For some consumers under the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, IKEDC, this may not be the best of times for them as days without lights, crazy bills and endless antics on supply of prepaid meters have become new normal.

IKEDC, popularly referred as Ikeja Electric, IE, one of the eleven distribution companies privatised by the Federal Government is currently is faced with harsh criticism over deployment of pre-paid meters that would ensure equitable electricity tariff for its customers along the popular Lagos-Ibadan express way.

Some of the consumers in Arepo, Ogun, particularly, residents at praisehill, Westville, estates, among others, seem not to be on the same page with IE over the claim of supply of pre-paid meters and the continual use of old estimated billing system.

Since March, 2018, the residents have been subjected to estimated billings of between N17, 000 and N22,000 monthly without commensurate supply of light.

But, more worrisome is the fact that the residents are crying foul over alleged extortion plans by the company, which directed the residents to pay N35,000 and N25,000 for the prepaid meters that are supposed to be supplied free.

“Hello everyone, I live in the estate, I want to call our attention to this issue of crazy bill, I was issued 38,000 for the month of June l paid 20k from it, to my surprise my light was disconnected yesterday without any disconnection order sent to me. Chairman sir, l want to suggest that we order the security guys not to allow any PHCN people into the estate until the meter is brought to us. I think by that we will get them to work on it on time,” cried disgruntled resident.

Explaining, their predicaments, another resident explained to newsmen that the residents recently secured approval for the metering of all interested houses within the estate.

“The prepaid meter comes with an installation fee of 25k for single phase and 35k for three phase. Ikeja Electric does not want to deal with individuals as regards payment, they have requested that interested residents make payment to the estate while the estate will issue a cheque to them with the details of those who paid”

He said the company directed that “they have one week to send in our money and therefore payment should commence right away to round up on Tuesday 18th of September, so that the cheque can be handed over to them the following day.

The understanding was that the company was going to supply them with the meter, two weeks after payment, while those already with prepaid meters and with outstanding payments on them, will work out payment plans with IKEDC spread over an agreed period.

However, in a dramatic twist, IKEDC was said to have last month informed the residents through their association leadership that they have since discovered that the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) frowns at payment for the prepaid meters as it is supposed to be free, requesting however that the payment, regarded as a support, should be converted as energy credit.

“We have been informed by Ikeja Electric that NERC instructed them to give out meters free. The money we will pay will no longer be termed ‘installation fee’ but it will be for energy credit pre-loaded unto the meters.

The new rule is that regardless of the type of meter requested ie single or three phase, everyone will pay 30k per meter and it will be for energy credit,” says one of the estate residents.

While the dust raised by the new directive was yet to settle, it was gathered that IKEDC reversed gear, saying that the company would not like to deal with cluster of people but will now be on individual basis.

According to another resident, “We have just been told that Ikeja Electric has changed position on the metering exercise. They said they don’t want to work with a cluster of people anymore but individuals.”

Consequently, it was gathered that the earlier cheque was returned with advise to residents to deal directly and individually with the company.

“My idea about the whole thing is that we request IKEDC to write us formally on the prepaid meter issue because they can only perpetuate their evil intention of extortion individually and most importantly not documented. Whether it is free or not, at least, we have made formal request in writing and they should respond same,” says another aggrieved resident.

Lamenting, a resident said, “A friend in IKEDC had told me that IKEDC has meters and its free…even for installation but we have to request for it and put in a lot of pressure to get it.”

“IKEDC is one organisation that loves to make simple things very difficult but innovation and changing trends will soon catch up with them and they would beg people to patronise them soon,” says another resident.

Continuing, he said, “We are on ‘siddon look’, let us wait and monitor the situation. We are dealing with a dysfunctional organization that is talking from all sides of the mouth. They may not like to commit themselves into writing.”

Infact, the company allegedly said recently that it has intensified the rollout of prepaid meters to further close the metering gap within its network.

It also promised to reduce estimated billing with the deployment of prepaid meters, just as it recently commenced the roll-out of 85,000 meters to cover residential customers across its six business units of Ikeja, Abule-Egba, Akowonjo, Oshodi, Ikorodu and Shomolu, in its first batch of renewed metering drive.

But, Felix Ofolue, the image maker of the company said the allegations levied against Ikeja Electric were not true, but added that “Whatever strategy IKEDC adopts for metering whether through individuals and estates alike is based on considerations that most suitable for deployment because there is not enough to go round.”

He said the issue of installation fees was introduced to take care of installation costs and charges but it was discontinued shortly after so that it does not seem like we are breaching NERC regulations.

He maintained that Meter is free and it will be deployed on a feeder basis, there is no upfront payment of N30,000.

“Based on business considerations, a number of feeders have been selected for these batch of meter deployment, so every customer on these feeders will be metered. it is an ongoing process where new feeders will be selected from time to time, every-time a fresh batch of metering commences.

“The metering strategy also includes cluster metering because we have meters which are best suited for that. And that is where organised clusters like Estates come into play.

“A lot of site surveys have happened in the last three months and full deployment has commenced in Fagba, Ijaiye, Akute, Ifako, Oregun, PTC, Ogba, Ketu, Lasunwon and Ajo. Of course there are bound to be challenges but we will proffer solution as we move along”

Besides, Anthony Youdeowei, CEO, Ikeja Electric Plc, said at commissioning of the company’s ultra modern office in Ikeja that it was not true the firm sells prepaid meters to its customers.

He said: “Let me also use this medium to debunk some of the misinformation in the public space that we sell meters for N100,000. Please note that meters from Ikeja Electric are free and you do not have to pay for them. Based on business considerations, our strategy to metering is based on feeders and once it is the turn of your feeder, all customers on that feeder will be metered at no cost. I solicit the assistance of our friends from the media to help us cascade this news to the public and provide the clarity.

“To scale up supply across our network, we have several ongoing projects aimed at ensuring our customers get adequate energy supply as required. To achieve this, we will be commissioning Mushin 1x15MVA Injection Substation and the New Oworo 15 MVA Injection Sub-Station by the end of October 2018.

“In similar vein, we are going to replace 2 obsolete high voltage switchgears at Agege Injection Substation in the 1st week of November 2018. We also flagged off the construction work on Transformer Repair Workshop for immediate repairs of failed distribution transformers. In addition, we have set up a Preventive Maintenance Team to prevent failure of equipment and guarantee stable power supply.

“This series of projects and upgrading of facilities will translate to improved services across our six (6) business Units – Oshodi, Somolu, Abule-Egba, Ikorodu, Ikeja and Akowonjo. This is in line with our commitment toward enriching the lives by means of our quality service that guarantees customer’s satisfaction. We will not stop aiming for the best, so are poised to extend this upgrading to other facilities in our Undertakings.

A senior official of the power firm said it remains resolute in its commitment to meter all its customers and narrow the metering gap as quickly as possible.

“At the moment, prepaid meters are being installed in different communities across the network, while in other localities, pre-installation activities are ongoing and between now and the end of the year we will have concluded the first batch of the deployment.

“We therefore urge our customers to be patient as our ultimate objective is to ensure that all our customers are eventually metered,” he noted

But some of the customers of the power firm alleged that the company have the pre-paid meters in stock but preferred estimated billing.

Chinedu Bosah, Coordinator of Coalition for Affordable and Regular Electricity (CARE), who is also one of the customers of the power firm,said that he had applied for pre-paid meter since 2015 but he has not been given despite repeated calls and visits to the company.

He also alleged that the firm sells prepaid meters to customers through agents.

He said he is contemplating taken his case to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) for necessary redress, but doubts the capacity of the agency to wield the big sticks on the company.

Comrade Chris Chukwu, National President of Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSEAC), believes that the regulatory agency barks more than bite in restoring discipline and due process to the nation’s power sector.

A senior official of the agency, said the new NERC is alive to its constitutional responsibilities in strengthening the power sector and wielding the big sticks where necessary.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has recently ordered electricity distribution companies to refund monies paid by persons who did not receive meters under the scrapped Credited Advanced Payment for Metering Initiative (CAPMI).

The directive was given at a meeting between NERC and stakeholders in the power sector held in Abuja.

“The meeting re-emphasised the need to uphold customer service standards, especially as it relates to refund of monies collected from customers for meters under the scrapped CAPMI scheme. The Discos were directed to publish a reminder in any two national newspapers that customers who paid for CAPMI yet unmetered should come for refund with details of payment,” the statement read.

The regulatory commission also said it would bring an end to the era of the Distribution Companies (DisCos) discretionarily remitting what it felt like as payment for electricity purchased from Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) LTD.

It noted that the DisCos’ act of collecting revenue for electricity sold and returning whatever it wished to the market is dampening the desire of investors to bring capital into the industry.

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