Electricity consumers in Plateau State are angry with the Jos Electricity Distribution Company, JEDC, over a series of service measures introduced by the company.
A group of the consumers, the Coalition of Plateau Residents and Consumers of JEDC, has risen to lead a campaign against the measures, which it argues have been introduced to exploit consumers in the area.
The campaign started with a letter of January 23 to the company, in which the group outlined its complaints, warning of imminent “public and legal actions” should the company neglect to address the consumers’ grievances.
The complaints the group stated in the letter include alleged “outrageous billings of consumers without proper explanations, indiscriminate estimate of bills without letting consumers know the parameter used, installation of new prepaid meters without proper consultations or enlightenment of consumers, and poor response to customers’ complaints’.
The group pressed further its campaign with a protest march on February 16 to the headquarters of the company in Jos, and the Plateau State House of Assembly where it submitted a petition.
The campaign has however failed to drive the consumers and the service company to a common ground on any of the issues raised in the complaints.
On Thursday March 9, a representative of the group, Sam Tokz, spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on the consumers’ grievances, after which our reporter met officials of the company in Jos for their reactions.
“The regulator states that you are supposed to meter every house, you don’t estimate bills. But Jos Electricity Distribution Company started estimating bills in November. In December they brought a bill of N17,500 to those who were (hitherto being) charged N2000 per month for estimation”, Mr. Tokz claimed.
“The regulator brought a mechanism; they call it the estimated billing methodology, so that estimated billing is fair to the consumer, not outrageous. But they started bringing outrageous bills”, he added.
Mr. Toks also said apart from the new “smart’ prepaid meters the company has introduced being “uncalibrated’, consumers do not understand why the meters were being mounted on poles, instead of on the walls of buildings where consumers can access and read them.
“It is only in Nigeria, you cannot find it anywhere in the world, where you hang meters on the pole”, Mr. Tokz claimed.
“People have meters. For instance, you have prepaid meters but they will come and change the meters with those uncalibrated meters. These ones they brought in; in fact, they started the pilot project at Rayfield. Bauchi refused to take those meters, Gombe refused to take those meters, Benue refused to take those meters”, he said.
He also alleged unexplained increase in tariff.
“They were charging Jos N26.81k, but overnight they just increased it to N29 even when there is drop in power supply. You don’t just increase the tariff.
“They said the regulators have given them the leverage to increase the tariff up to 2023. So if there is drop in power supply, then you shouldn’t increase the tariff. So we asked them what the rationale for increasing this tariff was.”
Mr. Tokz said the group of consumers consulted a specialist, Barnabas Kwaha, who is a professor of Electronics Engineering at the University of Jos, with observations over the new meters.
According to him, Mr. Kwaha did a research on the “uncalibrated” meters and discovered that the billing method of the new meters was outrageous.
“If you were spending N5,000 before on the former prepaid meter, you end up spending N38,000 at the end of the month because the meter reads leakages. Meaning that if there are leakages even from the transformers or from the cables, the consumer pays for it. And even if you change to generator, that meter is still reading. So the meter is clearly not calibrated”. Mr. Tokz said.
He said the consultant, Mr. Kwaha, also observed that the company should have begun metering from areas where meters were not installed initially, instead of taking to areas that had old ones.
Mr. Toks dismissed a claim that meters were replaced with new ones hung on poles because the old ones were being tampered with. He said there are laws in place to punish those who bypass or tamper with meters.
The company had responded to the letter of complaints by inviting leaders of the group to a meeting. At the meeting, Mr. Tokz said the leaders asked why consumers in Plateau were paying more than those in other states around them.
“They told us that it is the regulator’s policy. Meanwhile, we had copied the regulator, that is the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, and NERC told us that if they don’t do anything about our complaints within 15 days, we can go to court so that we can challenge what they are doing”.
“Our major point of contention is that these meters are not calibrated and they are reading very fast. And the company confirmed to us that those meters were made in China, so probably, what we read was that it was based on specification. Maybe the company wants to make profit and just decided to certify without NEMSA (Nigerian Electricity Management Service Agency) certifying.
“They showed us a document saying that NEMSA had certified. Even if NEMSA has certified, the consumer that pays for those meters should have been on ground to get their professionals to certify whether the meters were calibrated or not. They couldn’t explain that.
“Since they couldn’t meet our demands, when it was first of February they increased the tariff from N26 to N28.83,” he added.
Mr. Toks said the Plateau State House of Assembly has remained silent on a letter written to the lawmakers by the group. He suspected this could be because some top politicians in the state are stakeholders in JEDC.
When PREMIUM TIMES called on the electricity distribution company, its Head of Corporate Communications, Elijah Friday, reacted to the various issues raised by the consumers.
He said the company introduced the new meter in response to persistent complaints by residents against estimated billing system.
“First and foremost, I will like to say that the reason for the installation of the smart prepaid meters was because of persistent complaints from customers that they were being overbilled based on estimated billing system that was provided by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission.
“So in order to forestall the issues of overbilling, the company in its wisdom decided to introduce these prepaid smart meters” he said.
He explained that the meters were installed on poles to reduce bypass by consumers and faulted the claim that Plateau was the only state with pole-mounted meters. He said the meters were not peculiar to JEDC.
“This is not the first time that pole-mounted meters are being introduced in the world. If you are conversant with the history of meters, and if you like when we finish from here I could also give you literatures, it is not something that was designed only for Plateau. Other distribution companies are also using it. So it is not peculiar to JED Plc. Other distribution companies are also taking advantage of these prepaid meters.
“The mere fact that customers are worried that the meters are being pole-mounted shows a sinister motive. Otherwise, if I am mounting my meter up there should I be the one worried or you to be worried? I should be the one to be worried for the safety of the meter, because at the end of the day, if the meters get spoiled it is me who will provide you another meter, not the customers.
“But in this case, because of that intendment to consume energy without necessarily paying for it, they are now worried. Because they are pole-mounted, it is more difficult to bypass than the ordinary prepaid meters that you put in people’s premises where they can stand and do whatever they want to do.”
“If you observe, the meters that were used before now are no longer good because we can no longer vouch for their integrity. Meters that were in operation for over 20/30 years of course you don’t expect that such meters should be in perfect working condition,” he said.
Mr. Friday also refuted claims that the new meters were not properly certified, stressing that the energy industry was a highly regulated one.
“These new meters were comprehensively certified and met standards. Don’t forget that the energy industry is a highly regulated one. We have various regulatory agencies monitoring the industry and monitoring us, so we cannot do anything without their knowledge,” he said.
The company spokesman outrightly debunked the allegation that Plateau has higher tariff than neighbouring states.
“That is not true. Jos, that is Plateau, Benue, Gombe, Bauchi, we have equal tariff.
“We cannot introduce a tariff for Plateau State and another category of tariff for Benue State and another one for Bauchi state. Because these are our franchise states”.
He said the tariff took into cognisance of the present economic situation in Nigeria; else the charges would have been up to N70 per megawatt.
He urged Nigerians to be conservative in their consumption of energy as he encouraged people to take advantage of the new smart prepaid meter.
On the claim that the new meter is “uncalibrated,” Mr. Friday took time to explain and refute the allegation.
“First everything, we do fall under the ambit of regulations. The very group that sent you this petition…when they came, we also told them…. when you observe the situation critically, their problem was as simple as anything. They don’t want the new meters and the estimated billing, so where do we go?
“And this energy that we are distributing… we are vendors, we buy this energy, it is not given to us free and Nigerians must begin to realise that energy is no longer a free commodity when government was in full control of the energy sector.
“These meters were tested, completely tested. In short, when they came here, they said it was uncalibrated and I just laughed. The word uncalibrated, if I should open my dictionary for you …when you say something is not calibrated, that means it cannot be coupled. If it had not been calibrated, then why are we mounting it?” he added.
Mr. Friday also debunked as “fallacious” the claim that the new meter reads when customers use private generators.
He also added that the billing system used for the old prepaid meter is the same with the new smart prepaid meters.
On whether consumers were being charged for the new meters, Mr. Friday said that they are free, but that since each comes with 100 units of electricity, a fee of N3130 was being charged.
“It’s free. The new meter comes with a hundred units credit and because energy is not free, you will be required to pay for that,” he said.
He said when you divide the fee charged by the hundred units in the meter, you will arrive at the tariff charged per unit.
But when PREMIUM TIMES did a fact check, instead of giving N29.83k per unit as claimed by JEDC, the 100 units on the new meter produced N31.30K per unit.