The House of Representative has commenced a process towards stopping the electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) from cheating consumers through billing for the electricity they never consumed.
A bill seeking to amend the Electicity Power Reform Act, sponsored by the House of Representatives Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila and others, has scaled second reading on the floor of the Green Chamber.
If passed, every electricity consumer must be provided with a prepaid meter, thus ending the regime of paying for power not consumed.
The lawmakers also proposed to criminalise non-provision of prepaid meter after application and illegal disconnection of consumer’s light among others with a fine of N500, 000, or six-month jail term.
Failure to carry out the provision of the proposed law was to attract a six-month jail term, a fine of N1 million, or both.
The development followed the second reading of a bill where Section 67, sub-Section 1 of the Principal Act among others was amended.
Leading the debate on the general principles of the bill, Gbajabiamila said that feedback from Nigerians showed deliberate extortion of consumers by the DisCos.
On the need to back the prohibition of estimated billing by law, the House Leader pointed out the difference between regulation and law.
He said: “The Electricity Regulatory body can direct that all consumers be provided with prepaid meters immediately and by the stroke of a pen, can also direct that the prepaid meter no longer be provided for one reason or another. So, if this is backed by law, such can no longer happen.”
Other lawmakers took turn to relive their experiences in the hands of Discos officials on estimated bills.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara said that he had to disconnect his house in Bauchi that was not occupied but receiving N80, 000 monthly on estimated bill.
Deputy Majority Chief Whip, Pally Iriase described estimated bill as a serious financial oppression, adding that the sale of the National asset was faulty from the beginning.
Saying that the arbitrariness of the billing is real, Iriase regretted that “the people who were handed our commonwealth for nothing and making millions out of it could not add any value to it.
“These are the same people who don’t want to install the meters even after the consumers have paid for the meter, they kept on giving excuses.”
Muhammad Monguno (APC, Borno) wonder why estimated bill was alien to Nigeria’s less-developed neighbours like Chad and Sudan and others that Nigeria supplies power to.
Mrs. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (PDP, Abia) regretted that corruption has eaten deep into the system. She described as unacceptable a situation whereby an entire community in parts of Southeast gets one prepaid meter while the bill, running into hundreds of thousands are shared by individuals within the community.
“Billing on one prepaid meter by the entire community is always causing problems every time”, she added.
Sergius Ogun (PDP, Delta) lamented that the N215 billion intervention fund given to the sector, and by extension to the DisCos, has yielded no result.
The Principal Act was amended by creating new Sections 68 to 72 as Section 68 (1), estimated billing methodology is hereby prohibited in Nigeria.
Below are the provisions:
Section 68 (2): Every electricity consumer in Nigeria shall apply to the electricity distribution company carrying out business within his jurisdiction for a pre-paid meter and such consumer shall pay the regulated fee for pre-paid meter to be installed in his premises and the electricity distribution company shall within 30 days of receiving the application and payment install the pre-paid meter applied for in the premises of the consumer.
Section 68(3): Customers who elect to buy their pre-paid meters through Credit Advancement Metering Implementation must state it in their applications and such customers must be metered within 30 days of the receipt of their applications.
Section 68(4): All electricity charges or billings to the premises of every consumer shall be based strictly on pre-paid metering and no consumer shall be made to pay any bill without a pre-paid meter first being installed at the premises of the consumer.
Section 68(5): If a customer is not metered within 30 days after application has been duly made, the relevant electricity distribution company is prohibited from refusing to connect the customer or disconnect the customer in the event that the customer has been connected or estimate his bills
Section 69: Upon connection, the electricity distribution company serving the Consumer must inform the customer in writing on the nature of the meter installed, tariff methodology and all other services available to the customer.
Section 70: In giving effect to the provisions of this Act, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission as the regulatory body must ensure that all licensed distribution companies comply with the provisions of this Act.
Section 71: All cases of illegal disconnection, refusal of the relevant distribution company to connect a customer after application, un-metering within 30 (thirty) days of a customer applying for a pre-paid meter and estimated billing shall attract both civil and criminal liability. Any officer found guilty shall be liable to a fine of N500, 000, or imprisonment for a term of 6 months or to both such fine and imprisonment as the Court may deem fit.
Section 94 sub-Section (2)of the Principal Act is amended by creating a new sub-section (4) as follows: Any person who performs any act or does anything or refuses, fails and/or neglected to carry out his lawful duties with intention to contravene or frustrate the Implementation of Sections 68 and71 of this Act is said to have committed an offence; and upon conviction shall be liable to 6 (six) months imprisonment or a fine of N1,000,000 or to both such fine and imprisonment without prejudice to the right of the Commission to cancel or suspend any license under this Act.
The bill scaled second reading after it was unanimously passed in a voice vote.