases yet to be resolved, while issues of metering and overbilling dominated customers’ complaints at the Forum.
The issue is, how long can electricity customers wait at the Forum Office while trying to get justice for wrong done by the Discos? On while some complaints are yet to be resolved, AEDC said, some of the customers are ignorant about the electricity chain. The company said some of the complaints registered are not for them, saying that some are for the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), while others are for Rural Electrification Agency (REA).
It said, the ones for them are being resolved after investigation. Official record of the company (AEDC) puts a cumulative customers complaints received between June 2014 and October 2015 at 84, 934, while it puts a cumulative customers complaints resolved in the same period at 83, 711, leaving 1,223 complaints unresolved.
AEDC Customer Service Cummulative Report covering from January to October, 2017, obtained from a reliable source also showed that the company received a total of 28,002 complaints between January and October, 2017, was able to resolve 23,804, leaving 4,207 unresolved.
Cumulative Report by Regional Offices from January to October, 2017, showed that complaints were received in the following order, from highest to the lowest: FCT South (11,357), FCT Central (6,644), FCT North (5,212), Nasarawa (1,898), Niger (1,536), Kogi (1,036) and Kogi (319).
Cumulative Report by Area Offices from January to October, 2017, also showed that the highest complaints were received from Apo Area Office (3,521), followed by Lugbe (3,281), Wuse (2,121)Kuje (1,551), Jabi (1,526), Kubwa (1,506), Karu (1,443) and others.
Cumulative Report by Category from January to October, 2017, showed that the company received the highest complaints from Light/Transformer (13,371), followed by Billing (6,345), Meter (3,694), Others (3,097), Vending (1,039), and Non Reflection of Payment (456).
I discovered that the AEDC customer care lines, are not ‘Toll Free’ Lines. Customers pay to register their complaints.
A fast talking customer with less difficult
complaint would have to spend 360 seconds at the rate of N150 to N200, to be able to register his or her complaint.
This is not the same with a slow talking customer with more difficult complaint, who is made to spend over 720 seconds at the rate of N400 to N500, to be to register his or her complaint.
When contacted, AEDC denied making money from customer care lines, that the said amount was being charged by the network provider on the following numbers: Customer Care Centre 08152141414, 08152151515; Call Centre, 08150181818, 08150191919.
This means that, the network provider (Globacom) is making N1million (1,000,000) from 5000 fast talking customers at the rate of N200 each for 360 seconds and N2.5 million (2,500,000) from 5000 slow talking customers at the rate of N500 each for over 720 seconds.
Even with the exorbitant rate of customer call lines, some customers are willing to register their complaints, but often times the lines are not open to them. When contacted, AEDC said: “We are 100% sure. We understand that there might be network issues sometimes but our lines are always open.”
When contacted, NERC said the Forum Office is working and released Official Cumulative Report showing that total of (196) complaints were received at NERC Forum Office in Gwarimpa, Abuja since commencement in 2013, total of (161) complaints heard, leaving a total number of pending complaints at (35).
In contradiction, NERC said as at 20th November, 2017, 92% of the cases pending are closed with only 302 not resolved. I however, discovered that most of the so called resolved cases were not permanently resolved.
Electricity customers said that the unresolved electricity complaints are NERC’s failure since the commission is the power sector regulator. They questioned why NERC would allow Discos to continue to rip-off electricity consumers through overbilling using estimated billing system introduced by it.
Yes, it is true, the focus of every good business is towards profit maximization, however, where such profit is made by defrauding defenseless customers who are already weighed-down by social and economic challenges, then such business is questionable.
There are thousands of Nigerians out there who have concluded over and over again not to pay for electricity consumed because they felt they were defrauded by the operators through overbilling, and no sincere steps were taken by the company to correct its mistakes.
The delay in the dispensation of justice at the NERC Forum Office is frustrating the customers especially those coming in from Kogi,
Nasarawa and Niger. Again, the Office is located in an area not easily accessible to the customers, and not well equipped.
Electricity customers have been desperately crying for NERC’s attention for so long without success, their torrential tears of despair is recently turning to a veritable flood as officialdom has apparently decided to turn its back on the customers.