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EDITORIAL: That NERC ultimatum to Discos

Recently, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) gave the 11 electricity distribution companies (Discos) in the country a four-month deadline to provide meters to all the maximum demand (MD) consumers under their networks or face sanctions. The commission said the ultimatum was in line with the agreement reached with the Discos on the metering conditions of the MD consumers.

It then added that failure to comply would attract severe penalties from December 1, 2016. According to the agency, those that fall in this bracket include commercial business plazas; small-scale industries and others. We are totally in agreement with this directive from NERC, especially against the background of claims by the  Discos that they had installed sizeable numbers of electricity meters for consumers since they took over the firms in November 2013.

It is sad and fraudulent for distribution companies to continue subjecting Nigerians to untold hardship through their nefarious estimated billing for services not rendered. Furthermore, it is even more painful that over the years, they have refused and resisted all calls and entreaties to install pre-paid meters to enable their customers’ track their electricity consumption.

Of course, the Discos are not the only ones to blame for this penchant to inflict more hardship on the already famished consumers. This is because those responsible for checking their excesses  had been looking the other way while the Discos continue ripping off their customers. Rather than focus on ensuring that every costumer gets pre-paid meter, which should be the first step to take, there has been a morbid fixation on tariff increase, which the Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola described as a bitter but necessary pill.

We may ask what it takes to appropriately install meters to all electricity consumers in the country. It is even sadder that nearly three years after the agreement between NERC and the Discos, more than 70 percent of customers across the country are yet to be metered. The oft-adduced reason by Discos is that meters are not manufactured locally and had to be imported. Such argument is not only puerile, it smacks  of contempt on the capability of Nigerian companies to manufacture such low-end technology product like electricity meter. We know there are companies capable of  manufacturing meters in Nigeria  and can supply on demand if allowed to do so.

It is unfortunate that  for long the NERC has kept quite  in the face of the extortionate tendencies of the Discos. From the onset, these financially handicapped successor companies have been enjoying the protection of the government, which ought to checkmate their excesses. For example, every deadline to ensure an improved service delivery has come and gone  without sanctions. When the new power discos came on board Nigerians expected that they would have identified the challenges of the sector, and be prepared to address them before acquiring the assets. However, all that  consumers are being saddled with are sky-high tariff in addition to  other unconventional practices.

All along, we have  maintained that provision of pre-paid meter should be mandatory to halt the extortionate tendencies of the Discos. NERC must therefore stand up to greedy and incompetent power providers who are only out to fleece consumers  of their hard earned money without commensurate service.

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