Fresh anxiety mounts over presidential directive on metering programme

Power sector stakeholders are now in quandary over last week’s directive by President Muhammadu Buhari, ordering a nationwide metering programme for consumers in line with Federal Government’s plan to halt estimated billing.

Sincethe president’s directive, power sector stakeholders, including consumers and investors have been wondering how it can be actualised given the several bottlenecks that have frustrated the provision of meters to consumers over the years.

The concern is that despite Buhari’s orders approving waivers on import levy on meters, to enable speedy supply at reasonable prices, various agencies of the government including the Nigeria Customs Service seem not ready to allow the policy realised..

Theose who spoke to Daily Sun are concerned that the latest directive to boost meter supply may well end up in the trash cans like earlier ones issued by the Nigerian Regulatory Commission (NERC) without yielding the expected results.

A major part of the agreement signed by the DisCos before the nation’s power assets were given to them was their commitment to meter every Nigeria to facilitate effective billing system that would not shortchange consumers.

But, seven years after the power sector privatisation, NERC has put the number of unmetered Nigerian power consumers at 6 million households which is an indication that the DisCos have failed to keep their part of the bargain.

This was despite several notices and timelines given to them to meter electricity consumers with threats of sanctions by the regulator being treated with kid gloves.

Speaking on the latest presidential directive, Executive Secretary of Electtricity Meter Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Muihdeen Ibrahim, during an interview on Channels Television on Saturday, aid the association was yet to be communicated on the presidential directive to crash meter prices.

According to him, it was expected that by now, a meeting of the Ministry of Finance, Nigeria Customs Service(NCS), Discos and meter manufacturers should have been convened to pave way for the smooth implementation of the policy.

NERC had in a statement last week, announced that tariff reviews going forward will only follow service-based principles. Under these service-based principle, DISCOs will only be able to review tariff rates for customers when they consult with customers, commit to increasing the number of hours of supply per day and quality of service.

‘‘In all cases poor and vulnerable Nigerians will not experience any increase. In line with these expectations, DISCOs are directed to engage with their customers on a Service Based Tariff Structure, where DisCos can only review tariffs for customers under the following conditions:

Customers are consulted and communicated a guaranteed level of electricity service by the DisCos based on hours of supply.

The regulator for the umpteenth time warned DisCos that no estimated billing will be allowed except it follows through the strict enforcement of the capping regulation.

‘‘This means that unmetered customers will not experience any cost increase beyond what is chargeable to metered customers in the same area.

Even under the above conditions, there will be no change in tariff for the most vulnerable as tariffs for those consuming 50KW or less remain frozen. Customers receiving less than 12 hours of supply will also not experience any change in tariffs.

In addition, the President has directed that there should be a nationwide mass-metering program in an effort by the Federal Government to put a stop to estimated and arbitrary billing for electricity. He has also approved a waiver of the import levy on meters, so that those that do not have meters can be supplied as early as possible at reasonable costs’’.

Meanwhile, majority of consumers and industry groups who spoke to Daily Sun on the latest mass directive expressed doubts about its successful implementation while calling on Buhari to ensure that the regulator matches its words with action.

Founder, Advocacy Group, Mr. Adeolu Ogunbanjo, said consumers are tired of the endless promises of metering and the huge estimated bills slammed on consumers. Ogunbanjo, lamented that NERC had in February 2020, issued order No/NERC/197/2020 on capping of estimated billings in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry(NESI),thereby placing a cap on estimated bills to unmetered consumers.

But, six months after the order, Ogunbanjo lamented that Discos were still very much in the habit of slamming consumers with estimated bills.

A consumer, who identified himself as Mr.Sunday Oluniyi, under the Ikeja Electric network in Abule Egba, lamented the delay in procuring prepaid meter, adding that two months after applying for same and paying the approved fees, he was yet to be installed with a meter, which he said was against the 10 working days approved by NERC.

Another consumer under the Eko Electiricty network in Ijehsa, Surulere, who identified himself as Chuks Johnson, said he has written to the network provider to come and disconnect him since every effort he has made to get metered in the last five months has proved abortive.

Another stakeholder, Mallam Ibrahim said if the Meter Asset Providers (MAP) and the DisCos were sincere, the challenges about metering would be surmounted.

He said a lot of meter manufacturers in the country have more than enough meters and capacity to produce meters for the local market.

He said the missing link was the penchant of MAP firms for imported meters, a habit he said was only creating jobs for citizens of other countries to the detriment of Nigerian citizens.

He also took a swipe on the DisCos whom he accused of wanting to frustrate the metering process because they are making more money from estimated billing.

For his part, CEO, Integrated Resources Limited, a MAP licensee, Mr. Duro Omogbenigun, said the implementation of the presidential directive must be swift in order to avoid exchange rate and forex differentials wiping out the gains.

He said though the import duty waiver on meter was announced by the Minister of Finance some weeks ago, there has not been any communication with MAP in that regard.

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