The statement “Crazy Bills” is a very common expression in our clime. It may sound odd to a first time visitor to Nigeria who is coming from a clime where erratic power supply is not the order of the day or even unknown.
The crazy bill syndrome is not new in Nigeria, the act has lingered for so long in the country, even before the advent of the current privatisation of power institutions. Many Nigerians see the act as a desperate and calculated attempt by the power authorities of ripping them off. They are of the view that it’s a crying shame for the electricity authorities to just wake up one day, take their calculator and start billing them in a way that is ridiculous.
The advent of prepaid meters which was to resolve the menace, has not met the desired impact as millions of power consumers are yet to get the power device. Despite the claim by the National Electricity Regulator Commission that the device is “Free”; as free as it is, scores of many homes are yet to access it, and some of those who have got it are still alleging that the Discos have systematically manipulated it in such a way that the unit is reading in a very fast rate; a claim that Discos have vehemently denied.
From every nook and cranny of Nigeria, power consumers have resorted to massive protests to the offices of Discos to express their frustrations over the incessant act of ‘strange bills ‘being demanded on power they hardly supply to them. Both residential and business buildings have tales of woe to share as regards this issue crazy or estimated bills.
What makes the matter more frustrating and sickening to power consumers was that the Discos hardly supply them power; yet at the end of the month they still present exasperating and absurd bills for them to pay. On some occasions, out of intense resentment, the electricity consumers physically molest the field officials of Discos whenever they are on assignment to disconnect power from defaulting customers.
In the middle of January this year, some aggrieved residents of Dopemu, Lagos who didn’t want to condone the acts of crazy bills anymore embarked on massive protest to the office of Ikeja Electric (IE) in Alausa, Ikeja. The protest began at Dopemu Street as early as 9 in the morning moving to the power office, and was led by top members of the Dopemu Community Development Association (DCDA).
While engaging in the protest, they sang some solidarity songs and carried placards with all sorts of inscriptions against estimated billings. What was written on the placards were: “Give us prepaid meters now”, “We demand regular supply of electricity in our community”, “Say no to crazy billings”, “Give us prepaid meters”, “No more estimated billings”, and so on.
The Spokesman of the Community Association, Oluwasegunfunmi David said that they resorted to protest to express their anger because of arbitral system they (Discos) use in billing them. He said that even as the power they supply has never been stable, they need to make the issue of prepaid meters clear to them because they are long overdue for it. He also frowned at lingering power outage, saying that it is high time Nigeria tackled the matter.
He said: “We are tired of estimated bills; we are tired of abusing our intelligence in the community. We want to be treated the way other communities are being treated, like, Akowonjo, Alimosho, and Egbeda, we want to be given prepaid meters. If there are no prepaid meters, please don’t come to our community for anything.
David described Dopemu residents as a peace loving people, noting that this was what informed their decision to resort to a peaceful protest, despite the fact that the policy of Ikeja Electric are very vexatious.
Hear him: “We do not want violence and that is why we have come to tell you this in peace. We want the prepaid meter to be installed in every building. We will appreciate if this is taken with all seriousness; we are not here to fight or insult anybody. You are here to do business and we are being ripped off of our hard earn money. We pay exorbitantly without being properly taken care of. We want electricity supplied adequately on our prepaid meters.”
Speaking on poor power supply, he said: “We are requesting that IE kindly put back our line on the former line that has been supplying Dopemu area. The dismal state of electricity supply in our community is unbearable. Last December, for five days consecutively and in spite of fuel scarcity, there was no electricity supply in Dopemu, which houses the biggest aluminum establishment in West Africa.
“The whole of Dopemu has been a ghost town; this is capable of causing unrest among the youths, which can result in crime. We expect IE, a private establishment, to be proactive in solving the problems of its consumers and not compound them. Electricity supply was much better in the days of PHCN.” He said.
The Head, External and Media Relations, Ikeja Electric, Ayeni Akinola later engaged in dialoque with the leaders of the community’s representatives.
Briefing his people after the meeting, David expressed disappointment at the response and attitude of the company to the plights they tabled before them, stating to his people that in the meeting, the community representatives stood on their ground and refused to cave in.
He said: “At the meeting, Akinola and another official told us that there are no pre-paid meters now. They said the Federal Government is planning to roll out pre-paid meters this year, but they did not give us the time the meters would come. They begged us but we insisted that we want pre-paid meters.
“But we said no to all these and that until they give us pre-paid meters, we must not see them in our community. If they don’t give us pre-paid meters, they should not give us light, they should hold their power to themselves and we must not see them in our community. They must not bring bills and they must not come to cut our light. This is the only thing that can cause fight”, He added.
In December last year Magboro residents near the Ibafo-Mowe area of Ogun state, threw caution to the wind as they trooped out in hundreds to kick against incessant act of estimated bills by Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBDEC). They accused IBDEC of sheer insensitivity in the manner they charge them electricity bills, adding that they are being short-changed by the electricity company.
In the course of the protest, they blocked most part of the major roads leading to the community; thereby causing massive traffic jam. Many of them carried placards with the following inscription: “Fashola, IBDEC stop these crazy bills; “IBDEC, our Mumu don do’’ Extortion from IBDEC must stop; IBDEC no more extortion: Enough is enough’’.
Shedding light on the protest, one of the protesters who is also a Councillor representing Magboro/Arepo Constituency, Ayodeji Abiodun accused IBDEC of indifference, adding that it its actions bespeaks flippant attitudes to the yearnings of the community as regards the issue of absurd bills.
In his words “As a Councillor representing the community, about two days ago, I called the community stakeholders meeting and everybody expressed his mind.
“After the meeting IBDEC promised to look into the request within a short period. Nevertheless, there is no crime in people expressing their grievances with a peaceful protest. The protest has been peaceful so far because Magboro residents are law abiding people,’’ he added.
In statement, the Chairman of the Community Development Association, Yinka Ogungbemi accused the power body of shakedown, lamenting that some people are being served with crazy bills of up to N10,000 per month over power supply that is not even up to two hours in a day.
In his statement: “IBDEC forced us to sign a letter that those equipment we bought would be a voluntary donation without any compensation. But after that, what we got in return are crazy bills. They have been treating us badly. We pick bills from their office by ourselves.
“They don’t distribute bills and the billing system is not right. Sometimes we pay so much for power supply that is not up to an average of two-hours a day,” Ogungbemi lamented.
The trend of these crazy bills is not limited to Lagos axis and South-West, people from every part of Nigeria are feeling the pinch of the act. They just wake up one morning and receive a “Quick Notice” that their power bills have been increased by 50%, 100% or even more for a power supply that is declining daily.
Auwal Adamu who stays in a self-contained apartment in Abuja has a tale of woes to tell on the estimated bills. While intimating his experience to journalists, he said that before January last year, he was charged N5,000 on monthly basis; decrying that the rate was arbitrarily jacked up to over N7,000 by February. He noted that he was greatly taken-aback because that month of February was the month they experienced the most horrible electricity supply since he moved to Dawaki Extension.
He said: “I was truly baffled because that was a month we experienced a horrible power supply. So I expected that the rational thing to do was to review the bill downward.
“Around that period, I was sent on a marketing trip to the North East by my company, and by the time I came back, another bill of over N8,000 had arrived. If I had a meter, I wouldn’t have consumed even N500 because I travelled immediately after paying the one for February, which means there was zero consumption throughout the period of my absence,” Adamu added.
Also narrating his ordeal while speaking to journalists, a resident of Kankia town in Katsina, Haruna Bashir said that he was greatly amazed when he was given a bill of N10,000, noting that his bills few months before that period were N3,000 and N4,000.
Out of anger, he said he decided to go to KEDC to express his displeasure, the swift response he got was “Just pay, the bill came like that”.
Bashir noted that the issue of estimated billings is a source of serious concern and worry to the residents of the town, lamenting that everybody is infuriated on the incessant hike because they see the act as flagrant wickedness.
According to Muhammad Mahmoud who lives along the Nnamdi Azikiwe bypass in Kaduna, he was very disappointed and feels frustrated on crazy bills that are on the ups, adding bluntly that KEDCO (Kaduna Distribution Company) is heartless in the way they hike bills at will.
In his words: “I am at the mercy of the heartless Kaduna Distribution Company (KEDCO) marketers. They bill me as they wish. And I can’t talk. They will just send thugs to disconnect the power from my house.”
He added that: “The distribution company became more reckless. I was paying an estimated billing of about N4, 500 monthly, whether there was light or not. Suddenly, a N10, 000 bill was brought and I became enraged. I confronted the lady that usually brought the bill. I was shocked when she said, ‘they were told I was producing ice block’ hence the hike in my bill. I said they were were reckless. What stopped them from coming to the house to check out the claim? I invited them to do so. I vowed not to pay that outrageous amount.’’
According to him, the bill was later reduced to N5,700 after his bitter complaint. However, the relief was short-lived as it was arbitrarily hiked to N8,500 again. “This is scandalous and nobody seems to care again. And no prepaid meter is on sight,” Mahmoud said.
The situation has snowballed to an extent in which some customers have employed the use of legal action against the Discos, accusing them of illegal extortion. An example of such case was the one involving the Akinlolu Omoyinmi family of Lagos when the family instituted litigation against the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (Ikeja DISCO) for serving them an estimated electricity bill of N436,000 for the month of March 2017.
The suit number ID/643/GCMW/15 which was filed against the defendant (Ikeja Disco) by the claimant (Omoyinmi family) sought to declare the N436,000 and other subsequent estimated bills as unlawful, illegal, null and void. In addition, they prayed that the court should restrain the defendant from disconnecting their electricity located at 42/44 Ajakaiye Street, Onipetesi, Ikeja, Lagos.
Surprisingly, the litigation and the claim for injunction against disconnection did not deter the defendant as it still visited the building and disconnected power from it.
A legal milestone as regards crazy bills was achieved in Anambra state in June last year when A State High Court sitting in Onitsha slapped three months imprisonment on the Manager and Marketing Manager of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company Onitsha District for issuing crazy bills against its consumers
The two senior officials were sued by the principal leaders of the Iweka Electronic Amalgamated Traders Association Onitsha, a year before for disconnecting power from their company despite the fact that the company had paid an estimated bill of N2m.
So, having seen that their claim was genuine and clear, the group of traders decided to put their best foot forward by dragging the Disco officials to court.
After hearing both sides on May 23, 2016, the court gave an interim injunction restraining the defendants from carrying out any disconnection activity pending the final conclusion of the case. It was gathered that despite the injunction, the duo still had the affront to go ahead and disconnect the claimant’s power from the grid.
The two EEDC officials were found guilty of contempt of court and were sentenced to three months imprisonment.
As expected, the epoch-making ruling triggered wide jubilation as many traders trooped to the street, dancing and singing over the judgment which they described as a brilliant one.
According to the Chairman of the market, the court deserves commendation for the judgment, adding that the EEDC personnel were power drunk to the extent that they act as if they were above the law of the land. “They thought that no person, group of persons or even the court cannot stop them from their illegal disconnection and crazy bills,” Ndubuisi said.
In his views on the matter, the Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola had issued a warning, asking the Discos to desist from the act of issuing crazy bills to their teeming customers across the country.
The Minister disclosed this in August last year in Kano during the 18th monthly power sector/stakeholders’ meeting. He said that the Discos should stop this act by providing prepaid meters to the consumers. “The Discos have the obligation to meter their customers. They must provide them with meters for effective metering before charging them,” Fashola warned.
Lending his voice on the matter, the Managing Director of the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company, John Donnachie said that the accusations of high/crazy bills by the customers are not true.
According to him, the fundamental issue is the ignorance on the part of consumers, stating that they don’t know the cost of producing electricity; thus, when they receive bills, they ignorantly termed it as estimated or crazy bills.
He added that unlike the knowledge of the cost of other household items such as foods, clothes, housing and so on which the consumers know, they don’t understand the process and the cost of running electricity at home.
Hear his opinion: “Some of them work for the government and haven’t been paid and there is high cost of living. Electricity is the only product you can buy without paying for it. Believe me, there is no product that can be sold for free. Customers don’t pay us. They bankrupt us and we don’t get meters. So they complain about high bills, which is not true.
He added: “In fact, if you look at the cost of electricity currently at N28, it is essentially cheap. Ghana is 10 times higher than what we have. If you look at the price, with current operations, it should be N57 per unit. What do we gain from crazy bills? They don’t understand the cost of running electricity at home. That is the problem. It is not crazy bills. Customers don’t understand the cost. That is why they see it as crazy bills. Everybody understands the cost of food, provisions and other things, but not electricity. I am not saying we don’t have problems.
Commenting on the issue, The President of Nigerian Consumer Protection Agency, Kunle Olubiyo lampooned the Discos over their billing system, stating that the system is exploitative in nature. “We are in a serious dilemma as far as that is concerned. For estimated billing, it is inhuman, unjustifiable and unimaginable, and electricity consumers nationwide are at the receiving end,” Olubiyo said.