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Consumer Advocacy Group Accuses Distribution Companies of Recklessness, Blames Them for Frequent Tariff Hikes

ECPAC has urged President Tinubu to curb sleaze in Nigeria’s power sector, emphasising the need for policy accountability measures.

The Electricity Consumer Protection Advocacy Centre (ECPAC), a group dedicated to quality service delivery as well as upholding values, ethics and professionalism in the power sector, has blamed alleged high level reckless by Distribution Companies (Discos) for the incessant tariff hikes.

Speaking during a briefing in Abuja on Thursday, Executive Director of the group, Chief Princewill Okorie, urged President Bola Tinubu to curb sleaze in the sector as well as non-implementation of policies, to reduce the frequent reasons to increase rates.

The group argued that the current crisis in Eko Disco, for instance, was due to the inability to enforce discipline and curb wastages, observing that while Discos are complaining of inadequate tariff, it is inhuman to obscure the level of financial imprudence exhibited by them.

“The N96 billion loan given to Discos for National Mass Metering Programme in 2020 is yet  to be accounted for. Under the current Meter Asset Provider (MAP), it provides that customers who pay for meters should be refunded through energy credit.

“ As of today, nobody is aware of the number of consumers that have paid for meters and how many have been refunded. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) approves Operational Expenditure (OPEX) for Discos annually, yet consumers fund repairs and provision of infrastructure which Discos fail to refund them as provided by Network Expansion Investment Policy,” the group argued.

Stressing that there are fundamental problems in the sector, Okorie argued that monitoring the utilisation of OPEX and CAPEX as well as the network investment policy would reduce the corruption within the Discos.

“The power sector is very fundamental to the social and economic development of this nation. Nigeria is a signatory to the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights, social and political and cultural rights. In fact, section 34, subsection 1 of the constitution is against torture, inhuman and degrading treatments.

“And the way Nigerians are treated today in the power sector, it is clear that they’re being tortured, they’re being dehumanised and treated without respect. So increasing tariff is not justified,” the advocacy group maintained.

Okorie stated that Nigerians were largely ignorant of their rights in the electricity supply chain, emphasising that the Discos for instance, are shirking their mandatory responsibility of carrying out awareness and enlightenment programmes to their customers.

“There’s a deliberate attempt by the powers that be to frustrate consumers and use the poor suffering consumers to fund the sector. If you go to the ministry of power today, there is a department in charge of transmission. There is a department in charge of generation. There is a department in charge of distribution.

“Apart from having those departments under the minister of power, you still have institutions set up to oversee transmission, oversee generation, oversee distribution. What of consumer protection? And it is these consumers that generate the money that sustains the sector. Now, the policies that deal with consumer issues, consumer protection component of the act, no unit of the ministry drives it.

“That is why you can see that network expansion investment policy cannot be driven for implementation. That’s why you can see that map policy is not driven. That’s why the money the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) brought out, nobody knows how much each of the Discos got.

“Nobody knows the number of meters that were provided. Because no unit insists that this section will be implemented,” he lamented.

Stressing that manufacturing companies were already shutting down, Okorie argued that while ordinarily, Discos should pay for their facilities, consumers are currently funding the infrastructure for them, including poles and transformers.

“I challenge the media and I challenge the Minister of Power. I challenge NERC. Let them bring a report of utilisation of OPEX and their CAPEX since 2013 when privatisation came on board.

“What amount has the Discos invested from their operational expenditure every year? What have they invested in their capital expenditure every year? How many transformers have Discos provided?, he queried.

He maintained that if these systemic issues are addressed, Nigerians will see that  there is no justification for increase in tariff, insisting that there was lack of transparency in the management of the entire value chain.

Meanwhile, the Kaduna Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (KADCCIMA) has expressed concern over what it described as “dire and disastrous implications” of the recent increase in electricity tariff by NERC.

In a statement on Thursday in Kaduna, President of the Chambers, Ishaya Idi, said the increase was ill-timed considering the fact that businesses are struggling to survive the harsh economic situation in the country.

He said: “This review is, to say the least, ill-timed as it came at the time when businesses are struggling to survive as they are groaning under extremely challenging and life threatening conditions. 

“Again, the citizenry continues to be impoverished as a result of policy decisions taken by the federal government within the last one year, including withdrawal of fuel subsidy and depreciation of the naira in addition to insecurity being faced by all.

“It is indeed surprising that under the prevailing circumstances, NERC will deem it appropriate and acceptable to approve such massive increase in one fell swoop without due consultations with relevant stakeholders and representatives of electricity consumers.

“Moreover, the issue of having an improved power supply in the country has not been properly addressed by the same regulatory agency in the face of continued increase in electricity tariff with power generation at a constant 4,500 MW for years.”

According to Idi, the situation is further exacerbated by structural inefficiency, wastage, leakages and corruption in the electricity sector even as millions of electricity consumers are yet to be metered and continue to be charged under the obnoxious monthly estimated bills.

The statement appealed to NERC to reconsider its stand on the approval of the new electricity rate.

 “In this regard, it behoves on NERC to meaningfully engage with all stakeholders for the best way forward in terms of development of a robust and dependable Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) and access to rightly priced and stable power supply by Nigerians,” the statement added.

Emmanuel Addeh and John Shiklam

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