My experience with the Nigerian Discos

Bekeme Masade-Olowola (Host): My people, how una dey? We dey o. Do you like my singing? That is me oh, wishing on your behalf that you dey, that everything is fine. You are listening to The Good Citizen Radio show. This show is brought to you by CSR-in-Action and is funded by our very own ACT foundation, aka Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation, which is a grant making organisation established to support non-profits working in the areas of health, entrepreneurship, environment, and leadership. And that’s why they fund The Good Citizen Radio Show because the Show is there to, you know, encourage you to build you up, to help us build each other up, because it’s not like we’re perfect, but we’re trying. My name is Bekeme, and I have had a fantastic week. I hope you have had a fantastic week, yourself.

Today, we are going to talk about something that plagues us every day. Every Nigerian knows the challenge that we have with electricity in this country. Even when you own a generating set, When you own a solar, there is always one problem or the other and we really need to up our game in our service provision.

However, in this case, when the government decided to privatize electricity distribution in the country, I am sure many people were excited. But over the years, we have heard that this divestiture was not done in a transparent manner as it should have been done and what we see is very poor, ineffective sales. And do not tell me that it’s not their fault, because I’ve heard people say, well, you know, it’s not easy to work in Nigeria. You know how regulatory services can make things difficult for people. However, if no distribution company has come out to tell us (the people)  the problems that they have with providing good service to all citizens as a result of some bottlenecking government or somebody trying to receive a handout in government, or just general challenges with dealing with the regulator, then the assumption is that there are no problems. The assumption is that the problem is situated within the discos, isn’t it? I mean, it makes sense to me. So, I hope it makes sense to you.

So today, I’m particularly upset and because I keep on seeing this play out over and over again, and it feels like the challenges that we have caught across our different sectors – public, private, whatever, and we seem to be complicit in perpetuating all of the negativity that many people accuse us of. We are good citizens of Nigeria. I trust that we are. And so those of us who are trying to overcome our natural human tendencies to make things easier for ourselves, and for those who are around us really need to speak up and speak out. And so, we are having a conversation today with Mr Olalere Babasola, who will tell us about his grueling experience with EKEDC so far.

Bekeme: Welcome to the Show, Mr Babasola.

Babasola: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Bekeme: Okay. So, how is your day going? Well?

Babasola: Yeah, it is very good. It is going fine. Thank God today is bright, thank you.

Bekeme: So, despite the challenges that you are having with your meter, have you found reasons to remain joyful? I think that is the spirit you know.

Babasola: Exactly!

Bekeme: So, tell us your experience. What happened exactly?

Babasola: Okay. Thank you very much. My experience on the issue of meter is this. I moved from a house in Ajah to another location, so the house is empty, I just have somebody who stays in the gate house. That is the only person there. We had a meter in the house, but at a point the lady staying there called me and said that she expected the balance on the meter to be too low so she went to check and realized that the face was blank. She was having electricity supply anyway, but from her judgment of the rate at which she consumes, she’s supposed to have bought another credit and loaded on the meter. But the meter was working, so that was what put her on inquiry and I told her to immediately go to EKEDC’s office and report to them that there is a problem with the meter and that you are unable to load on it. She went and reported and promptly they came on the same day, which was 19th of November, 2019 and disconnected power supply and said the meter was already bad and needed to be changed.

Bekeme: Wow! So, their concern was that they earned their money. So, they were not concerned about how it turns out for the citizen who are basically their customer?

Babasola: Exactly. So, they disconnected her. I told her to go back to them and ask how to get another meter. I wasn’t even ready to make an issue of whether it is their faults or what damaged the meter. It is a meter I bought from them. Some people say it is power surge that damages meter, so I could have held them responsible but I decided not to go there.

Bekeme: How long before did you buy that meter? Do you remember?

Babasola: It should have been in the house up to three or four years, I cannot remember precisely. It’s been long. Anyway, it has been long. It has been there for three to four years. So now, I said okay, I want another meter. The guy she met just said that I should go and meet the person that got me the meter before, that whichever way I used to get the damaged meter before, that I should get it that way.

I cannot even remember the guy, the contact, how I contacted the guy that got it for me in the first place.

Bekeme: So, it was some third party?

Babasola: Yes, it is from a third party. At that time he was just coming to us like a tout to say I can get you meter if you pay something (some money) and I needed prepaid meter because I want to pay for the service I use.  So, I am ready to pay but I want to pay for service I see. Now fast forward. We have been in this situation since the girl is the only one there when she needs water, she uses generator to pump water. So, within me I said did not want it to remain like this for a long time. So, one day I just saw a notice that there was going to be a town hall meeting of NEC, that is National Electricity Regulatory Commission.

Bekeme: You saw that on the Good Citizen WhatsApp platform?

Babasola: Yes, on the Good Citizen profile was where I saw it. This is a good opportunity to discuss the problem with electricity. I am citizen and I am actually concerned. I want us to have power supply. So, I joined the programme on the 14th of July. And in the course of our discussion, they were taking feedback from clients, from the public. So, I dropped off my subject. I was asked to provide the meter number and the address, which I did. Then the EKDC officials there said they were going to investigate and intervene. So, that was where I had that we could apply for meter online. So the very next day, a team of eight came with ladder, they said they wanted to disconnect, so the girl called me that some people came to the house and were talking about disconnecting power supply and she told them that they have disconnected it since last year. I said okay, I now got back to the lady I sent the details to. I said look your people are more concerned about disconnection. What about me getting power supply? I want to get meter, it has been disconnected.

Bekeme: What did they say?

Babasola: She told me that it is because some people steal. I said sorry, I did not want to steal, I am the one that came to report this fault to you. I have never stolen the electricity. So she sent me the link to where I will apply.

Bekeme:  What kind of link?

Babasola: It is an online link to a meter application site, EKDC site which then led me to a site where I could apply for replacement of meter. But I started the process, there was stage one, stage two. When I got to stage three, it required that it has to be filled by the licensed NEPA electrician as it was called. Meaning somebody that is licensed. So, I called the lady back and she said wait a minute, I do not know about any license. So, I was left wondering where I will get the licensed electrician form? I do not know any. I do not know where to get them from, the electrician I know that comes to change bulb in the house said no, he is not a licensed electrician. So where will I get one from? So, that got me stuck. I really want to buy this meter and I am even ready to pay for it.

Bekeme:  Sorry. Can I go back a little bit. Where, what time of the year did you attend that webinar?.

Babasola: It was this year

Bekeme:  Do you remember when this year?

Babasola: July 14th.

Bekeme:  And when did you speak to this lady?

Babasola: The next day, July 15. 

Bekeme:  Okay. All right, please carry on.

Babasola: So, we spoke the next day, July 15. I do not want to mention her name. So, for confidentiality purposes, but I spoke with her July 15. And she provided me with the link.

Bekeme:  I do not know, is she not a public official though? but it is fine. If you do not want to, but still, we will find out, we will find it out no problem, because it would be good to call that number and find out from them what the actual challenge is. I think that is the point of this conversations. We do not just want to have conversations, right? We want to have solutions, right?

Babasola: Now I got stuck with that because I gave her the feedback and she said, oh, it is something that is necessary to be done. I said, Look, you gave the impression that you want to make the process simple. Yes, but you have introduced a bottleneck to it by virtue of which I cannot continue. If you want a licensed NEPA electrician to come and check because I could see what the electrician is supposed to fill: how many air conditioners I have, how many water heaters, how many 13 amps socket, how many lighting points, how many fans, etc. It is my house and I know I can provide those information, perhaps, you need somebody to come and verify. But, please let me be able to fill the form and submit it to you, then that becomes part of your own processing. But now I am even unable to submit my application to you. So, if you need to verify, even if there is a charge for it, I do not mind paying the bill it into the cost you are charging.

Bekeme:  And what did she say?

Babasola: She said okay., that I should please just ask around.

Bekeme:  Yeah. Hang on, so she would not tell you where to go get a licensed electrician from. There is nobody that she could refer you to or any association to say, okay, this is how you can get in touch with a licensed electrician, nothing like that?

Babasola: Absolutely not. Okay, so what I did was there is a lawyer that manages my properties for me. I called her and said, please, I have this problem, please, could you help me find out where I can get a licensed electrician, I am busy at my work and I don’t have time to start going around?, can you go to EKDC office and find out? So she took it and went to EKDC office and they said they are not licensed electricians but that they know them. And that they charge N10,000 to complete that part.

Bekeme:  Where? At EKEDC office?

Babasola: Yes, at EKEDC Office. So I said what do I do since this is an online thing, how do I get it to them? Do I need to get the electrician to come and sit by my side on my laptop and complete that part because he needs to get his license number and all those details before we can proceed to the next stage. So they told her that that it is possible for me to email the form, the online form from where I got stuck, I could email it. So, if I email it, they will give the licensed person to do it.

Bekeme:  This is EKEDC telling her they could do it. So it is this official?

Babasola: Well, she went to the office to ask questions, and that was what she was told.

Bekeme:  Were they going to get a receipt, or did they get a receipt?

Babasola: I doubt. I do not think so. But you see the frustration. This is where my frustration is. I want power supply to the property and I want to pay for what I consume. One thing I did not want was to get them connect me and give me estimated billing because it is an empty house, they will bring ridiculous estimated bills. So, I did not want that in this case. So, I wanted a meter so that I will pay for what I consume. Now. We have been on the subject, but now something happened between then and three days ago, I will come back to what happened three days ago. It is important to mention that between the time I started this ordeal with them since I attended the NEC webinar and made myself known. I mentioned to you that the next day they came to disconnect me. Two other teams at two other times, two different teams have come from EKEDC to my property, saying they want to come and disconnect the property. And when they come, they come in their numbers. Eight to ten people with ladders, all they were interested in is to disconnect me.

Now, something happened about three days ago. the lady staying there just called me that they have got electricity bill, about N14,800. And something I do not have the exact figure, they brought electricity bill for power consumption in July. And I said, which power consumption? Through July and the early part of this month, they have been coming to confirm that the property was disconnected. How can they bring bill to a property they have disconnected since November last year and say I should come and pay? Please can you go to their office and complain that there is a problem? So she went there and met the manager. The manager collected a copy of the bill and said they were going to investigate. So she took the number of the manager and I called the manager and said, please, if this is a joke, you guys have to stop it. I want you people to stop this harassment. The mistake I made was talking of my issue at the NEC townhall meeting because since then I have not rested from you people, get off my back. All I want is how to get electricity supply. So, I contacted my lawyer, the lawyer went to meet them and said she is a lawyer and she wanted to take this matter up with them. So, they apologized and told her they were going to step down the bill, that it was a mistake, they are not supposed to have sent a bill. When they saw a lawyer, their story changed.

Bekeme:  So, I guess in Nigeria, we all need to go study Law now, obviously to protect ourselves. So well, let us go back to your lawyer. You know your quest to have a certified licensed electrician fill that part of the form. Were you able to sort that out eventually?  

Babasola: No, not yet. Not yet sorted out. She said the person that told her they were going to get somebody to do it. For a long time, she was calling the person the person did not pick the call, so she went back to the office. So, they now said they were going to arrange dates when the licensed electrician will come, and she should come with a laptop with my form and they will introduce her to the electrician. Now, she went to the office where they bring these bills from and explained to them, so they gave us the option that they could connect us and give us estimated billing and she made it clear to them that the owner of the property does not want that. So she explained to this new person again that we are filling the form online and we need to get a licensed electrician to complete some part. So the man said okay, that she should come back that she will speak to a licensed electrician. That was just two days ago. I haven’t spoken with her yesterday, whether they see success to that getting somebody to do it for us. So that is where we are now.

Bekeme:  Interesting. Is this your first time of having any such challenges, whether with EKEDC or any of the discos and what do you wish to get out of this?

Babasola: Well, okay, they are two parts to your question. It is the first time I am having this difficult with them. Like I mentioned, I had a meter for the house. I had a meter for the house at that time to be honest. It was the tout that gets people meter. So, you pay him and he arranges to get your meter registered within your system, and everything works. So that is the way it was working, but now government said they wanted to improve the system, and ask that you go online as a citizen and apply for meter and everything we work. But this is a mess that I am going through, maybe other people did not, I do not know how. But this is the experience I am going through having to use that system.

Bekeme:  This is what everybody is going through. I guess that’s why people turned up for the town hall. I suppose that is the reason why Citizens Connect by Francesca would have thought to create this platform for discussion. Obviously, people are frustrated. Because this is antithetical to what we thought would happen from the time when we used to shout Up NEPA! You know, people thought that privatization would sort out our problem but clearly, it has not, right? So, I was asking what do you want?  

Babasola: As a citizen to start with, I want electricity in my house. And let me mention that the gentleman that led the team of NEC made a cogent point at the townhall meeting. That frankly, meter is not the headache of the consumer. What consumer wants is electricity. That in actual fact, it is the distribution company that should be struggling to make sure that the meter is made available to customers so that they can charge for what the customers consume. That the fact remains that what the consumer needs is electricity. So, I need electricity. I am ready to pay for it because by all means, public power supply is cheaper for me than running generator, it is cheaper. So, I want it and I am ready to pay for it. Then I am ready to pay for what I consume and that is where the meter comes in. So I just want to say that they need to work on the process by really simplifying it so that you do not put such a bottleneck on the path of people, by putting the licensed electrician as a last stage so that when I come to submit the form and because I don’t know how much they are supposed to charge, they will now expose me to the licensed man who will look at me from head to toe, look at the kind of car I brought and then tell me this is how much he wants to charge. Yes. So, there should be a standard rate built into the system and when I want to pay, charge  it as part of the application fee. So, let it be part of your processing. It should be at the end, after I have submitted so not to use it as a blocking point on my own part. So that is just a recommendation I will make if anybody wants to listen.

Bekeme:  Thank you so much, Mr Babasola. We will not put the number on the show, I would like to get a number if you would send it to me so that we can actually call the person and have them, you know, the manager or anybody else you have spoken to there and hear what they have to say. Thank you so much sir.

Babasola: Thank you very much. Thanks for everything you are doing. You are doing very good. Thank you.

Bekeme:  You’re welcome. Bye bye.

So, I am placing a call across to the EKEDC representative that has been dealing with Mr Babasola, and let’s dial her number.

The number you dialed is switched off. I’ll try that again. The number you dialed is switched off.

So, we could not reach the EKEDC contact person that had been dealing with Mr Babasola. So, we are going to try a number from the website and see if it works. You know how these things can be. It is just the number that they put there. So, let us try and see whether this number works. Just dialing that number… and it says ‘Thank you, goodbye’. Very interesting. I’ll try it again one more time, this is from the EKEDC website. Dialing… ‘Thank you, goodbye’. So, that was it. I tried to reach EKO Electricity Distribution Company, EKO Disco, to find out why Mr Babasola was having the issues that he was having, to find out why it is such a hard chore to get the meter in Nigeria, to find out why you have to look for a licensed electrician when we know that we do not have a structure for getting across to such people. Why they cannot help with that process, simplify it in some way, ask us to pay for it. If they think that is a service that they need payment for, and just generally be there for their customer, like, provide the electricity immediately, like right away. But obviously this is not something that they are after. They are more interested in getting money than providing a service to Nigerians. It is very, very poor. It is a very poor attitude to business. So basically, we were very much looking forward to overcoming our shout of ‘UP NEPA!’, you know, it used to be NEPA, National Electric Power Authority. Then it became the Power Holding Company of Nigeria PHCN. And then in 2013, there was a divestiture of the federal government from PHCN and it was divided into these 11 separate companies across the 36 states of Nigeria. And then obviously, they had the power generation companies as well, but we’re focusing on discos this time because they interfaced directly with customers and customers across the country have complained bitterly about the challenges that they have had with this service. I really hope that the federal government looks into this matter. I really hope that the distribution companies work better by changing their ways. We will keep on following up with this matter. I will give you feedback as to how this ended. I can tell you that for free, if you would follow us on our social media handles @goodcitizenng, you would find out more about how we’re able to resolve this matter. If you have had any such challenges with any regulatory authority or with any company’s customer service or service provision that you know is antithetical to what it should be, please contact us at Good Citizen Show. It’s 09062634111. It’s a crazy world. As I said earlier, Nigeria is a real paradox. Simple things can appear complex and complex things can appear really, really simple but as dedicated citizens remain hopeful as always. My name is Bekeme, you have been listening to The Good Citizen Radio Show. Continue to follow us @goodcitizenng on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I want to appreciate all our followers, our friends, and everybody else who keeps on distributing our materials. I would also particularly like to thank our sponsor, ACT Foundation for providing this opportunity for us to foster leadership and foster change in the Nigerian economy. God bless you all, have a nice, nice Friday and bye bye.

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