Jailed for contempt – The Nation

  • Two electricity firm’s managers bag three months without option of fine

July 11, 2017 will remain indelible in the lives of the Manager and Marketing Manager of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), Onitsha District. It was the day they were both jailed three months for contempt without an option of fine by an Anambra State High Court sitting in Onitsha. The EEDC had been sued by the Iweka Electronics Amalgamated Traders Association, Onitsha,  for disconnecting their electricity supply after the company had given  them N2m estimated bill, popularly called ‘crazy bill’.

‘Crazy bill’ phenomenon is not new to electricity consumers in Nigeria. It had been there right from the days of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA); it was there in the days of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), both public institutions, with successive governments looking the other way as Nigerians were fleeced by these agencies. Indeed, the rip-off would appear to have an official imprimatur when the Olusegun Obasanjo administration celebrated the then NEPA’s generation of about N6billion monthly revenue in 2003, up from N1.6billion in 2000, at a time when the authority’s performance had reached the nadir. One would have expected the government, as an elected government; to ask the authority’s management the magic wand that made such a feat possible, after all, revenue should be a function of performance.

This was, largely, what the new owners of the electricity distribution companies inherited and wanted to continue. Unfortunately, the Muhammadu Buhari government insisted that electricity consumers must be provided prepaid meters to let them pay only for energy they consume. However, the electricity firms have largely been reluctant in providing the meters, preferring instead, the old order which leaves so much room for arbitrary billing, an arrangement that is largely tilted against the electricity consumers. Even when electricity is not supplied for weeks consecutively, consumers would still be expected to pay whatever the electricity firms billed them.

These, apparently, informed the decision of the Iweka Electronics Amalgamated Traders Association, to drag EEDC to court when it slammed them a bill of N2million without basis. The court on May 23 ordered both parties to maintain the status quo in the interim, after the oral submissions of both counsel. However, the EEDC officials disconnected the traders’ lines despite the pendency of the interim order. It is pertinent to mention that this practice is not limited to EEDC; all the electricity distribution companies engage in it. The impunity with which they do it has often led to confrontation with some members of the public or even manhandling of some staff of the electricity firms.

This is why we commend the traders association for taking the matter to court, instead of embarking on self-help. We commend this to other aggrieved Nigerians in similar situations. Justice Ike Obu who handled the case also deserves commendation for insisting on the sanctity of judicial orders. The point must be made that Nigeria is not banana republic where everybody does as he or she pleases. When courts give orders, they are meant to be obeyed. But what we see often is a situation where all manner of people and institutions treat judicial pronouncements with contempt.

We guess Justice Obu’s conviction of the officials was informed by this serial impunity against judicial orders. “You are hereby committed to prison for three months until you purge yourselves of the contempt,” he said, after noting that the EEDC officials ought to have obeyed the court order, pending the hearing of the motion on notice. Such crass impunity should not be tolerated. No doubt, the court’s decision would be bad news for the electricity firms and their workers, but it would resonate well with many Nigerians, particularly those suffering in silence after being harassed to pay for electricity they did not consume

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