Traditionally, the electricity billing system in Nigeria has been controversial as it was based on estimated billing under the old National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA). With the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) by the Federal Government by virtue of Section 8 of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2005 ("The Act"), there are now 11 Electricity Distribution Companies to cover the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in Nigeria. As part of the Federal Government's revolutionary reforms system in the electricity industry, the concept of pre-paid meters was conceived.
Pre-paid meters are meters installed in properties (private or commercial) to capture the exact electricity volume consumed by the consumer. Previously, an estimated billing system meant that consumers were billed based on projected consumption rates determined by the old NEPA. However, with pre-paid meters, the consumer is to pay for only electricity consumed.
The role of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission
The National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is an independent body, established by the Federal Government to undertake technical and economic regulation of the Nigerian Electricity Industry. Section 31 of the Act establishes NERC and gives it regulatory powers over the 11 Distribution Companies in Nigeria. Section 67(1)(b) of the Act also empowers it to, among other license operators, determine operating codes and standards, establish consumer rights and obligations and set cost effective industry tariffs.
One of the aims of the Federal Government reforms is to ensure that every property has a pre-paid meter and the estimated billing system is no longer used. Nevertheless, the reality is that some properties do not have pre-paid meters and are still getting estimated bills. While the issue with scarcity of meters cannot be completely whittled down, it does not preclude a consumer from applying to obtain a prepaid meter as it is only when an application is lodged and untreated that a consumer can seek to enforce and exhaust every legal remedy available to him.
A major challenge of many Nigerians is the herculean task of obtaining pre-paid meters in their premises to replace their faulty ones or procure a new one altogether when the need arises. There are stumbling blocks due to a shortage of available pre-paid meters and some unscrupulous Electricity Distribution Company workers. To further compound an already bad situation, a defective meter signals the immediate reversion to estimated billing which immediately sees officials of the electricity distribution company intruding on properties with indiscriminately estimated billings in hand to serve a consumer. Applying for a new meter entails the following:
- An application letter requesting for a pre-paid meter is submitted to the relevant Electricity Distribution Company supported by relevant documentations including, but not limited to the latest bills paid.
- Where there is no sufficient response, another letter should be written to the Customer Care Unit (CCU) of the relevant Electricity Distribution Company.
- If there is no response, another letter should be written to the nearest Forum House for adjudication.
- Where all these fail, a letter should be written as the last administrative resort to the NERC.
By virtue of Section 80-81 of the Act, the following are the consumer's rights which include but are not limited to:
- Right to file complaints and to the prompt investigation of complaints.
- Right to a properly installed and functional meter.
- Right to transparent electricity billing.
- Right to be refunded when over billed.
- Right to be notified in writing ahead of disconnection of electricity service by the Distribution Companies serving the consumer in line with NERC's guidelines.
- Right to appeal the decision of the NERC Forum Office by writing a petition to the Commission.
It is imperative to note that it is NOT the responsibility of electricity consumer or community to buy, replace or repair electricity transformers, poles and related equipment used in the supply of electricity. As the saying goes: "with rights come obligations"; some of the obligations include:
- Payment of bills for electricity consumed.
- Vigilant protection of electrical installations.
- Non-tampering with electricity installations
- Consumer compliance with the requirements of the Distribution code.
Although progress has been made, there are still inherent lapses in the electricity sector which sometimes takes time to fix as "a thousand mile journey begins with a single step." There is still an urgent need for more progressive reforms in the electricity industry in order to improve the power supply to the ordinary Nigerians.