In Nigeria, even the simplest things are made very cumbersome by our lack of project management skills for proper planning and seamless execution. This is the only way to make sense of the current MAP powered meter replacement exercise being conducted by the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) and Kaduna Electric.
These two Nigerian electricity companies are currently doing or have announced what they called a meter replacement exercise, which the electricity regulator (NERC) has disowned and after a good analysis of the process seems to me like a rogue operation.
Here is how the process works.
They claim your prepayment meter is obsolete and you need to apply for a new more advanced meter. That sounds good so far, but here is the catch, the new meter is not available (and there seem not to be any definite date for availability) and you have to surrender your ‘obsolete’ meter to the power company official before you can apply for the new meter. Oh and did I tell you that you have to fork out around 39,000 NGN for single phase and 72,000 NGN for triple phase (spread over two year under the Meter Asset Provider, MAP scheme).
What this means is that before you can apply for the new meter, your old prepayment meter will be confiscated, meanwhile there is no replacement meter, so the power company will then connect you directly to the grid (without a meter) and put you on estimated billing. Does this make any sense to you?
Why can’t one continue to use the older meter while they apply for the new meter and just do a simple meter swap when the meter is available? Apparently, EEDC and Kaduna Electric are allergic to doing things right.
What happens if you refuse to hand in your old meter? They refuse to connect you to power once your current credit is exhausted, so you have to stay in darkness or generate your own power.
This is why I call this entire exercise a rogue operation. EEDC and Kaduna Electric are using Mafia-style arm-twisting to force electricity consumers to comply.
But what is the electricity regulator is Nigeria (NERC) doing about it?
The electricity distribution companies previously alleged that the reason for the meter replacement was because NERC directed them to replace all meters that have operated for 10 years and above.
However, NERC’s General Manager, Public Affairs, Mr Usman Abba-Arabi, denied this in a statement on Friday, January 24.
He said that the NERC has become aware of the current practice by distribution companies of removing meters from the premises of customers:
“Purportedly on the regulator’s directive that all metres that have been in use for more than 10 years should be phased out. The commission has issued no such directive to the licensees and no metred customer should be transferred to ‘estimated billing’ on the premise that metres in use for more than 10 years are dysfunctional”
He also went further to say
“All licensees must henceforth adhere to the PART III, SECTION 3.5.2 of the Metering Code which states that if a metering system fault occurs, the distributor shall provide urgent metering services to repair or replace the metering system. As soon as it is practicable and in any event within two working days of the distributor discovering that the fault exists,”
On the issue of estimated billing he said:
“The commission shall soon prescribe a cap representing the maximum amount that a DisCo may charge an unmetered customer. In pursuit of realising the main objective of the Meter Asset Provider Regulations.”
Earlier, he reminded customers that it is not their responsibility to buy power equipment, but the responsibility of the electricity distribution companies:
“The commission had earlier issued a ‘Regulation for Investment in Electricity Networks’ whereby customers desirous of intervening in the restoration of power supply may invest in the provision of materials and installation. The regulation provides that such an arrangement must always be on the basis of an executed ‘Project Agreement’ between the customers and distribution company. In which the costs and the mechanism for recovery of the investment are mutually agreed between the parties,”
While, it is great that the NERC has confirmed that the electricity distribution companies have gone rogue, what we did not see in the statement is the penalties for defaulting companies.
We all know the penalties for illegal connection by customers, but what is the penalty for illegal disconnection of a customer by and electricity distribution company?
If a customer is not defaulting on their electricity bill, does the power company have the right to disconnect the customer under any other circumstance?
Doesn’t it then follow that EEDC and Kaduna Electric disconnecting or planning to disconnect fully paying customers for not submitting to this rogue operation are engaging in an illegal disconnection exercise. One that should be punished by NERC.
EEDC Started It
In December, EEDC, unilaterally declared the meters of tens of thousands of electricity customers (over 40,000 customers according to the company’s estimate) in the South East obsolete abruptly without adequate notice, refusing to vend credit to the smart cards used to load credit to the existing smart meters which they are now demarketing as obsolete without making a new replacement meter available.
With no way to add new credit to their meters and with the new meter not available EEDC started connecting consumers whose credit have finished directly and announced they will start billing such electricity consumers with estimated billing.
According to EEDC, they will be using the average of the consumer’s last 3 months electricity consumption to estimate their monthly bills.
What is very curious is that EEDC is now insisting that before they connect a consumer directly (without metering) the consumer must give the ‘obsolete’ meter to them.
If you refuse to surrender your meter, they will refuse connecting you, which means that once your current energy credit is finished, you will have to be without electricity or generate your own like me.
They did not even stop there. They will not process your meter application if you do not first surrender your older meter.
For me, it makes absolutely no sense for EEDC to be insisting on decommissioning an ‘obsolete’ meter before the new one is available. It makes even less sense to insist on confiscating the ‘obsolete’ meters without having a replacement at hand.
Kaduna Electric Joins
While I was still trying to reach-out to electricity regulator in Nigeria NERC and the Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC) about this issue.
Is @fccpcnigeria and @NERCNG aware that @enugudisco has gone rogue. First they unilaterally declared the meters of tens of thousands of electricity customers in the South East obsolete abruptly without prompt notice, refusing to vend credit to the smart cards used to load credit
— Okafor Paschal (@passyjango) January 23, 2020
I was alerted that Kaduna Electric have adopted the Mafia style procedure in their meter replacement exercise.
— General Roddy : ?? Forever (@roddy5000) January 23, 2020
Kaduna Electric announced this on their Twitter page in a press release they called Retrieval on Conlog Meters. Reading this it shows that they borrowed a lot from the playbook of EEDC.
Retrieval of Conlog Meters pic.twitter.com/O19lb29JmR
— Kaduna Electric (@Kadunaelectric) January 23, 2020
With Nigeria being a country where people and institutions are very good at following bad examples, it is only a matter of time before more electricity distribution companies join the EEDC and Kaduna Electric.
This is why the electricity regulator (NERC) and perhaps the consumer protection council needs to step in before this process gets out of hand.
If not handle properly this senseless meter replacement exercise might end-up being the trigger that starts a revolution in Nigeria.
Questions that EEDC and Kaduna Electric needs to Answer
Here are a few questions that EEDC and Kaduna Electric has not been able to answer and must answer if the exercise will be better understood by electricity consumers.
What is the Real Reason for Abandoning the old Smart Meter?
According to EEDC the meters are obsolete. Kaduna Electric claims that the conlog meters have outlived their shelf-life of 10 years.
While I do not know much about the conlog meter, I cannot say much about it, so I will focus on EEDC ‘obsolete’ smart meter here. You can reach me on Twitter, to show me photos of the conlog meters that Kaduna Electric is currently decommissioning.
In the case of the EEDC, I do not think that their position is backed by fact. These meters use the same technology as ATM and PoS and can’t be obsolete at this time.
The only advantage that the new meters they are promoting have over the the one they are decommissioning is convenience, because of the ability to recharge remotely.
While you need to go to a physical location to load credit into the smart card for the older meter, the new one can be recharged via internet and payment apps.
However, since the consumer is king it is their choice to decide the level of convenience they want. If it is so obsolete why are they scrambling to confiscate it using Mafia-style arm-twisting on their customers?
My guess is that the software license of the older meters expired and they are unable or unwilling to renew the license. Another guess is that support for the software on the older meter has ended and they are unable or unwilling to pay for extended support. This is why an investigation is necessary.
I have also heard that they upgraded their billing system and the new system does not support the older meters.
However, who upgrades their billing system without thinking about legacy users? It is like Google releasing Android 11 and withdrawing support for Android 10 and below. As of today, Google still supports Android 8, which was released in 2017.
Why is EEDC and Kaduna Electric so Eager to Confiscate the Old Meter?
EEDC calls the meters obsolete and Kaduna Electric says they have outlived their shelf-life, yet both companies are insisting that customers surrender the meter before applying.
This is very suspicious.
Since obsolete means “no longer produced or used; out of date”. What are they doing with the meters and why can’t they wait until new meters are available?
This condition of confiscating the old meter even when the new meters are not available is causing a lot of apprehension for their customers.
The funny thing is that the new meter is not available. It makes no sense to tell someone to surrender their existing meter and then apply for a new meter that you do not know when it will be available. Why can’t I be using my current meter pending when the new meter is ready?
The funny thing is that the new meter is not available. It makes no sense to tell someone to surrender their existing meter and then apply for a new meter that you do not know when it will be available. Why can't I be using my current meter pending when the new meter is ready?
— Okafor Paschal (@passyjango) January 24, 2020
This reeks of 419.
Most people in Nigeria understand the methodology that local 419ers use.
They advertise something grand like 500 million Naira (New Meter) in a warehouse. They rope you in by promising to give you 1% (5 million) of the 500 million (The meter is the holy grail of meters and MAP will make it easy to acquire).
But there is a catch.
You have to bring 100,000 Naira (surrender your old meter) so that they can settle the security personnel that will guard the money for the night because the guy with the key to the warehouse missed his flight and will be returning in morning. The offer is simple, help us with 100,000 Naira now and be rewarded with 5 million in the morning.
If you are stupid enough to fall for such con, when you get there in the morning, you will not see anybody. You will neither see 500 million (new meter) nor 5 million (promises) and worst of all you have just lost your 100,000 Naira (old meter).
In the minutes that follow, your brain will expand and you will come to the realization that you have been had.
So, ladies and gentlemen it is clear that the whole process looks like a 419 con. However, it does not look like just an ordinary 419 con, but a brutal con that uses Mafia-style to arm-twist customers into surrendering their old meter.
By refusing to sell energy credit to consumers with the older meter and insisting that such consumers must surrender their old meter before applying for the new one, EEDC and Kaduna Electric are using arm-twisting tactics to confiscate the older meters.
This is inhuman and these companies need to be sanctioned.
What Happens to the Old Meter After Confiscation
It is also important for EEDC and Kaduna Electric to come clean on what happens to the old meter after confiscation.
In the case of EEDC, I heard from multiple sources that these meters are being sold in a neighboring West African country. I have not gotten any update on the fate of meters confiscated by Kaduna Electric.
This needs to be further investigated, however given the eagerness with-which they are both scrambling for these meters, I will put my money that there is some financial incentive driving the confiscation.
What Needs to Happen
Having pointed some holes in the current process, I am now going to give a couple suggestion:
Put a Halt to it until New Meters are Available
The NERC should cancel the ongoing meter upgrade exercise by the EEDC and Kaduna Electric until the new meters are available for consumers to swap with their older meter.
Since, upgrade means “replacing something old with something newer and better”, what EEDC and Kaduna Electric is doing right now is a charade.
NERC and electricity distribution companies should come-up with a more seamless and customer-friendly protocol for meter replacement or upgrade as the current MAP-driven process is not working.
Whichever, protocol they adopt they must make sure that the requirement for a customer to surrender their old meter before applying for new meter is cancelled as it makes no sense.
A customer should be able to continue using the old meter while applying for the new one. Once the new meters are available, a direct meter swap should be done rather than the current indefinite estimated billing middle ground.
Third Parties should be Licensed to Support the Old Meters
If EEDC and Kaduna Electric are unwilling or unable to continue selling credit to consumers with the ‘obsolete’ meters they should license third parties to vend credit to such consumers pending when the new meters are available or when such customers decide to upgrade.
Since the customer is king, the decision to upgrade should be theirs, especially if they and not electricity distribution company will be paying for the meter.
The power company should not be forcing consumers to upgrade there equipment. It is their responsibility to continue to support such consumers until they are ready to upgrade.
For the avoidance of doubt here are the smart meters that EEDC is decommissioning. The meter comes in two units. The metering unit is should below. This is the main meter.
The second unit is the monitor unit. This is just like a card reader. You slot the smart card in it to load the energy credit you bought into your meter.
If you live in the jurisdiction of the Kaduna Electric, I will like to see photos of the conlog meters that the company is decommissioning so that I can share it here. You can reach me on Twitter.
Kaduna Electric distributes electricity to consumers in Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Zamfara, while EEDC distributes power to consumers in Enugu, Anambra, Abia, Imo, and Ebonyi.
I will stop here for now, but this will not be the last you will hearing about EEDC and Kaduna Electric from me.