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New Electricity Act Introduces 3 Years Imprisonment Penalty for Electricity Theft, Destruction of Power Facilities

Industry operators say Nigeria could be losing up to 40 percent of electricity generation to theft, especially by unmetered customers.

The new Electricity Act 2023 (EA) has prescribed more punishments for Nigerians who steal power, illegally connect electricity, tamper with metering devices, or embark on destruction of facilities belonging to operators in the value chain.

The new law, which replaces the Electricity Power Reform Act (2005), prescribes a conviction of a fine not less than three times the amount calculated for the infraction or at least three years imprisonment or both.

The law came as the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) at the weekend reiterated the timelines for fixing customers’ complaints by the power Distribution Companies (Discos).

Nigerians had in the last two weeks demanded top-notch service from electricity distributors following the about 230 per cent hike in electricity tariff for premium power consumers.

Section 208, subsection (1a, b, c) of the new Electricity Act, in attempting to end the power theft issue, listed the offences as tapping of power, tampering or bypassing a meter, damaging or destroying an electricity meter, among others.

Industry operators believe that Nigeria could be losing as much as 40 percent of electricity generation to theft, especially by unmetered customers who justify the illegality on the basis of “crazy” estimated billing.

It is estimated that in December last year, about N36.2 billion was lost out of the N134.53 billion worth of electricity billed by the Discos.

Group Managing Director, Sahara Power Group, Kola Adesina, holds the view that about 40 per cent of energy is lost to theft on a daily basis.

However, the new law, which has been amended at least twice since it was assented by President Bola Tinubu last year, states that the punishment will hold, provided the infraction does not exceed 10 kilowatts.

The law says, “The fine imposed on first conviction shall not be less than three times the financial gain on account of such theft of electricity and in the event of second or subsequent conviction the fine imposed shall not be less than six times the financial gain on account of such theft of electricity or exceeds 10 kilowatts.

“The fine imposed on first conviction shall not be less than three times the financial gain on account of such theft of electricity and in the event of second or subsequent conviction, the penalty shall be for a fine of at least six times the financial gain on account of such theft of electricity or imprisonment for a term of at least six months and a maximum of up to three years.”

According to the law, a person who cuts, removes, takes away or transfers any electric line, material or meter from a tower, pole, …without the consent of the licensee or its owner…commits an offence of stealing of electric lines and materials is liable on conviction to a fine of at least N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of at least three years and a maximum of up to five years or both.

It stresses that where a person or corporate body previously convicted of an offence under subsection (1), commits an offence under that subsection, the person or corporate body is, on conviction liable for the second or subsequent offence to a fine of at least 1,000,000 of imprisonment for a term of five years.

The new Electricity Act adds, “Any person who receives any stolen electric line or material knowing or having reasons to believe it to be stolen property, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not more than three times the value of the stolen property received or imprisonment for a term of 14 years or both.”

It states that a person who maliciously extinguishes any public streetlights commits an offence liable on conviction to a fine up to N200,000.

On issues surrounding access of inspection, it says where a consumer refuses to allow a licensee, franchisee or permit holder to perform any act which he is authorised to, the licensee may, after the expiry of 24 hours from the service of a notice in writing on the consumer, cut off the supply to the consumer for so long as such refusal or failure continues, but for no longer.

It says, “Anyone who physically attacks a staff of a licensee or permit holder in the course of discharging his lawful duties under the provisions of this Act, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine which may extend up to N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term which may extend up to six months or both.”

Where the physical attack in subsection (4) results in permanent disability or death of the victim, the offender, the law says, shall be accordingly prosecuted under the Penal Code or the Criminal Code, as the case may be.

Relatedly, NERC reiterated the timelines for rectifying complaints by electricity customers in the country.

In the case of provision of a new or additional power connection, NERC, in a note, said it must not go beyond 10 days, while meter repositioning should not exceed five days.

It said in cases of planned power outages, it must be announced between three to five days before the blackout is effected.

According to the sector regulator, replacement of faulty prepaid meters or any equipment fault must be effected within two days.

It stated that transformer fuse replacement, reconnection after payment, minor equipment fault, voltage fluctuation and safety hazards must be fixed in 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) stated that the recent hike in electricity tariff from N68/kwh to N225/kwh was absurd in a country where the majority of citizens grappled with basic survival and an electricity access rate of about 55 percent.

In a statement signed and made available to THISDAY by Acting General Secretary of NUEE, Dominic Igwebike, the union argued that there had not been any meaningful improvement since the privatisation of the power sector.

The statement said the country had an installed capacity of about 14,000mw, but generated only about 4,803mw, whereas Nigeria needed at least 30,000mw to reach sufficiency.

It said the additional costs were transferred to the common man, explaining that they are indirectly being exploited, notwithstanding their dwindling purchasing power and increasing impoverishment.

The NUEE further explained that the increased cost of goods would make Nigerian-produced goods unattractive, as imported and smuggled items would be far cheaper.

The organisation stated that people would resort to those imported goods, thereby fuelling the unemployment situation in Nigeria.

NUEE said, “The hike in the electricity tariff is grossly detrimental to the economic diversification, growth, and wellbeing of Nigerians. This is why the US, UK, France, Germany, and all developed economies support their factories with billions invested in power subsidies.

“Why is Nigeria different? Electricity in Egypt is an average of N21.68 per kwh, and in South Africa, it is N226 per kwh. The minimum wage in Egypt is N78,360 while in South Africa it is N328,395.

“The minimum wage in Nigeria is N30,000 while the new electricity tariff is N255 per kwh. 

A country that genuinely has the interest of its people at heart and wants to grow will ensure that the real sector is given the most support it can get, not putting a nail in its coffin.

“Furthermore, the safety of our members is at stake, as they are at risk of being attacked by people in the community when they visit for disconnections of light.

“The Minister of Power and NERC did not consult with the stakeholders in the sector before the increase. The minister of power has relegated himself as the spokesperson for the Discos where he is justifying cost-reflective tariffs. What of service-reflective tariffs as it relates to consumers?”

As stakeholders, NUEE stated that it was unaware of the energy policy of the present administration, describing the hike in the electricity tariff as not beneficial to Nigerians and should, therefore, be withdrawn.

Emmanuel Addeh and Ugo Aliogo

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