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Power: Senate Abolishes Fixed Charges

Senate Lampoons Discos, Tears Power Sector Privitization Apart With A Further Threat To Reverse It If Need Be As It Cancels Fixed Charges Introduced By NERC

Senate yesterday directed the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) led by Mr. Sam Amadi, to immediately suspend the fixed charge of N702.00, which it has been collecting from electricity consumers across the federation following unending complaints against the policy by Nigerians.

The Upper Chamber particularly argued that a consumer has the right to elect to be part of, or not, of the bulk metering scheme that was introduced by the electricity distribution companies (Discos).

As a result, the Red Chamber, therefore, directed the NERC to urge the Discos to discontinue the practice of compulsory bulk metering of villages and communities in the rural areas.

Also, Senate urged the NERC to inquire into the numerous complaints before it, by consumers, in line with the provisions of Section 74(1)(b) of the PSRA. It also called on NERC and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) to sensitize electricity consumers on the remedies available to them in the event of inefficient services by the Discos.

Also, it directed NERC to make a regulation to mandate the Discos to discontinue the practice of making consumers pay for meters, poles and transformers, which by law, are properties of the Discos, adding however that where consumers purchase those items, they should give notice of the purchase to the Discos, and should be entitled to recover their expenses from subsequent consumption of electricity.

These were the resolutions from a motion entitled: Unfair Trade Practices of Electricity Distribution Companies in Nigeria, which was sponsored by the duo of Senator Sam Egwu and Senator David Umaru. Delivering the motion on the floor, Egwu noted that Nigerians have been shortchanged by the Discos.

“The distribution companies, since the takeover of their operations, have been ripping off consumers through fixed charges and bulk metering across the country.

Some areas in the country are still billed through the estimated billing system, which doesn’t make provisions for payment of only electricity that is consumed, even though bills are dished out without commensurate services being offered by the distribution companies.

“Despite all efforts by the government, however, there has been constant level of arbitrariness, whereby electricity consumers are charged extortionate rates, fixed rate, based on the use of the billed meters installed by the then Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). “With the present economic situation in Nigeria, a lot of Nigerians (particularly the downtrodden) would not be able to access one of the very basic needs of life (electricity).

This billing system is also capable of ruining the economic power of most small scale business that requires electricity to function. “Even those (Nigerians) that have this prepaid meters are being billed a fixed rate of about N700 per month on this meters (whether or not they consume electricity).

What is the purpose of this fixed rate? Why is this so? What is the rationale behind it? “By the avalanche of complaints by electricity consumers about the unwholesome practice of the Discos, which fall short of standards established by the NERC and do not also meet up to global best practices, thereby failing in the discharge of their contractual obligations to the Nigerian public”, Egwu said.

He explained that the arbitrary charge of electricity bills by the Discos is because they are struggling to meet a set target. Supporting the motion, Senator Mohammed Salami, who observed that the essence of handing over the electricity sector to the private sector, has been defeated. “(Electricity) bills are given based on mere looking at the owner of the meter”, he said.

In his contribution, Senator Mohammed Danjuma Goje, however, noted that the motion alone cannot solve the electricity problems. He therefore called for the total investigation of the privatization of the electricity sector with a view to holistically solving the electricity problems.

“Talking about the Discos alone cannot solve the problems of electricity in this country. We need to look at the entire privatization of (the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria), which includes more than the Discos”, he said. Also speaking in favour of the motion, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, who described the situation as a big scam, accused the government of being guilty as well. “What is happening is a big scam. This is the biggest fraud I have ever seen. This process must be investigated.

The Federal Government is as guilty as those, who are distorting us”, he claimed. Also contributing in favour of the motion, Senator Nelson Effiong called for a review of the Power Sector Reform Act (PSRA). “(This would help us) see where the lacuna lies. The Senate should also review and see how it can amend the Act for the benefits of Nigerians”, he added.

Senator Chuka Utazi pointed out that electricity is very important for any economy to make any serious impact. “But this is different in the case of Nigeria because our electricity is in tartars. The unbundling of PHCN has not given Nigerians the relief they need,” he added.

In his contribution, Senator Francis Alimikhena, who observed that the activities of the Discos would kill the poor in Nigeria, if they are not checked, alleged that some Discos are not qualified for the jobs they are doing in Nigeria.

While Senator Shittu Mohammed Ubali noted that the motion is very important because it is one that touches everyone, Senator Emmanuel Anyanwu observed that the Discos have milked Nigerians.

In his remarks, the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Saraki said “this is a very important topic. The people have not seen any benefits from the privatization exercise. If they need to be reversed, they must be reversed in the interests of Nigerians. The period of impunity is over”.

-Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja

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