Time has come for a revolt of power consumers – Dele Sobowale
THE market is there and the manufacturers of meters are there. They have positioned themselves strategically and manufacturing quality products. Unfortunately, the demand is not even commensurate with what they have in stock… —Mr. Muyideen Ibrahim,Executive Secretary, Electricity Meter Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, EMMAN. Hereditary bondsmen, know ye not that who would be free must strike the first blow? —Lord Byron, 1788-1824. ADVERTISING IT has taken three groups of Nigerians to enslave power consumers to the Distribution Companies, DISCOS – the Federal Government (including the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, the DISCOS and the Nigerian power consumers as a whole. As consumers, we have put up docilely with what is essentially government approved daylight robbery of millions of Nigerians by the DISCOs. We have become consenting accomplices in the rape of our fellow citizens. We are served bogus bills, we mildly complain; but we meekly pay. The Federal Government is aware of it; NERC makes appropriate noises, the Ministry of Power issues threats to DISCOs to provide meters which are routinely ignored and no penalty follows. It has been a conspiracy between the FG and the DISCOs to allow the latter to go unpunished for their grand larceny. Why is it that electricity is the only commodity sold in Nigeria without any measurement to enable the consumer to know that he is receiving a fair deal? Supermarkets have scales to measure beef, vegetables, cheeses etc; filling stations have meters and even the Post Office weighs parcels. The consumer pays for the goods and services delivered. Why has it been so difficult for the FG to enforce the universal laws governing transactions between consumers and marketers of good and services when it comes to the DISCOs? One reason we can quickly discard is lack of awareness. Everybody in government — from President Buhari to Minister of Power Fashola to NERC officials – was once a private citizen and had been subjected to those “crazy bills” which have lasted for decades. Buhari met and left them in 1984-5; returned 35 years after to find them still there be-devilling Nigerians in 2015. So, he is aware. Yet, almost three years after returning to the helm, they are still there. A better definition of a nation stuck in a rut will be difficult to imagine. And, the charge that his government like its predecessors is not in a hurry to do anything about it cannot be refuted. Fashola, in particular, sounds more like a sales man for DISCOs than a Minister for the people of Nigeria. Until recently, I had assumed that consumers were stuck; that there was no remedy. The DISCOs lacked the funds to import and install meters because power supply remains well below 5000 MW per day and consumers could not on their own import meters. The interview with Mr. Muyideen Ibrahim, published in DAILY INDEPENDENT on November 2, 2017, page B5, changed everything. Now, we know that there are meters available in Nigeria and the DISCOs are refusing to patronize the manufacturers. Apart from sabotaging the Buy Made In Nigeria effort, the DISCOs, wit FG as accomplice, are depriving Nigerian power consumers of receiving a fair deal because the crooked situation profits them handsomely. Obviously, the FG will not help us; Fashola is not on our side; and the DISCOs love the status quo. That leaves us “the hereditary bondsmen”, that means slaves by the way, to stand up for our rights on this matter. Our first collective resolution must be that those meters available in Nigeria must be bought and installed – unless they fail to meet standards. If the DISCOs cannot afford to buy them, then consumers should be empowered to procure them for their own use and protection. That should be out minimum demand. As a people, we owe ourselves a sense of obligation. Since the FG will not willingly save us, we must save ourselves. Working with the National Assembly, NASS, we must demand that the DISCOs should as a matter of urgency start clearing the meters available in Nigeria; or in the alternative consumers should be authorized to buy them and use them. Thereafter, DISCOs which refuse to read the meters installed by the users should stop sending those insane bills to consumers. Furthermore, they should have no right to disconnect anyone with a meter or face class action suits by affected customers. One thing is certain; there is no consumer today who will not gladly buy his own meter, if allowed, to put a stop to the problem of crazy bills. Patronising local manufacturers will provide the extra dividend of creating jobs for thousands of people. Meanwhile, it is my intention to get in touch with the meter manufacturers to ascertain the fact that there are meters for sale. I hope they are not deceiving all of us. This matter is too serious for bogus claims to be made by anyone.