Despite assurances from power firms on improved services during the five-week lockdown of over the new Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, scores of consumers have berated the services, with 2,715 consumer complaints out of which 953 were not immediately resolved.
However, others rated the services of the Distribution Companies (DisCos) as satisfactory. Daily Trust conducted a survey of consumers in Abuja and across some states on their experiences.
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) opened a ‘Situation Room’ for its officials to monitor power complaints from 6th April, a week after the lockdown began.
Records for these complaints collated for 20 days of the situation room’s operation, from 18th April till 7th May 2020, showed that consumers filed 2,715 complaints and the DisCos are yet to resolve 953 of them.
At least 2,089 complaints were on service interruptions across the networks of the 11 DisCos of which 1,279 were resolved.
Abuja DisCo had the highest with 577 complaints. It resolved 452 while 125 complaints are pending. It was followed by Ibadan DisCo with 353 complaints: it resolved 194 and is left with 159 complaints.
Kaduna DisCo recorded the lowest complaints during the period with 66, but it resolved less than 50 per cent of the cases. Only 23 complaints were cleared and 43 others were unresolved when the records were obtained last week.
Outages, high bills worry consumers
At new Karu, New Nyanya, Ado and Mararaba Gurku towns in Nasarawa State, customers said the downtime for clearing faults on their power lines took Abuja DisCo longer, leaving them in outage for days.
Okoko Darlington who lives in New Karu said: “We had an outage that lasted for four days in April during the lockdown. I learnt it was due to some poles that fell during a rainstorm but AEDC could not clear it immediately for some reasons.”
Alhaji Nura Aliyu, a resident of Mararaba said, “AEDC tried in my area initially when the lockdown started but by mid-April, we had gotten used to darkness as they only bring supply for four hours in the night.
“There are days that we wouldn’t get power supply completely despite the stay-at-home order and the promise of improved power supply by Abuja DisCo,” Femi Olushola, a resident of Nyanya town in Abuja noted.
Fault clearing was quite fast in my area. There was a time we just twitted a fault to AEDC and in less than two hours they cleared the fault and restored power to us in Gwarinpa part of Abuja,” Mrs Margaret Ekpenyong noted.
Cases of epileptic power supply and power rationing abound in Ugbokolo, Otukpo and Makurdi towns in Benue; in Jos (Plateau) and even in Bauchi which are under Jos DisCo, our reporter found. “We were used to ‘power rotation’ before we heard of plans for better supply but that never manifested for us at Rayfield,” said Okolie George, a resident of Jos.
However, some residents of Kaduna lauded Kaduna Electric for the feat regular supply. Gabriel Akogu who resides at Ungwan Television said: “You can almost predict when they will take the power. There was a day we had nearly 22 hours of power supply in April. For me, they did well and should sustain it.”
NERC published the Capping of Estimated Billing Order with effect from 20th of February 2020 to deter the 11 DisCos from the long tradition of what power consumers described as ‘crazy’ monthly electricity bills.
But customers said despite the order, their bills returned high. The All Electricity Consumers Protection Forum (AECPF) in Lagos noted some of its members’ complaints. A consumer in Abule Egba, Lagos who was expecting 135 kilowatts hour (kwh) as R2S was given 257 which is about N7,500 instead of N3,700 by the NERC template.
Another customer in Mpape, Abuja who ought to receive a bill of N1,980 got over N3,000 contrary to AEDC template. In Mowe, Ogun State, a customer said he got N14,234 as against the amount stipulated in the IBEDC template.
Some consumers also recorded non-response to their meter applications. Sunday Oyiji said his application for MAP meter in Abuja was on hold as he was not getting any response from AEDC to go and pay for his meter despite applying for nearly a month.
“The restriction on movement affected the MAP process as many of the installers are not working directly with AEDC, so they were not able to go and install at customers’ premises, an official of AEDC at Mararaba Business Unit in Nasarawa State explained.
Operators rate services
When contacted on the assessment of electricity supply services during the COVID-19 period, the Director of Research and Advocacy at the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), Chief Sunday Oduntan, said the DisCos performed well.
“Yes, the DisCos performed better. Sadly, most Nigerians were not paying. In a particular DisCo, they were able to collect only two per cent,” Oduntan lamented.
The Managing Director of Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), Mr Chiedu Ugbo, said his firm has been intervening in DisCos by providing transformers and other equipment for faulty ones to ensure access to electricity during the period.
Consumer groups laud, berate DisCos
Some consumer groups also spoke of their assessment of the situation. The President, Nigeria Consumer Protection Network (NCPN) in Abuja, Kunle Kola Olubiyo, said the performance of the operators within the COVID-19 lockdown period was relatively impressive.
While calling for government’s intervention to defer loans for the firms during the COVID-19 period, he said, “Besides, there are higher incidences of lack of customers’ willingness to pay as a result of job losses, loss of income of consumers, and some DisCos in empathy sustained supply without disconnection.”
Chairman of the National Electricity Consumers Association of Nigeria (NECAN), Chief Tomi Akingbogun said, “There was improvement in power supply in the first two to three weeks of April 2020.” He however said it went bad subsequently.
“We believe the initial improvement was in anticipation of rolling out the tariff increase. This was put on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However we all are now witnessing poor power supply. We are made to understand that TCN is the worst in service delivery in the NESI,” Akingbogun noted.
On his part, the Executive Director, PowerUp Nigeria, a power consumer-focused initiative, Mr Adetayo Adegbemle, said, “There have been reports from the states that there has been improved services to residential customers.
“The federal government might have to reflect on the invoice values during the period and come to the aid of the DisCos.”
Adegbemle said the operators were expected to perform well as “major consumers in industries are shut down for this period. NERC has not done enough, apart from the Situation Room, which they constituted, and of which function we cannot tell, we have not heard much from them. NERC should do more.”
This report in Daily Trust, was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its COVID-19 Reality Check project.