The DISCOs and the NEPA mentality, By Simbo Olorunfemi

What governs the relationship between the Electricity Distribution Companies, a.k.a. DISCOs and the Nigerian Consumers, especially as it relates to the issue of Electricity meters?

Whose responsibility is it, or should it be, to procure meters? Who gets to take ownership of it? The one who procures, the one whom the meter serves by helping it to monitor consumption so it can bill accordingly or the one who happens to be the host, the consumer who provides shelter for an equipment meant to protect the supplier from theft and loss of revenue?

One would ordinarily think it is the Distribution company that would be more keen on ensuring the provision of meter and will do everything to ensure that all consumption points are metered, as it stands to its benefit for all consumption points to be metered.

One would think that, for that reason, it would be the responsibility of the DISCO, a monopoly foisted on the consumer, to supply and install a meter at every consumption point, at its own expense.

Indeed, as at December last year, NERC Commissioner for Consumer Affairs was quoted to have said that “it is not the responsibility of the consumers to buy meters, poles or any assets for the DisCos (distribution companies) because we have already provided for that in the tariff of the utilities.
“But under any circumstances that you have to purchase these items and you cannot wait for the DisCos to make that investment, we have made provision for that under our ‘investment regulation’.”

But as anyone who has had to cause to interact with the DISCOs would attest, they operate more by their own rules rather than the ones, as laid out above, by NERC, the regulator.

Indeed, it has never been as simple as one would have thought. There has been as much of confusion around what should be, with different policies and pronouncements on this over the years.

We eventually got to a point where we were told that the government had procured meters, which were to be installed for free by DISCOs. At a point, that was being done, even if the DISCOs were not that clear on who got what and how that came to be.

Not sure of how many people benefitted from that, given the lack of transparency or clarity of communication about it.

But it would appear that, at this point, even as it should never be so, the prevailing policy is one that recommends or suggests that it has again become the responsibility of the Consumer to BUY the meter, which would then be installed by the DISCO. I hear the price has only recently been reviewed upwards.

So, if it is up to the Consumer to buy the meter, as many have done over the years, who then gets to own it? NERC once said that the Consumer is not able to move the meter from the premises it has been installed. But how does one buy an item and is not able to move it from one point to the other, where he might have need for it?

If the consumer buys the meter and the DISCO takes ‘ownership’ of it, whose responsibility is it to ensure that it works as it should? Whose responsibility is it to fix it, should there be a fault? Whose responsibility is it to replace, should there be a damage? Is a maintenance charge not already preloaded onto the electricity tariffs that we pay?

I ask in the light of my recent experience. I happened to have been at the outer corridor at home when supply of electricity was restored the other day. I noticed that even as the alarm from a neighbour announced the good news, our meter and the keypad attached to it were blank, with the usual blinking lights off. I would later find out that even with that, the supply of electricity to the house was still intact.

As a precautionary measure, lest one be accused of bypass, I immediately put a call to the AEDC ‘Engineer’. He came hours later. With no clue on what the issue was, he placed a call to his colleague, the Meter Engineer, as he called him. I heard one Engineer tell the other, over the phone, that it had to be the surge.

This was a Friday evening, and I had to go on Monday to ‘pick the Engineer up’, as was asked, to come and check the meter. He took a look at it and concluded that the meter was damaged, with surge from as culprit. Solution? I had to buy another meter, he casually offered.

So, on account of a surge in supply from the Electricity Distribution company, the meter gets damaged and the Consumer, yet again, has to take responsibility for the damage and buy another meter! I told him that would never happen!

I am not surprised at the thinking on the part of the DISCO though. I have always wondered about the Electricity Distribution Companies and the quality of their thinking. They appear not to have been able to outgrow the NEPA model in a number of ways.

These companies were privatised many years ago, but interacting with their personnel, except for a few, especially those at the very top, there is usually hardly anything to suggest that these are private sector operators.

The DISCOs largely operate as if held hostage by the NEPA mentality, carrying itself with the arrogance of a monopoly answerable to no-one.

I often wonder about the state of their offices, why they have continued to look like relics from the colonial era. Some are so dark and and unkempt, that you just wonder. With worn-out Tables from the NEPA era and chairs with upholstery in tatters, you just wonder.

Perhaps it’s just the offices I have been unlucky to visit. Who knows? But how does one begin to think of a proper reception area in the offices, where consumers can be attended to, when you see what has been provided for the Staff? I had to publicly lament on the state of the working environment at one of the offices I visited last year.

If the environment is a reflection of the mind of the state of the organisation, then what we see at the offices of the best explains why we are still stuck with NEPA in DISCO clothing.

Anyway, the meter that was pronounced dead by the Meter Engineer, of its own accord, miraculously came back to life, weeks after. I called one of their Engineers, who called at a time, on follow up, to share the testimony with him.

He was not that excited about the testimony. To him, our experience is a signal that we should start preparing to buy another meter. Do you blame him?

The DISCO lights are back – green and blinking.

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