By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
Outrage and angry reactions have continued to trail the unexpected upward review of electricity tariffs by about 100 percent by the 11 Electricity Distribution Companies (Discos) operating in the country.
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), it would be recalled had assuaged the fears of Nigerians after the outcry that trailed an increase in electricity tariffs in September 2020 and January this year that the discos would not increase tariffs of customers enjoying less than 12 hours of power supply daily.
According to the NERC Commissioner, Legal Licensing and Compliance, Mr. Dafe Akpeneye, classes of customers had been categorised into five bands under the new Service Reflective Tariff Plan (SRT), with bands D and E who were not enjoying 12 hours daily power supply not affected by the new tariff plan.
The NERC spokesperson further explained that the hours and bands were decided by the commission after consultations but customers were assigned to the bands by the Discos.
”Anyone who is enjoying less than 12 hours of electricity must not have their tariffs increased. Customers who receive electricity service below the band they have been assigned can have the Discos move them to the actual band of electricity service they receive”, Akpeneye had said.
Also on April 25, the Federal Government apologised to Nigerians over the current power outages and shortages in various parts of the country, blaming it on the breakdown of some National Integrated Power Plants (NIPP) and others supplying electricity to the national grid.
The Ministry of Power listed the affected plants to include Sapele, Afam, Olorunsogo, Omotosho, Ibom, Egbin, Alaoji, and Ihovbor, while staying that other integrated power plants, Geregu, Sapele, Omotosho, Gbarain, Omoku, Paras, and Alaoji, are experiencing gas constraints.
The ministry also said while the Jebba Power Plant was shut down for annual maintenance, the Shiroro Power Plant has water management problems. The condition of the plants, the ministry explained, had drastically affected power generation, leading to effectively minimising the national grid.
While apologizing to Nigerians for the inconveniences the power shortages have caused, the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, assured them that the ministry through the appropriate agencies was working assiduously to rectify the technical problems affecting the plants, as well as making effort to resolve the gas issues to the others.
However, despite the assurances and apologies, the discos earlier in the month surreptitiously introduced new rates without informing Nigerians who only got to know of the hike while trying to buy energy.
Checks revealed that the discos are not adhering to the increment terms reached with labour, as customers below 12 hours supply daily have had the tariff increased by about 100 percent.
The development threw many Nigerians into confusion, particularly those using prepaid meters, who were unable to load the energy tokens generated for them, as the discos had already reconfigured their system to accommodate the new tariffs.
Bussiness Hallmark reliably gathered that the increment was effected by the discos on April 13, but many Nigerians were not aware of it until the morning of April 19 when they visited the offices of their electricity providers to complain about their inability to load the token for energy purchased.
Our correspondent who purchased energy of N5,000 on April 13 was unable to load the token generated for him by an Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) vendor. All attempts to load the token failed, with ‘X AAAAA’ message always displaying on the monitor each time he entered the 20 numbers token.
Thinking it was probably due to a network problem, this writer kept trying until Monday, April 19 but didn’t record any success. Feeling frustrated, he decided to visit the Jankara (Ijaiye-Ojokoro) office of the IKEDC to lodge a complaint.
He however met a huge crowd of over 500 customers already waiting to be attended to over the same complaint.
With tally number 507, our correspondent waited for over three hours before he could be attended to. The customer care office who attended to him apologised profusely, blaming the hiccup on the reconfiguring of the tariffs template.
The reporter was promptly issued three sets of tokens (20 numbers each), totaling 60. He was very happy when the ‘successful’ sign popped up after he had entered all the 60 numbers.
However, he was shocked to find out that only 100.8 units were allocated to him instead of the usual 200 plus units. He quickly raced back to the IKEDC office. And after waiting for another one hour, he was attended to by another customer service agent who explained to him that his tariff had been increased by about 100%.
“That was why you couldn’t load the first token generated for you because your tariff code had been reconfigured to accommodate the new rate”, the official explained.
Reports from across the country indicate that the increment cuts across all the distribution units scattered across the country. Some of the complainants who spoke to BH also confirmed the sudden and unexpected hike in electricity tariff.
“Before now, I used to purchase a little over 100 units for N2,500. But I was shocked when they gave me only 51.2 units for the same amount. What pained me most is the fact that I wouldn’t have know if I had not visited their office to complain that I could not load the recharge token generated for me.
“I have been calling them since last Wednesday, but instead of telling me the truth, they were telling me to either check the battery of my loader, or that a magnetic body, whatever that means, must be blocking my metre and that I should move the loading machine close to it.
“They are just fraudsters, making me to go through all the stress when they could have simply informed me that they had reconfigured their system”, the visibly angry customer, Alhaji Lekan Badmus stated.
Meanwhile, Nigerians have continued to decry the unilateral decision, with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) threatening a showdown if the discos do not revert to the old price. While describing the increment as illegal, the NLC said that it was not part of the process that gave birth to the new tariffs.
President of the congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, while expressing shock over the increment, vowed that organised labour will resist it and urged Nigerians to stand up against it.
“This is not only condemnable, but there is element of deceit in it because there is a standing committee of the Federal Government which the NERC is part of, still working on how to address the issue arising from the last electricity tariff hike which Labour intervened.
“Most of the committee members are not even aware of this current increase. Basically, we are going to resist it and Nigerians must also stand up to resist it. It is like exploitation and it means that this exploitation will not have an end.
“When you look at the variables, it is even laughable. You are looking at the variable of inflation and the variable of the exchange rate which are supposed to be the responsibility of government to fix. Government ought to fix our economy and bring the exchange rate to the lowest level, same with inflation. Government is transferring its inefficiency to the consumers which the accompanying inflation will be very severe”, Wabba stated.
“It’s insensitive” – Electricity consumers group.
In his own response, the President of the Electricity Consumers Association of Nigeria (ECAN), Chijoke James, described the hike as harsh and insensitive, arguing that so far, the improvement in services promised by the government during the tariff increase last year, has not happened.
“There are no justifications for this latest increment. Rather than the improvement in services promised by the government during the tariff increase in 2020, the situation has worsened. The government even ate the humble pie by publicly apologising to Nigerians for the poor power situation in the country.
“So what is the justification for the sudden increase? It shows that the government is insensitive. There are no disposable incomes for people to spend combined with galloping inflation. I think it will be insensitive on the part of government to allow for that kind of increase in this period”, the ECAN president said.
Efforts to reach the Heads off Corporate Communications of Ikeja and Eko Electricity Distribution Companies, Felix Ofulue and were not successful. While calls made to their lines didn’t connect, they had yet to reply to a text message sent to them at the time of going to press.
However, a source in Eko Disco who did not want his identity revealed, refuted the claims that his organisation had implemented an increment.
He insisted that it was only customers on bands D and E who were previously not enjoying 12 hours daily power supply, but now enjoying improved power supply of at least 12 hours daily that were incorporated into the new tariff plan.
“The Service Reflective Tariff Plan (SRT) is not a new thing. It was arrived at a long time ago. While those on Bands A to C with 12 hours and above power supply daily had their tariffs increased in September last year, the tariffs of those on bands D and E not enjoying 12 hours daily power supply were frozen, but with the condition that when the power situation in their arrears improved, they would also have their tariffs increased.
“That was what happened. Discos didn’t just go ahead to unilaterally effect the increment. It was done after an improvement in the power situation. We now have more stranded power from power plants to distribute to our customers”, the source argued.