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Consumers Rage As BEDC Workers Face Repeated Attacks In Edo And Delta Consumers Rage As BEDC Workers Face Repeated Attacks In Edo And Delta
Published Feb 11, 2023 IN Column, SATURDAY COVER,
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THE Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) management has expressed its disapproval of what appears to have become the trend now as frustrated electricity consumers in Edo, Delta, Ondo and Ekiti states have had to vent their anger and bent up frustration on their employees who are in their line of duty.

The statement to this effect was provided to newsmen in Benin City and signed by the company’s Acting Head of Corporate Affairs, Mrs. Evelyn Gbiwen.

Occurring less than a year since some youths from Ughelli and the surrounding communities attacked BEDC office personnel and other facilities in protest of what they perceived to be the company’s outrageous electricity bills despite frequent power outages in the area, the management had emphasized a zero-tolerance policy for savage attacks on BEDC employees who are performing their legitimate jobs, adding that any consumer who from henceforth goes ahead to commit such an act of undeserved aggression on BEDC staff on the line of duty would face legal repercussions.

“The attention of the management of BEDC has been drawn to the alarming rate of brutal assaults on its staff in the line of duty by customers who deemed themselves to be above the law.

“Recently, there was an unprovoked, near-fatal assault of a Line Worker in a team and the unlawful hostage holding of an engineer who led the team against his will, at Evbuotubu in Benin

“As a result of the attack, the worker sustained serious fractures on both legs and severe psychological trauma.

“The engineer, who was held hostage, was only released following the intervention of the law enforcement agents,” she said.

She pleaded with dissatisfied customers to always use customer service, existing customer feedback mechanism and other legal channels to air their complaints instead of resorting to violence.

According to her, BEDC is dedicated to always giving its valued electricity consumers top-notch service.

Reacting to the position of the electricity distribution company, Delta State Commissioner for Energy, Mr. Jonathan Ukodhiko told journalists in Asaba that many communities were in darkness because they were unable to pay high bills unilaterally allocated to them by BEDC.

While lamenting the incessant exploitation of communities through estimated billings system, he said: “You can’t continue to give people estimated billing, provide a bulk metering system for the communities so that they can pay for what they consume.

“I found out that most of the rural areas are in a big mess; even places with grids have no light. Why is there no light? BEDC said it was because most of the people are not paying.

“What do you mean by these people not paying? You cannot continue giving people estimated bills and expect them to pay. The system appears exploitative. It is no longer making sense and the people are being pushed to fight back However, the BEDC Corpora t e Communications Officer in Asaba, Delta State, Mrs. Esther Okwuodima Okolie, while defending BEDC’s estimated billings system, said: “The problem is not in us but the customers who are desperate to get electricity, and this desperation brought about the methodology of estimated billings.”

In November 2013, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria was split with private investors owning 60 per cent and the Federal government, 40 per cent. The development sparked expectations of efficiency and cost savings but the optimistic speculations that the extremely poor history of electricity generation and distribution in the country was about to come to an end were dashed by the sharp practices of these privatized entities, especially the DisCos.

Even after nine years of the electricity sector being privatized, millions of consumers who are yet to own prepaid meters and even those possessing the standard meters are still exposed to exorbitant charges and unjust exactions.

Metering is one of the main issues the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) is currently struggling with. The National Prepaid Metering Programme (NPMP) and the Credited Advance Payment for Metering Initiative (CAPMI) are just two of the government’s policies that have been put in place, but the majority of Nigerians are still subject to estimated billing, which is thought to be a tactic used by the DisCos to defraud customers.

The Federal Government announced in February 2022 that it would start distributing electricity meters to 4 million households to address issues with the estimated billing system, adding that the goal of the gesture was to ensure that every customer had the freedom to manage their electricity usage.

It stated that more than 1 million households received meters as part of its mass metering initiative in the programme’s first phase, and more than 4 million households would profit in the second phase. But contrary to this assurance, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission’s most recent data shows that only 57,518 consumers possessed prepaid meters in the second quarter of 2022, bringing the total number of non-prepaid owners down from 7,802,427 to 7,744,909.

The mass-metering programme has thus been the subject of numerous disputes, ranging from electricity distribution companies demanding payment for meters that were initially thought to be provided free of charge to the federal government raising the prices of both single-phase and three-phase prepaid electricity meters, not to mention its general unavailability and the refusal and or failure of BEDC officials to install meters paid for by consumers. The sector is marked by so much insincerity and insensitivity to the plights of the consumer which is now snowballing into a frustrating rage and fight back to the DISCOS.

This circus has the unfortunate side effect of allowing distribution companies to take advantage of millions of customers by using the dishonest, unsettling estimated billing method. In the long run, some customers have complained that the DisCos are delaying the implementation of prepaid meters to keep swindling them with outrageous bills that are inaccurate, even as the production of electricity declines to 5,346.82 MW in 2022 from the previously reported 6,336.52 MW.

Moreover, conflicts between the Delta State Government and Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) over the sustained estimated electricity bills, which prompted an investigation by The Pointer Newspaper indicated that electricity consumers in the state will continue to be exploited via estimated bills because BEDC will not end it in the near future.

Our correspondent learned that many electricity users in Delta State applied for prepaid meters to avoid receiving estimated bills, but BEDC informed them that the “Federal Government, for now, has put on hold allocation of pre-paid meters to users.”

For Mr. Emegha, a landlord in Delta State, it had been over five months since he paid for a prepaid meter but it had neither been received nor installed despite several appeals to the distribution company.

“I paid for the prepaid meter in September last year because I was receiving absurdly high and outrageous bills, but I have not seen the meter or my money since then. I’ve visited their office several times to find out when it would be installed, but they have never given me a conclusive answer. In the end, I’m still stuck with this absurd bill that fluctuates depending on their mood,” he explained.

Even with the traditional electric meter, consumers still feel cheated as they claim their monthly bills are essentially unstable and not in sync with their power usage.

One of such is a resident of Delta State, Mrs. J. Azuka, who bemoaned the fact that despite having a functional meter for the family’s three-bedroom apartment, they continued to receive estimated bills (ranging from N15,000 to N25,000) for some years and all complaints to the necessary authority had proved abortive.

“The marketer in charge took a monthly reading of my meter, which was in good working order, but we continued to receive estimated bills. Normally, we shouldn’t have been charged more than N5000–N7000 per month considering that we only own a fridge, a pumping system, and two TVs. Even some of the people I know pay less for additional appliances.

“After meeting with their officials and filing numerous complaints on their website, there was still no conclusive resolution. Every time there was a complaint, the bill was reasonable for a few months and then it would be raised once more,” Azuka lamented. She added that a neighbour had advised her to “settle” a DisCo representative so that the cost could be passed on to other homeowners. The neighbour asserted that with a yearly fee of N20,000, their monthly bill was decreased from N15000 to N5000 monthly.

“Our bills have been manageable ever since. Sometimes, it would be slightly increased and we would call the worker to have it fixed the following month. Even my place of worship does the same thing; when our electricity bill reached N17,000 per month, our pastor took some wine and an envelope and went to the office to have it sorted but they almost kicked him out when he attempted to haggle over their prices. These people claim that “na where person de work e de chop,” Mrs. Asuka explained.

She cited that even with all these illegal charges and unjust practices, the electricity supply had dramatically reduced from 12 hours to six hours daily and was mostly available by night putting daytime power users like barbers, photographers, tailors, and cyber cafes into obvious disadvantage.

A private school teacher and resident of Delta state, Mr. Richard Edewor, also claimed that the rate of billing had skyrocketed despite the power supply’s continued unpredictability.

“I live in a two-bedroom flat where initially I paid N3000 for the electricity bill but a couple of months later, it increased to N5000. I complained to the bill distributor and he studied my meter but the following month N1000 was added to the bill. There is no logical reason for the increase because I did not purchase any new appliance nor did anyone move in with me. If this is not reduced, I may have to ask them to disconnect me,” he said.

Mr. Babatunde, a tenant in Asaba, disclosed that they go out of their way to do the job of the Federal Government and BEDC officials but still do not enjoy the services they pay for.

“We pay for everything ranging from electric poles, BEDC services, transformer repairs even buying the transformer too, and yet we have to beg to get light. Electricity supply is drastically unstable and only available for 4-5 hours daily, hence, after paying a monthly bill of N2000, I still have to queue for fuel to use my generator.”

It would seem that the issue is not peculiar to Delta State as Ms. Foster Osagie, who owns a bakery in Auchi, Edo State, said that the billing had shot up in recent times even though the power supply had remained irregular.

“I rented a shop sometime last year so that I can establish a bakery business as I cannot wait for a government job anymore. Initially, I was paying N5,000; some months later, it was increased to N8,000 and I complained to the bill distributor who promised to look into that matter.

“I was surprised to receive a N20,000 bill last month and so were my neighbours. Where are we heading to in this country?

“I do not have an air conditioner in the shop; so, I do not know the reason for the sudden increase. Please BEDC should better do something now. How much do I make from this business that I will be paying N20,000 for electricity bills,” Osagie asked rhetorically in lamentation.

Similarly, Mr. Moses Akpan, a student of Uniben and resident of Ekosodin, Benin City, claimed that in his hostel of 15 rooms, the monthly electricity bill usually ranged from N50000 to N70000 and they were expected to pay at least N22,000.

He explained: “Because we have no meter, the bills are usually exorbitant. Being students, we barely own any electronics. Less than five per cent of occupants own TVs and fridges in this lodge and most of the time, it is powered by their generators; so, where are the huge bills coming from? We have complained severally both at the Ugbowo branch and the headquarters in Akpapava but to no avail. The lowest amount we have ever received was N48,885 but still, the power supply has reduced from 10 hours to five hours daily.”

He urged the BEDC management to develop a strategy to guarantee that every electricity user had a prepaid meter to prevent fallacious billings.

“BEDC has no justification for the unpredictable billing. Instead of giving people estimated billings, all they have to do is give every consumer a meter, “he said.

Between April and June 2022, it was reported that electricity customers filed 251,007 complaints with the DisCos to protest, among other things, estimated billing, the lack of meters, and service interruptions. The NERC stated in a report that “In 2022/Q2, the DisCos cumulatively received 251,007 consumer complaints - this is 7,620 (+3.13 percent) more complaints than those received in 2022/Q1.

Despite the customer service lines and websites overflowing with angry customers, complaints are not often met with favourable responses hence customers seem to have started taking matters into their own hands.

Mr. Gabriel Ebuka, an engineer and resident of Warri, Delta State who reacted to the development argued that violence against BEDC employees was caused by the unstable power supply and exorbitant electricity bills.

“Usually, in the middle of the month, there would be several days without light. The worst time is during the rainy season when a single drop of water can result in a week-long total blackout, but as soon as the month is about to end, there would be constant power, and before you know it, pricey bills for a week’s worth of light would show up.

He explained that several customers have become so infuriated by the dishonest behavior of these DisCo officials that they confront them verbally and physically when they come to disconnect the power.

“Making people pay for services they didn’t use is utterly unfair. You can’t expect the citizens to stand by and watch as their homes’ electricity is cut off because they cannot afford the exorbitant fees that are not in sync with the power provided,” he said.

Ebuka also stated that until the electricity situation in Nigeria is improved, the BEDC officials’ repeated attacks in the states of Delta, Edo, and Ekiti may persist as he related a violent attack on a DisCo worker.

“BEDC officials cannot turn off the power in some parts of Warri unless they are accompanied by security personnels. A man in my estate recently brutalized a DisCo employee who was attempting to disconnect his line. The official was practically held at gunpoint, and would have been shot dead if it weren’t for the help of the police and nearby residents.”

He went on to advise BEDC and the Federal government to improve the way they provided their services, as that would reduce the number of angry customers, stating that no sector carrying out its duties responsibly would encounter such hostility from its patrons.

Ebuka also suggested the installation of video surveillance to monitor any misconduct on the part of DisCo workers because according to him, they were popular for being cruel towards citizens who filmed their sharp practices. He called on BEDC to pay their workers better, as he believes this will undermine the incentive of exploitation and deception. Finally, he pleaded for a better relationship between the customers and the BEDC DisCos so that the environment could be peaceful and free from any form of violence.

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