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13.03.2021 Journalism With Crazy Bills and Hoarded Pre-Paid Meters, IKEDC and MOJEC are Exploiting Nigerians

Published 13th Mar, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

When Sinmileoluwa Hassan rented a two-bedroom house in Sangisa, Lagos, in 2019, he did not expect to be sharing electricity bills of N40,000 with his neighbour Are Olalekan.

Hassan and Olalekan were also tasked with paying outstanding electricity bills to the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) despite a judge’s ruling that informed a regulation by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) that “a landlord’s outstanding electricity bills cannot be enforced on a tenant”.

Both men paid their bills promptly and kept paying a share of the outstanding bill from previous tenants. It was in October 2020 that they started receiving estimated billings of more than N70,000, and at one point, N103,000.

Hassan told FIJ that the electricity bill of N103,000 was brought by an Ikeja Electric (IE) staffer who carried a book that contained a list around with them. The IE official told Hassan that he and his neighbour owed N103,000 for one month. Because the meter Hassan and Olalekan both shared wasn’t working, they received estimated bills that did not reflect their electricity consumption.

“I am wondering how did you get N100,000 plus for a month. They don’t come to read the meter so how did you get N100,000?” he wondered.

“Apart from that, we have never had N100,000 plus for the two buildings since I came here in April 2019; N40,000 or N45,000 at most. Then we just get N100,000 out of nowhere.”

When he kicked against paying that outrageous amount, the staff of IKEDC cut off the electricity supply and took the wire with them. The outstanding bill that Hassan and Olalekan had been clearing stood at N50,000 when they decided to get a meter from one of the Meter Asset Providers (MAPs), Mojec Meter Assets Management Company, a subsidiary of Mojec International Limited.

EXORBITANT BILLS DESPITE HOUSE APPLIANCES INSPECTION

Sinmileoluwa Hassan rented a two-bedroom house in Sangisa, Lagos, in 2019; he did not expect to be paying crazy electricity bills. Photo: FIJ

The billings they had been receiving was despite IKEDC conducting inspections of their homes in April 2019, on what electrical and electronic appliances they used. Both houses don’t use air conditioners. In Hassan’s house, there is a fan, a television and fridge, but even these aren’t enough for the exorbitant estimated bill of N40,000 he pays. FIJ spoke with a marketer.

He tells FIJ that in September 2020 they paid N50,000; N37,753 for current charges and N12,000 from the outstanding. In the compound is another meter that works which serves two other two-bedroom houses in the compound and two shops. When Hassan and his neighbour received a bill of N75,000, their neighbours who use a meter received N15,000.

Part of the consumer rights and obligations of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, the body that is charged with efficiently managing electricity for Nigerians, states that: “All customers have a right to a properly installed and functional meter. All customers have a right to properly informed and educated on the electricity service. All customers have a right to transparent electricity billing. All un-metered customers should be issued with electricity bills strictly based on NERC’s estimated billing methodology. It is the customer’s right to be notified in writing ahead of disconnection of electricity service by the DisCo serving the customer in line with NERC’s guidelines.”

SETTLE OUTSTANDING BALANCE OR NO PRE-PAID METER

The old meter IKEDC officials came to check… it was unreadable.

In August 2020, Hassan and Olalekan paid for a prepaid meter. They were told that unless the outstanding balance was paid they won’t be given a meter. The Application Reference Number (ARN) they received was sent to them via email by Mojec but was later discovered to have been issued to someone else. Unfortunately, they had already made payment using that ARN. Hassan told FIJ that after realizing the error right there at Ikeja Electric, another account was opened and another ARN generated. For a while, the meter was not delivered but they kept receiving outrageous monthly estimated bills

FIJ spoke to Ekonorue Esther, a marketer of IKEDC, who explained that it is not possible for two people to have the same ARN unless there is a mismatch. She also said that the ARN is automatically generated and that estimate bills are not based on how many electronic or electrical equipment one uses.

However, Mojec meters first sent the ARN in an email which was unusual. A day after an FIJ reporter visited the IKEDC office on CMD Road, a new meter was brought to Hassan’s house.

A day after the FIJ reporter visited the IKEDC office, Hassan informed FIJ that a new meter was brought and installed.

MORE EXPLOITATION BY IKEDC

At Olambe area in Ogun State, around the middle of 2018, personnel of IKEDC came to assess the transformer that serviced Laderin area. According to Oluwafemi Samuel, since then, the transformer was never returned after it was supposedly taken for repairs. The entire area was in darkness and like many situations in Nigeria, after constant visits to the IKEDC office at Abúlé-Ẹ̀gbá, which yielded no results, the members of the community were tasked with contributing money to buy a new transformer.

After four months in darkness with no money contributed to buy a new transformer, and the old transformer not repaired or returned by personnel of IKEDC, another solution was found. The community approached those who lived in Unity Street, which had a private transformer, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding, paying N300,000 to have access to the transformer. The personnel of IKEDC were once again called to assess if the transformer would be able to handle the electricity load from those at Laderin area. They approved the use of the transformer by the two areas.

Hassan in his home showing an FIJ reporter that he uses no AC or electronic that warrants paying huge electricity bills

The plan was that both areas would alternate between two days on and a day off for the use of the transformer. This was a shortlived arrangement, as the transformer started developing faults. The transforemr could not handle the load. The personnel at IKEDC had lied after they had been paid N40,000 to connect the two communities to the transformer.

Oluwafemi told FIJ that another arrangement was reached to alternate the electricity between both communities. One community would have electricity for a day, and alternate with the other community for the next day. In total, both communities were having close to 15 days of electricity per month. However, when the electricity estimated bill came, they were charged for the whole month.

Asides this, a bigger fracas took place. Those at Unity Street, being the owners of the transformer, would sometimes not alternate the electricity for days.

“There is now light; however, Unity area just arbitrarily decides on when to ‘off’ and ‘on’ the light, meaning that if they have light on Monday, the expectation is that they will allow IKEDC change it on Tuesday to the other area. However, with the glaring collusion of IKEDC officials, they would continue using the light into Tuesday and would not even bat an eyelid if the other area does not complain,” Oluwafemi said.

On March 9, Unity area locked the transformer, leading to a fracas and the involvement of policemen from Ajuwon Police Station at the behest of those from Unity Area. Despite the existence of an MoU, Unity Area has refused to alternate electricity with Laderin Area.

“Hundreds will be cheated out of light,” Oluwafemi said.

What’s more painful to him is the role IKEDC played.

He told FIJ, “IKEDC, in its characteristic manner, will not provide a new transformer for these people. Instead, they would keep sending in monthly bills.

“Even a layman knows that the only solution to this issue is provide good transformers to these areas. They would rather join them to another overloaded transformer and have them constantly complain about power cuts.”

Although Mojec meters no longer has a Twitter account, disgruntled customers continue to tweet complaints at the company, hoping for a solution that remains, thus far, elusive.

Published 13th Mar, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

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