By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
Barely four and half months after the official launch and roll-out of the Federal Government’s National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP), the programme has been dogged by allegations of fraud and corruption against electricity distribution companies (Discos) saddled with the task of installing the meters.
It would be recalled that the Federal Government had in October 2020 launched the NMMP in a bid to stop the unending controversies generated by the arbitrary estimated billing discos charged Nigerians.
According to the government, the primary objective of the metering program is to increase the metering rate in the country and close the gap of unmetered customers by distributing six million prepaid meters to the estimated 30 million electricity consumers without metres within the next two years
It is also expected that it will assist in reducing collection losses, while at the same time, increase financial flows to achieve 100 percent market remittance obligation of the discos.
While the CBN will provide financing support to local meter manufacturers and the distribution companies for the production and procurement of meters for customers, beneficiaries are not required to pay upfront for the installation of the meters. Government, it was learnt, will recover its investment through the retention of 50percent of energy purchased by customers until the money is defrayed.
However, controversy has continued to dog the program with customers complaining that were being extorted by staff of the discos.
Business Hallmark’s investigation which covered the two electricity distribution companies in Lagos, the Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) and the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC), established the allegations of extortion made against staff of the discos.
At the beginning of the February, some customers of the IKEDC within the Abule-Egba Undertaking (Jankara Unit) of the company had approached our Correspondent, informing him that men of the disco were demanding the payment of N6,000 processing fee before they could be issued prepaid meters.
Armed with this information, this writer contacted one of the indicted marketers, while pretending to be the landlord of one of the houses in need of prepaid meters (a four unit of 3-bedroom flats).
Swallowing the hook, the marketer, popularly known as Micheal in the area, promised to help the writer secure the meters, but with the condition of parting with the sum of N6,000 per metre.
“You will get the metres in less than 48 hours after filling the forms and paying the sum of N24,000 for the four”.
When prompted to send the account number of the company where the money should be paid, he quickly said that the money should be paid in cash and not through the bank.
“If you are really serious, you have to act fast by paying up as we only have few metres in stock. You don’t have to be worried about losing your money. If not that you contacted me very late (around 3pm), you could have gotten your metres today.
“But don’t worry, when you are ready, let me know. Just make sure that it is in the morning and the money is ready. After completing the forms, you will get the metres the same day”, the marketer assured.
Our Correspondent assured him that he would get back to him soon. However, two days after he didn’t hear back from the writer, he visited the house in question demanding for the person in-charge.
“Tell your landlord that he is wasting time. We are running out of stock. I have already retained four meters for him, but he may lose it if he did not act fast. Tell him that if by the end of work tomorrow I did not hear from him, I will give it out to another customer on the waiting list”, he warned.
On Irepodun Street in the Ijaiye-Ojokoro area of Lagos State where the house is located, BH observed that some houses have been issued meters. When contacted, the landlords confided in BH that they all parted with money before the metres were installed.
A landlord on the same street who did not want his identity revealed, however told our correspondent that he paid the sum of N15, 000 to obtain his own metre. Surprised by the disparity in fees paid by different applicants, BH demanded to see the metre.
The riddle was soon resolved as it was observed that the metre is a 3-phase metre.
In other words, while a single phase metre goes for N6,000, a three-phase metre exchanges hands for N15,000. It was however noted that many houses which their landlords or occupants failed to pay the requested money have not been issued metres.
The situation within the EKEDC network is not quite different from that of IKEDC, as residents under the network, checks revealed, pay as high as N15,000 to acquire prepaid meters forms from marketing staff. Some customers who were able to get metres told BH that they were issued photocopied forms to fill and later told to pay the sum of N15,000 each to hasten up the process.
“We were all given the forms free of charge. But after filling it we discovered a portion in the form that must be filled and certified by a registered electrical contractor. This became a dilemma to many of us who didn’t have registered electricians readily available.
“They (EKEDC staff) promptly offered to help us out but with the condition that we must part with N15,000. Knowing full well that they won’t attend to our forms if we don’t play along, we have to play along.
“As we predicted, only the people who parted with the amount demanded were successful in their applications. I learnt from our marketer that those that didn’t pay won’t be as lucky as the network only has about 4,000 metres in stock for the over 10,000 customers in the area”, declared one of the ‘lucky’ beneficiaries.
In his reaction to the revelation, EKEDC’s Assistant General Manager, Corporate Communications, Babatunde Lasaki, promised that the network will look into the matter.
EKEDC, as a company, does not condone any form of extortion as it is against what we stand for as an organisation. We enjoin our customers to report to us through any of our offices or anonymously, with evidence by e-mail.
We have also communicated our customers through different channels to neither give nor condone any form of demand from our staff and, should such happen, they should report with names, location and staff number.
We encourage our customers to report these incidences, for us to do our investigations and take disciplinary actions to serve as a deterrent to others, Lasaki assured.
However, attempts to get the reaction of the Head of Corporate Communications of IKEDC, Mr. Felix Ofulue, proved unsuccessful, as a voice message from his network suggested that the line was not available, while text messages to the line are yet to be delivered.
Also reacting, the Federal Government threatened to sanction any electricity distribution company or its representatives selling meters to Nigerians. The Special Adviser to the President on Infrastructure, Mr. Ahmed Zakari, issued the warning while speaking with BH in a phone interview.
We have made it clear through the regulators direct order as well as the intervention from the Ministry of Power that these meters are to be provided to Nigerians at no cost.
Even for meters that will be paid for through the MAP, there is a directive from the regulator to the discos that they need to find a way to reimburse citizens over time.
If we find any disco or its representatives selling these meters or exploiting Nigerians, they will be sanctioned, Zakari stated.
Meanwhile, the Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JEDC), has reiterated that its prepaid meters are free for customers in its franchise areas. The network supplies electricity to customers in Bauchi, Benue, Gombe and Plateau states.
In a statement by its Head of Corporate Communications, Friday Elijah, obtained by BH, JEDC told customers to report any official who asks for money before installing prepaid meter in their homes.
The management of Jos Electricity Distribution Plc has again called on customers not to gratify anybody in order to be metered. Similarly, account openings are also free and as such customers need not pay for new account openings.
Customers should report anybody or staff demanding for gratification of any sorts for the installation of meters to the Regional Managers or the corporate headquarters of the company in Jos for appropriate action. Customers should not give out a dime to staff who might be cajoling them to part with their money for the purpose of opening new accounts or separation of accounts for them.
Any staff caught demanding for gratification from customers or extorting them would be subjected to serious disciplinary actions.
The DisCo also urged customers not to panic, saying sufficient meters are available to serve all customers.