As a Nigerian, the daily reality of bad governance and poor service delivery means one has to create a defence mechanism to cope with the never-ending stream of shocking realities. If it is not the telecom giants siphoning one’s Internet data with impunity, it would be the banks silently robbing customers through brainless charges that have no basis in reality.
With the electricity companies, however, there is no pretension about the need to steal subtly from consumers. The corporate culture seems so ingrained in the aggressive cheating of the consumers that even the most absurd attempt to take what does not belong to them is carried on with an air of unmitigated arrogance.
It took two solid years, after a robust campaign on and offline for the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) to finally supply a prepaid meter to my residence located along City College Road, Mararaba, Nasarawa State. For those two years, before the meter was supplied I was the victim of the extortionate estimated billing. With no basis at all, in reality, AEDC workers simply sat in their offices and drafted figures according to whatever wave swept through their heads. With such mindless exploitation, there were months I was forced to pay as much as N14, 000 as an estimated bill for a modest 3-bedroom apartment.
Now, I have the prepaid meter, but recent events seem to be indicating I am in for a more vexatious time in the hands of the DISCO. The company appears bent on breaking its previous record of impunity by surreptitiously programming an alleged debt of N973, 048.34 (Nine hundred and seventy-three thousand, forty-eight Naira, thirty-four kobo) into my prepaid meter.
The instructive thing is that the prepaid meter was only supplied in March 2019. The apartment itself is residential, and I use no appliances beyond a few fans, bulbs, a fridge, and a TV set. I currently do not even need or use an air conditioner! Some people who heard of the contrived “debt” could not believe their ears, and they kept asking if I was running an industry inside my house. I had to explain that I run no industry whatsoever and the apartment in question is a 3-bedroom bungalow, which was constructed in 2016. Yet, AEDC decided to silently programme a fictitious debt of nearly one million Naira, which is calculated at a reasonable electricity consumption rate for a residence of my type, would imply that I have been consuming electricity for the past 50 years, beginning from a period in which I was not even born! In fact, the absurdity of the matter humbles the imagination.
After recovering from the shock of this discovery, I investigated further, only to find that since this fictitious amount was programmed into my pre-paid meter, half of every recharge I make is automatically deducted ostensibly to pay the humongous fictitious “debt.” To achieve this technology-driven exploitation, the workings of the meters are so shrouded in secrecy that the consumer cannot readily see what is going on in the backend.
Yes, the consumer is given one toy, which allows him or her to check the units of credit loaded. But the real story is that only the electricity company workers have exclusive access to the backend of the meter. Of course, keeping the consumer in the dark about what goes on at the backend of the meter allows the freedom for outrageous amounts to be programmed into the pre-paid meter at the whim of the DISCO, without the consumer knowing. In the end, even if discovered, all the amounts greedily and illegally deducted by the DISCOs are gone forever.
The consumer on his or her own is powerless in the face of this sleazy corporate onslaught by the DISCO. It is always a loss for the electricity consumer, while the electricity company like AEDC continues smiling home to the banks having extracted the blood of citizens through dubious deductions.
In any case, I brought this absurdity to the attention of the AEDC by engaging them on their twitter handle @aedcelectricty. The response was noncommittal; I was asked to send my last paper bill, which I did. That has not led to an effective or satisfactory resolution of the issue. It did not also help that I was out of town, and as such there was a limit to what I could do, especially with respect to submitting a formal letter.
As at the time of writing this, the humongous fictitious debt, the result of the corporate shenanigans of AEDC, still hangs on my prepaid account, waiting to swallow up every recharge I make. I have nonetheless continued my pursuit for closure on the matter based on the rule of law. I have submitted a formal letter again notifying AEDC of this fictitious debt, just as I have called on the DISCO to speedily address the “allocation” of such a humongous debt to my prepaid meter. I will keep the world posted on how that process comes along. In the end, these incongruities speak to the difficulties inherent in being a Nigerian; our system seems built on undermining things.
At the time I was paying the extortionate estimated bills to AEDC, I fought hard to get a prepaid meter thinking it would relieve me from the crass extortion by the DISCO. Now, the prepaid meter is here, and AEDC is still bent on surreptitiously taking estimated bills through the back door. As they will soon see, they picked a wrong target because I am prepared to go the whole hog to ensure a fair, just and transparent resolution by invoking my rights as a citizen of Nigeria.
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