Monday, 23 February 2015

SOS to President Jonathan On Electricity

Do forgive me for barging in on you with this letter while you are preparing for your election. This is the only way I am sure I can reach you most effectively. This is not meant to embarrass or distract you; rather the situation warrants that I let my President know my plight, and that of many Nigerians. After all, Americans have easy access to President Barack Obama.

It's to do with electricity. But you might be wondering why I should write you directly on this when you have a Minister of Power, and even a Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission. But I am sorry to say, if they do exist, Nigerians whom you and they swore to serve have not felt their impact on this matter. In any case, I have written to them several times as well as those written by other people, including opinions by reputable newspapers, not leaving out countless peaceful protests by Nigerians to the distribution companies (discos), to the extent that a public affairs commentator proposed a revolution as the only solution to this problem.

Though it might not matter any longer, I will still go ahead to say it. I feel there are areas that should never be privatized in Nigeria. And one of them is the power sector. The power sector is too critical to be left in the hands of capitalists. Capitalists are like doctors who sell coffins. Electricity is the oxygen of the economy. Unlike government, capitalists have only three things in mind: Profit, profit, and profit. Only competition puts them in check. Unfortunately, the power sector as it is today is a quasi-monopoly. Unlike the telecoms sector, electricity consumers cannot change their electricity suppliers.

Still, Nigerians appreciate the efforts you have put into the power sector reforms so far. Nigerians recognize that it will take time to reach the desired level. But one thing Nigerians cannot take is the
injustice, avarice and inefficiency that have bedeviled the sector since it was privatized.

Before the privatization, my electricity bill as estimated by the old Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Abule Egba business unit in Lagos, because I have yet to be given a prepaid meter, used to be about N2,300 per month. After the privatization, and the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company took over, the bill became N6, 000. After the tariff was "increased" with the so-called MYTO II, it became N13, 000. This was given to me for three months. And without any further increase in tariff, that for February is now N18, 000! Our minimum wage!

There are those who have prepaid meters in Lagos who use air-conditioning systems and pump their water even for commercial purposes who spend, on average, N4000 monthly. I know some people who don't have prepaid meters in Abuja who are given a bill of N2, 500 a month. An insider of the IKDEC described the N18,000 bill as "impossible." Still, there will be a further "increase" in tariff for private homes in a few months' time. Yet, there is no improvement in power supply, particularly since last October. As I am writing you this, there is power outage. Last month and up till this month, the light has been coming and going, every 30 minutes in my neighborhood!

Now, even if with privatization, the light does not blink for one year, it is no justification for reckless and irresponsible bills. When the discos supply light that lasts up to five hours at a stretch, they want Nigerians to cheer them. Yet, the light supplied is nowhere near what the defunct National Electric Power Authority, or even PHCN used to supply us.

My neighbors have long lost faith in the system. They say they can't pay for what they did not consume. Someone I know has asked to be completely disconnected until he gets a prepaid meter. He powers himself and still has a lot of savings. But I still pay for my bills regularly. But I get scorned by neighbors, family and friends. That I still pay the outrageous bills that I do not consume even causes friction between my spouse and I. The discos are stretching my already thin patience!

The discos are not keen on giving out prepaid meters because of the huge rake-off from the estimated billing system. Nigerians now have to pay for their inefficiency, and feed their greed. Even with their greed, the discos are negligent in maintaining their distribution equipment and upgrading their facility. In December, I paid N10, 000, into my account. With that of many others, till date, it has not been credited into my account. They attribute it to a "system error," and are "working on it." And they want me to keep paying.

I am sorry, Your Excellency, but this matter is now a campaign issue.

Consider the millions of Nigerians who are without prepaid meters who are suffering this injustice. A majority of Nigerians say they have not seen the gain of the fuel price reduction from N97 to N87. But trust me, Nigerians will be very grateful if you intervene in this injustice with the estimated bill. Nigerians are a majority, and the discos are a minority. The majority carries the vote! And that is the vote we promise to give you!

You listened when we said we did not want the removal of fuel subsidy. Pray, on behalf of those Nigerians who are being cheated by the discos, make NERC revert to the old electricity tariff. If the average those who are using prepaid meter are paying is N4,000, the estimated bill given to those who don't have prepaid meters should be fixed in that range. At worst, let those on prepaid meters pay the new tariff, and those without prepaid meters pay the old tariff. And the day consumers get their prepaid meter, they start paying the new tariff. And any disco who still gives out "crazy bills" should be sanctioned. And Nigerians are within their rights not to pay such bills. Perhaps, that is the only sure way of making the discos give their customers prepaid meters and end the abuse.

I am also aware that you have provided the funds for the provision of one million prepaid meters for consumers. Nigerians appreciate this. But one million meters will go nowhere. And how will the meters be distributed?

Your Excellency, we are not asking to go back to Egypt, but while in the wilderness enroute to the Promised Land, give us the manna called justice!

By Cosmas Odoemena

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