…many are woes of electricity consumers but their fate still hangs in the balance
By Chioma Obinagwam
At last, I have got the long awaited ‘nod’ from my landlady to apply for a prepaid meter from Ikeja Electric (IE)- the Distribution Company(DisCo) responsible for supplying power to my apartment.
The excitement that followed was indescribable. For me, getting a prepaid meter meant that I will be immune to IE’s ‘crazy’ estimated billing. I can now have a more definite budget and track my electricity consumption too.
The nightmare of frequent electricity disconnection, even when I am not indebted to IE will soon come to an end.
So, I settled down and tried to access the link provided by IE- http://map.ikejaelectric.com, to apply for the prepaid meter.
The first sign that the road leading to the prepaid meter will be rough was that the website was not as accessible as I thought.
Having clicked on the link, I was directed to a page where I was expected to supply my IE account number. I did but was dismayed by the response I got from the website. Staring at me were these words,”The account number you entered does not exist on our platform.”
“How come?” “What went wrong?” “Is this not the same account number that has been supplying me with crazy bills all these months?” The questions continued to roll in.
I told myself that I will keep trying until the website recognises that same account number that has been feeding it with money over the years.
Fortunately, after several attempts, it recognised my account number and launched me into the page were I was expected to Create Security PIN, which I did successfully. Then came the second part where I was expected to Update Records, I also scaled through.
But I was bewildered when I got to the ‘Settle Arrears’ part and boom came a bill that I had paid in March 2018 showing as an outstanding.
Then, these words followed: “Do you agree to be responsible for the above arrears?” I chose “No, I don’t agree.”
I was given a date to appear before a Debt Dispute Resolution (DDR).
“Accept the outstanding”
My first step was to call the Head of Marketing at the Undertaking Office (Ojodu) responsible for supplying light to my apartment. I was told that I should go ahead and agree to be responsible for the arrears and complete the registration then try and see the accountant to sort out the issue later.
Nonetheless, that advice did not augur well with me judging from my previous experience with IE. The issue of the outstanding may never be resolved and I may be made to pay the same bill twice upon migration to the prepaid meter.
I made up my mind to visit Ojodu Undertaking Office the following day (Monday) for explanations on how a bill that I had settled in 2018 became an outstanding or debt.
The response I got from the accountant was even more shocking and discouraging.
“Madam, this issue that we have been trying to sort out since 2018 and we’ve not been able to do so. It’s beyond us o! Why don’t you accept the money and pay it. You don’t have the original receipt abi? Well, you can go to the BU at Oregun and complain,” she said.
…and my receipt is nowhere to be found
I recall that after I had settled that electricity bill in March 2018, it did not reflect in my payment history in the subsequent months. I ran to my Undertaking Office to complain that the payment I made in March 2018 was not captured in my payment history.
I went there with the original copy of my receipt as evidence of payment. I complained to the staff at the office and they pointed to a tall dark, ebony complexion lady who was also attending to customers with similar issues with her hands full with a handful of receipts.
I approached her and explained my reasons for coming and she asked me to go and make a photocopy of my original receipt and bring back the original. I did the photocopy and submitted the original receipt to her.
She wrote my name and phone number at the back of the receipt and promised to call me as soon as the matter was resolved to enable me collect the original receipt.
To my utmost dismay, the matter was never resolved neither did get a call from her to date. Not only did they refuse to resolve the matter, they never returned the original receipt. Hence, I was left with only the photocopy as my evidence of payment.
After my encounter with the accountant at my Undertaking Office, I headed for the Business Unit (BU) at Oregun, Lagos State to seek further redress.
At the entrance of the office, I was accosted by a security man who gave me a sheet of paper written, ‘168’. Perhaps, it meant that I was the 168th customer to be attended to on that day. So, I sat down to wait for my turn.
After waiting for a while, my number was called and I walked up to the Customer Service agent. I told her that a payment I made in 2018, is now referred to an outstanding by IE while trying to completely registration on the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) website. As I expatiated, she told me that she will log in my complaints but for quicker resolution, she referred me to the Finance Department, situated at the first floor of building.
I went upstairs and was directed to a section of the office where I met a slim man of fair complexion, who could pass for an average height and should be between the ages of 50 and 60 years.
I tried to explain my plight but he simply told me that I should go for the DDR holding at their Undertaking Office located at Agbokun Street, Ikeja. He added that it holds every Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I made up my mind to go there the next day, which was on Tuesday.
Then Tuesday came and I went to the office. When I got there, I was told that they have scrapped Tuesday from the days set aside for DDR. According to them, it takes place only on Fridays.
I was furious and shared my pain with the accountant (the only staff) I saw at the office. She apologised and told me that they ought to have resolved it at the B.U. but that I can still come on Friday. I went home really angry.
“This is not the right place”
Then came the D-day, Friday, I set out to the DDR venue to hear what they would to say regarding my matter.
When I got there, the security man told me to leave that they were done for the day. I got there some minutes past 2pm. I insisted that he should let me in since I have been there on Tuesday without been attended to.
I finally gained entrance. As I walked into the office, I saw some customers waiting for their turn. One of them lamented how IE kept bringing bills to their property even after they have written to IE to disconnect their light.
Another customer, complained that an office he rented four years ago, despite having a prepaid meter installed, had his light disconnected by officials of IE.
The reasons were not farfetched. According to him, IE was still billing the old account that ought to have been migrated to the prepaid account upon installation of the meter. The man showed me a bill that was above a million naira. He lamented that IE told him to clear the bill before his prepaid meter can be reconnected.
Finally, my turn came. I walked in with high hopes. I finally settled down to be attended to by the IE official designated for the DDR.
“Can I have your account number,” he said. I gave him the photocopy of the bill and receipt I was contesting. He entered the number in his computer and asked me to be patient while the system download my account statement.
After much scrutiny from him, he requested for my original receipt. I explained how I was made to submit my receipt at my Undertaking Office with a promise from them to rectify the issue. He told me that they cannot do much without my original receipt.
At this point, I was already uncomfortable and was boiling inside of me.
I cried out, “Where is your empathy? The most painful part is that your men even disconnect my light because of this outstanding bill that I have settled since 2018.”
At this point, the official attending to me explained to me that the matter was a ‘Payment Issue’ and not a ‘Billing Issue’ as such I should return to the Finance Department at the B.U.
I told him that since IE knew that it was a Payment Issue why did they refer me to DDR. Why did they have to put me through so much stress and pain.
He simply muttered,”We are sorry about that ma.”
As I walked out of the office many questions kept echoing in my head, begging for answers:
“Why did the Undertaking Office request for my original receipt without any feedbacks to date?”
“Could it be pre-meditated?”
“Did they know that I would be better armed to fight for my right, hence, had to pretentiously take it from me?”
“If the DDR wasn’t hoax, why didn’t they resolve the issue. After all, the message I got from the IE MAP registration website stated that I should visit the DDR to get the matter resolved.”
“Who pays for all the time, resources and discomfort that I wasted in trying to resolve an issue brought about by sheer incompetence and nonchalance of IE?”
“How many electricity consumers suffering the same plight understand their rights and are how many of them are privileged to voice out?”
These and many other questions filled my mind.
The Nigerian factor
At the 2019 Energy Sustainability Conference held in October, Lagos, Nigeria, Energy thinktanks gathered to proffer solutions to Nigeria’s mounting energy challenges.
The speakers, panelists, participants displayed shrewd knowledge of the power and energy sector and dished out mouthwating solutions for the ailing energy sector.
Notably, the recommendation from one of the speakers, Dr. Chukwueloka Umeh, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Century Power Generation limited- a company set-up to develop, build, own and operate efficient power generating plants in Nigeria and Africa, said that the ‘Nigerian factor’ is one of the major elements missing in previous business models fashioned for Nigeria’s power/energy sector.
His words,”Nigeria does not have the problem of smart people; we have a lot of smart people in this country. It is not about resources; we have a lot of resources. According to the panelists, there’s a place for hydro, solar etc. There are opportunities for investments in every sector. You can’t model this without the Nigerian factor, which is risky, so, let’s just get it done.”
Hmmm! “The Nigerian factor”. I am still wondering if my experience with IE is part of the Nigerian factor Dr. Umeh posited.
Could it be what he meant by “risky”?
Does the “Nigerian factor” symbolise a model where the rights of consumers are trampled upon?
…Where the Nigerian consumers do not have a ‘say’?
Although these questions are eagerly waiting for answers, I still have my doubts that such an erudite person would make suggestions that would insinuate such.
On the other hand, if that is part of the “Nigerian factor”, then there is little or no glimmer of hope for that sector.
The position of the law on…?
On Tuesday, February 5, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) into law, according to a circular published on the Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
The Law which seeks to, among other things, provide for the establishment of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Tribunal, also repeals the Consumer Protection Council Act as well as sections 118, 119, 120, 121 (excluding S. 121(i) (d)), 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127 and 128 of the Investments and Securities Act, 2007.
This means that FCCPC is better empowered to handle issues relating to consumers.
More so, the FCCPC, in an attempt to enlighten consumers highlighted seven rights of consumers on its website.
These rights are: Right to value for money; Right to Safety; Right to Information; Right to Choose; Right to Redress; Right to Consumer Education in addition to Right to Representation.
Buttressing, FCCPC stated that Electricity consumers like me have a right to a properly installed and functional meter.
Also, consumers have a right to complain to a DisCo about an electricity issue and the DisCo has a duty to resolve the complaint within 15 days, however, my own issue has remained unresolved for close to two years, despite stiff warnings from FCCPC.
Still, at one of its town hall meetings with power stakeholders held in Abuja, Director General, FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera reiterated, “Any electricity distribution company that undermines consumer rights violates the law.”
Nevertheless, there is no gain saying that just like me, many other consumers have suffered and are still suffering infringements of their rights.
Having explored available channels for the past two years on this matter, my fate is still left dangling in the balance while I patiently hope that the power umpires- NERC, FCCPC etcetera will, one day, come to my rescue.