The challenges currently trailing the provision of meters for electricity consumers show the seeming web the power sector in Nigeria is entangled in. The Meter Asset Provider (MAP) Regulation came into force in 2018. The expectation was that the MAP scheme would meter the over five million unmetered customers within three years. Today, this expectation is far from being met.
In a report, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) indicated that only 3,811,729 or about 43 per cent of the 8,881,443 registered active electricity consumers had meters as at June 2019. This means the other 57.08 per cent had not been metered.
Recently, NERC gave seven electricity distribution companies (DisCos) 14 days to explain why they should not be sanctioned for their failure to comply with its Order 197/2020 on capping of unmetered electricity consumers. At the expiration of this ultimatum, NERC threatens to commence enforcement action against the DisCos. The affected DisCos are Benin, Enugu, Eko, Ikeja, Kano, Kaduna and Port Harcourt.
The regulatory body had issued an order repealing the Methodology for Estimated Billing Regulations 2012 in February 2020. It placed a cap on estimated bill to protect unmetered customers. All customers on higher tariffs were expected to have been metered by April 30, 2020. Otherwise, they would stop further payment of bills until the DisCos install meters for them.
It is not yet certain how NERC intends to enforce this order. What is certain is that many Nigerian electricity consumers are no more comfortable with estimated billings. Marketing managers, who usually get high revenue targets, send such high bills to customers in order to meet up. Some households with little gadgets get as high as N15, 000 bill or more a month.
The sad thing is that most times, these crazy bills come amid serious shortfall in power generation. In April last year, the National Grid experienced reduced power generation due to the emergency maintenance of the gas pipeline supplying gas to four plants. Egbin, Omotosho, Olorunsogo and Paras Power Stations were totally shut down. Then, power generation dropped from 4,000 megawatts to 2,039 MW. Last year, the NOIPolls was able to establish that power supply to Nigerian households dropped consistently from 46 per cent in January to 35 per cent in February and to 30 per cent in March 2019. This did not stop the DisCos from distributing their crazy bills.
Consumers have shown their grievances over estimated billings in different ways. Sometimes, they hold protest rallies against the DisCos while demanding prepaid meters and an end to estimated billing. Sometimes, they beat up electricity distribution officials over some grievances.
Incidentally, the DisCos also have their problems. They suffer revenue shortfall or inadequate capital due to different factors. Part of these factors is that some people are unable to pay their bills. Some big customers, like ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) owe them huge debts. They also incur losses through meter bypass, illegal connections, unpaid bills and regulatory uncertainties. In 2018, 10 out of the 11 distribution companies reported losing about N115 billion to energy theft.
The damage power crisis has done to the growth of industries in the country cannot be quantified. Many multinationals are forced to generate their own power at huge costs. Some have been forced to either relocate to other countries or to close down. The irony of it all is that Nigeria supplies energy to such countries as Benin, Chad and Niger, where power is more stable.
We must resolve to face Nigeria’s power crisis squarely. Provision of meters is one major way to solve the distribution problems. It is the first thing the DisCos should have done if they wanted a stable power. No doubt, meter ensures that consumers regulate their energy consumption because they know that the more energy they consume, the more money they pay.
Nigerians expect NERC to be more alive to its responsibilities. Just for having eight hours of daily power outage across Zimbabwe last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa sacked his then energy and power development minister, Joram Gumbo. There should be similar sanctions against the architects of power crisis in Nigeria.
While we insist on metering every consumer, the regulatory agency should ensure that electricity generation companies (GENCOs) maintain their installed capacity. The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) should also upgrade the transmission facilities just as the DisCos should invest more in the upgrade of their weak transformers and other facilities.
Besides, we should not lose sight of some alternatives like renewable energy, which is sustainable and reliable. It is also not harmful as it is derived from natural elements like solar, wind and biomass. All things considered; Nigeria has no serious reason not to provide 24-hour electricity for her citizens.