When Ololade Fayemi moved into a new apartment in April last year at the Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos, she did not know that the residents had been living in darkness. A gas explosion in the area in October 2020 had damaged their transformer and left them without electricity.
The 30-year-old, who runs a fashion-designing business in her home, said houses connected to the transformer were told to contribute N10,000 each to repair the transformer.
Ms Fayemi said if she had been aware of the power failure, she would have reconsidered her decision of taking the apartment.
“This is August (2021), they (agent and landlord) didn’t go deeper into the fact that the transformer has not been functional for some months, because I moved here in April and I heard that the light has been having issues since February. I thought it was just a minor issue and it was then that it dawned on me that the transformer was faulty.
“As someone into fashion designing you have to iron, you have to use your machine, all manner of stuff and you have to work overnight too. And all these have been hectic for me. It has not been smooth and most of the time when I have plenty of clothes, I pack them. Thank God for my sister who lives not too far from here, I pack the whole clothes to her place to iron. I also charge my power bank, phone, and lamp there.”
She said sometimes she turns on her small generator to charge while she uses a stove iron to work.
Who repairs faulty transformers?
Nearly a decade after the Nigerian government handed control of a large part of its electricity sector to private investors, the sector still struggles with meeting the power needs of Nigerians.
In February, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) condemned electricity distribution companies forcing customers to buy or repair electricity assets as a condition for the restoration of power supply. The practice, however, has continued.
Also, the NERC while stating its “consumer right and obligation” emphasised that it is “not the responsibility of electricity customers or communities to buy, replace or repair electricity transformers, poles and related equipment used in the supply of electricity.”
According to the commission, some of the obligations of electricity consumers include monthly payment of power consumed, “vigilant protection of electrical installation, cordiality towards electricity workers, ensure that metering and other electrical equipment within your premises belonging to the DisCo are not tampered with, or by-passed, notify the DisCo serving you of any tampering or bypass of electrical installations, notify the DisCo serving you of any outstanding electricity bill before moving into new premises.”
The commission also stated that the repair or replacement of faulty electrical infrastructure should be fixed within 48 hours of official complaints. It, however, noted that where the DisCo is unable to “speedily replace the faulty transformer, residents may go into discussions with the company and agree on the terms of the replacement of the affected transformer if they wish to assume the responsibility of the company.”
The agency said irrespective of the financial commitment made by the residents, the “equipment purchased and integrated into the electricity system or grid automatically becomes the property of the Electricity Distribution Company (DisCo).”
But Sunday Adeyemi, a landlord in Baruwa, Iyana-Ipaja, said following the power outage, they lodged complaints at the DisCo’s office but did not get feedback.
“When it happened, Baruwa community chairman called them and they checked it and promised to do it. But I was surprised when they used a forklift to pick the transformer to their office and the chairman was not aware.
“They asked us to pay N10,000 each to their account, the money is not for the chairman, it is for the DisCo. Once you have made the payment, you will make a photocopy and show it to the chairman as evidence of payment.
“And people are responding to the payment. The last time that some residents went there they said the money was over N2 million.”
Another resident, Oluwaseyi Oyetunde, an engineer, said following the gas explosion, the power supply was “always low voltage” before the final blackout. He lamented that he spends N2,000 daily on fuel to pump water and other activities.
The Community Development Area (CDA) chairman, Samuel Fagbemi, said the DisCo, which did not initially respond to their call following the power outage, insisted that they pay up their debts before their electricity is restored.
“They said that we should go and pay N3.8 million before they can repair it for us. So, we started pleading with our people, those that are owing them,” he said.
He said the transformer has been bought but residents are still waiting for the headquarters of the DisCo to provide the electrical cables.
On the N10,000 residents were being made to pay, he said only residents owing the DisCo were asked to pay the money.
Ejike Chijioke, chairman of Thomas Animashaun Street in Surulere, said they experienced a blackout for almost three months in 2021 – May, June, and July. He said he is aware that it is the responsibility of the DisCos to fix electrical assets. However, he said, they waited for the officials for more than a month to repair their faulty transformer and they did not show up.
“Then, we called for a meeting (with residents) for us to discuss ways to resolve the transformer issue, it was against this background that a committee for NEPA (the defunct Nigerian Electric Power Authority) was set up. Then we went to their office to make official complaints, then the manager at Sanya, a senior district manager in the person of Engineer Lawal, came and reinstated the transformer,” he said.
“When they came, they said they would relocate the transformer from the original base to another base. And based on that, the electricity committee within the residence asked people to contribute N5,000. Later, it was increased to N10,000 per house due to the expenses to be incurred in the process of relocating the transformer.”
He said although they were not forced to contribute to relocating the transformer, they had to make a financial commitment to hasten the process.
“We built the base, fenced it, provided the feeder pillar and one or two things that NEPA required from us which they could not provide immediately,” Mr Chijioke said, adding that they are likely to go through the same process should they experience such a blackout again.
Clement Edet, a barber in Surulere, described the blackout periods as “hell” for his business. He said in order to retain his customers, he had to charge the same price as his competitors who had power supply.
“The DisCo did not even say ‘you people should give us time to fix this,'” he said.
“They should be the one begging us because we are the consumers and they give us bills and we pay, but these people do not see us as consumers, they see us as fools, whether you like, give them light or don’t give them, they will pay,” Mr Edet said.
“We had a meeting, we can’t continue to wait for these people, just as you know, you can’t wait for the government, you wake up and solve your problem.”
Nigeria produces an average of 5,000 megawatts of electricity for a population of about 200 million. The country is also Africa’s largest economy yet it has one of the world’s worst power sectors. At least 85 million citizens do not have access to the national grid, the World Bank said. The global bank also stated that Nigeria loses $29 billion annually to power shortages.
A fish farmer in Olu Adeyanju Street, Ifelodun community in Ogun State, who identified himself as Adegbenro, is one of the businesses affected by the erratic power supply. He said he had to suspend his farm business due to the constant breakdown of the electrical transformer.
“I once had a fish pond but because of the light issues, I can’t do it again, coupled with the high cost of petrol, I can’t cope, I had to suspend it.
“NEPA has just been promising, we went to Ibadan, and Sango here, since then nothing has been done. They (IBEDC) said they have a lot of demand for transformers. So, we decided that each house was going to contribute N20,000 each. We learnt it will cost about N5 million.”
According to Mr Adegbenro, Ifelodun, Odo-Ogbe, and Igbehinadun communities have been experiencing power outages as a result of their faulty transformer since December 2020.
Mathew Babalola, a resident in the Ijako area of Ogun State, said about eight affected streets had contributed money thrice to repair their faulty transformer since December 2020 but it continued to break down. They, therefore, decided to buy a new one.
“We wrote a letter to Ibadan DisCo and they said we should make a contribution and everyone has been told to contribute N20,000 and up till now, we haven’t resolved it.”
He mentioned that due to the months-long blackout, he has been staying late in the office to ensure that all his gadgets are fully charged before going home. He added that he sometimes borrows his neighbour’s generator to pump water for daily use.
Residents of Abaranje in the Ikotun area of Lagos say they have been in darkness since April 2021 because they have been unable to fulfil the N30,000-per-house contribution to fix their faulty transformer.
“We have been struggling in darkness,” a resident who identified herself as Mama Blessing said.
“Is it our responsibility to fix the transformers or the DisCo’s?”
But the community chairman, Niyi Adeshina, said they were told to pay N30,000 each because they owed the DisCos over N3 million debts.
“The transformer exploded and we went to their office. They said we owe N24,900,000, so they said we should pay two million in order to get another transformer but in case we don’t have up to that, we should pay 1.4 million for the transformer and another N1.4 million for connection. And people are yet to respond to the payment at the moment,” Mr Adeshina said.
Fixing the fault
According to a consumer rights law expert, Folarin Aluko, it is the responsibility of the DisCos to provide “working and operational equipment” regardless of the debts owed by consumers.
“I think that would be a dereliction of duty by the DisCo,” Mr Aluko said.
“The responsibility imposed by law is not conditional upon the action of anyone.”
The spokesperson for Ikeja Electric, Felix Ofulue, however, thinks otherwise.
Mr Ofulue requested “proof” that some residents fix their faulty transformers on their own.
“When customers owe, they need to pay to keep the system working. If they have issues with the bills, escalation processes have been put in place to enable them to contest their bills,” he said.
“We have remittances to make to the industry. So, if you keep owing us, how do we provide? We are under a lot of pressure, they should pay their bills. There are rules for them, people pay for their DStv, GOtv, this is not a social service.”
He added that the residents do not necessarily have to pay their full debts, but should pay their monthly payments in full.
“What we are saying is for them to pay their current bill, we are just saying pay your monthly bill, not half but full,” he said.
He also said that the delay in fixing or replacing faulty electrical assets is a result of several requests that they get. He said there is no preferential treatment and problems are solved on a first-come-first-served basis.
When PREMIUM TIMES went to the Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) office in Surulere to enquire about claims that residents were told to fund the repair of their transformer, the manager referred this reporter to the district head in Orile-Iganmu. However, an official, who asked not to be named, denied the allegations. She said no official would request that their customers contribute towards the repair of faulty electrical assets.
She said they promptly attend to consumers demanding repair of faulty electricity assets.
At its head office, the EKEDC did not respond to requests for comments.
According to the NERC regulation, to address asset arrangement known as the “Regulation for Investment in Electricity Networks 2015”, there must be an agreement between customers and the DisCos. The agreement should state the costs and the mechanism for recovery of the investment of customers willing to intervene in the power supply restoration and who may invest in the provision of materials and installation.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted IBEDC, the spokesperson, Busolami Tunwase, said the residents should identify the official who requested that they fix their transformer, adding that “Ijako is in our network,” and not Oluadeyanju Street in Sango-Ota. But a copy of the March bill seen by this newspaper had IBEDC on it.
Ms Tunwase said community people sometimes pool resources together to fix their faulty transformer, adding that the DisCo’s delay in repairing it does not amount to denial.
She said it is not in their “culture” to ask customers to contribute to fixing or replacing faulty electrical assets.
She also accused some communities of not making formal requests. She said they sometimes get a contractor without the knowledge of their DisCo and the contractors do “shoddy jobs.”
She urged communities to make an official report of their faulty electrical assets to their office.
“Then you will get a response from the IBEDC, then if at some point they ask you to pay, I will know who to hold by the jugular.”
Meanwhile, the residents had in a letter titled “Request for two new 500KVA transformers,” received by the IBEDC Regional Technical Manager in Ogun State on May 5, 2021, appealed for an urgent replacement of their faulty electrical assets.
“We are communities known as Ijako in Ado-Odo Local Government Area of Ogun State, with about one thousand inhabitants. Our current Transformer is overloaded and has failed twice,” the letter read in part.
“Through self-effort, the transformer was repaired twice and has failed due to the overload. We are hereby using this medium to appeal to you to come to our aid urgently for the replacement.”
‘Right to electricity’
Mr Aluko, the consumer rights lawyer, said that when the cost of fixing a faulty electricity distribution asset is borne by customers, they have a right to a refund and compensation.
He added that “the relationship between the customer and the distribution company is contractual in nature. Customers have rights that are recognised and protected by the NERC Act.
“The contractual responsibility to provide and maintain transformers and other distribution equipment is borne by the DisCos.”
He said it is a breach of the contractual relationship between customers and DisCos for the customer to fund the repair and management of electrical assets.