My Nigerian Disco Experience – Part 3

Bekeme Masade-Olowola (Host): Hi, Nigeria. It is a wonderful new Friday. My name is Bekeme and you are listening to the Good Citizen Radio Show. The show is brought to you by the one and only CSR- in-Action and is funded by the very special ACT Foundation, aka Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation. So, we have been talking about disco experiences we have titled this series, My Nigerian Disco experience, we have gone through part one, where we had Mr. Olalere Babasola as the quintessential Nigerian facing challenges with the electricity. And then the second of the series, we had Mr. Babatunde Lasaki the Assistant General Manager for communications with EKEDC because that is the particular disco that he had challenges with, and then we had to break last week because we have to talk about you know who Femi Fani-Kayode (FFK) because you know, we just could not let that slide my God. What is it? Anyway, we are back on talking about my Nigerian disco experience and this is part three. So, we have on the show, a special person who has been a great resource to us during the course of exposé on the electricity situation in Nigeria. Francisca is the founder of Citizens Connect a civic tech organisation, which provides access to free information, advice, and advocacy to citizens on a broad range of public service, social and civil rights issues. Francisca as I know, personally is very passionate about her work, and she has been working with us on the resolution to some of the issues that we have brought up during the course of our focus on discos in Nigeria.

Bekeme: So, welcome to the show Francisca.

Francisca: yea, thanks for having me Bekeme.

Bekeme: Okay, um, Francisca you know, the genesis of all of this, we had a complaint from Mr. Olalere Babasola who had had issues with his lights. That was what we did for the first part of the series. He had complained about it and then what did they come to do? They came, cut off his light. You had a session he had a town hall session, he complained about there and since then, he has almost literally had sleepless nights or at least the people who live at the property because tons of different teams of EKEDC officials have turned up to claim that he has not paid his bill that he wants to cut it off and all sorts of things. So an update from the last conversation that we had with Mr. Babasola okay, eventually he managed to get an electrician of EKEDC officials right, the electrician is based in Ilorin, he asked him to pay him 10,000 which he transferred into his account and the electrician filled the form off site, he never came to his property, imagine the number of heaters he would have in his house and literally just put his signature on it and he was also like, surprised like, okay, is that how it is done is the point of this exercise determining the amount of appliances that I have in order that he EKEDC or the map agents knew what to expect. Anyway, that happened, map was to get in touch with him since two weeks ago, that was the Monday after the show because he was on the show on the 14th of August. So, say by the 17th, he had gotten approval that the map agent would get in touch with him. But that did not come with any timelines, nothing. Still different teams asked coming over to his house to disconnect. I personally think that many of these phcn or whatever they are called now disco employees as scammers I think that they just come out of their homes and go around looking for how they can make money because I cannot tell you I cannot Explain why different teams will come and say, Oh no, you have been connected. We need to come and disconnect you when that is not the case.

So, Francisca, like I said, you have been on this with us from the beginning and you came back to us and explained that the NERC has stated that electricians are only needed for new buildings contrary to what the form states and what the EKEDC official, the spokesman who came on our show said, So, what is the case truly Francesca.

Francisca: well, so, I listen to what the EKEDC corporate office manager said I think Mr. Babatunde and it is not correct because immediately I called the commissioner for consumer affairs for the Nigerian electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) that there is a claim by Eko disco that give instructions for them to get external electricians to assess buildings  before MAP is installed, in the  building and he said that is not correct. If you are an existing customer, you do not need any certified electrician. They are doing it for safety reasons to be sure that maybe for a new building, the wiring was done properly, it will be part of their mandate also to ensure safety within the sector. So, he was shocked because I also had to call other discos at some point, they do not have it.  the closest disco is Ikeja electric, if you go on the electric website, you do not have that as a precondition for installing MAP. No, you do not have that. it is only a case where maybe you just built your house and you’ve never been connected to the grid, so, they have to come and do an assessment and it is not someone just signing a form, just like a tick in the box like what happened in  Mr. Olalere’s case, that should not have happened, it is something that I think that should be queried  for that is an issue that we have already raised with NERC and we were asked to like see through it and that is why I said he should formerly write, and complain to the NERC forum, because for them that is also an eye opener. I believe that what is going on with Eko disco as well is people sometimes ripping off consumers that do not know their rights. Yeah, because you do not just come and just disconnect, where is the disconnection ordered if those coming did not come with disconnection order

Bekeme: Before you go on though I just wanted to ask quick because you mentioned that and what you are saying now, I have another question for you. But first, do they not have a standardized from then? Did NERC for instance not work with the Disco’s or are listed discos not work amongst themselves to determine a standardized form for ordering meters because you are saying that on Ikeja disco which is the nearest disco to Eko disco on their website, there is no requirement for getting a certified electrician to just replace the meter in an existing house. So, you are saying is different across boards?

Francisca:  it is different I tell you Yes, as far as I know now, even after asking other discos, it is only Eko disco has that as a pre-requisite for installing a prepaid meter. But what is the standard practice is it is for new customers, not existing customers and the idea was not because you want to check, it is just to be sure nobody is electrocuted and the wiring is fit for purpose for them to connect the new consumer entry into the network. So, that was exactly what the feedback we got from the commissioner. it is just that most times they are also booked, they also have programmes they run, It will be helpful if maybe you get some advance notice and get the plan will be to invite the commissioner or one of the general managers on the good citizen show to answer some of these questions. And these issues also are areas where we kind of blow the whistle on activities that are being done at this pace that they are not aware of. yeah, let me give you a quick example. Like in Abuja, not just in Abuja, it is very common in other franchise area you people like Some of them are called NEPA 2, some are also called transformer business owners they are people who buy transformers with their money and they now collect money from people in their community. If you move into the place, they will charge you like 100 thousand some could be even as high as 300 thousand if you are moving into a new place. They are not working for the Disco’s.

Bekeme: This is not this is not like an estate Committee setting.

Francisca: No, no.

Bekeme: Business on the side for some

Francisca: they even now disconnect people, just last week, I got a message on Facebook that some people disconnected, they don’t work for the disco, they claim the man bought a transformer. So, what we did was to just write to Port Harcourt disco, to say there are taking laws into their hands to disconnect your customers. These are customers that pay their bills regularly on prepaid meters but asking her to pay one hundred and fifty thousand Naira, that they bought the transformer.

So, Port Harcourt disco is currently taking that up. In Abuja, also with people who have bought transformers. So, even during the town hall, we raised these issues. And they said, these are issues that if for instance, you buy a transformer, before you go and buy an individual or a community, you must discuss with the discos to say, well, we cannot wait for you to buy this so, we really need  electricity. So, we are buying and there will be an agreement for them to reimburse them.

Bekeme: That is where I was going to go to. So, my question was going to be at this larger scale. I was going to start with the smaller scale but since we are here now. How is it that a person just by the transformer without actually without a location so, they just buy and they are waiting literally how is that done on whose authority how to disco just sell these kinds of major things and allow to install by themselves and do whatever they like.

Francisca: it is not the disco’s selling to them, some of this thing can be bought, we have ways people can import or buy from jupon market. there are also areas that have dedicated transformers. But don does not forget, there are also people who have worked in NEPA, PHCN, that understand the sector so well, I believe some of them are the ones involved in this transformer racketeering. The discos are always open to getting information when there are cases like this, and what they try to do is disconnect. And there is a lot of electricity theft going on because of issues like this. I think was Kano discos that complained that they have suffered a lot losses because people buying transformer illegally connecting to the network and we even talked about there should be some form of mechanism for you to.

Bekeme: they do not have some form of tracking systems on their end?

Francisca: that is where I am coming to coming to. It is also about investment, so if you invest into the right infrastructure, you should be able to know when an assess that is not yours connects to your network.

Bekeme: So, we are back on The Good Citizen Radio show, I have been talking to Francisca Chiedu, who is the founder and executive director of citizens connect and she has been talking to us about the issues that have been had in the sector. So, you were giving an example of some of the challenges that have been heard and of you know the importance of investing in this sector. Let us go back to the original issue that brought us to this matter. We talked about you know, local electricians just Coming. I call them local electricians because I cannot imagine that electricians that is officials that come from a corporate setting would just arbitrarily come forward with different information per time. So, like I told you, tons of people have kept on harassing Mr. Babasola, he is tired of it all. They just come they say, whilst EKEDC has said that the 14,000 bill that is sent to him remember, he had been disconnected since November. Then they send him a bill in July, which he of course complained about and they rescinded that, but then people are still coming and saying, well, you still need to pay that bill. Some are coming to say, well, you were not connected. So clearly, they are looking for money. Now, speaking about blowing whistle, do these officials have badges that they can be identified with and is there a system via which they can report to the Disco’s.  Because clearly the corruption that is in this sector is ripe, which is why you the government privatized this, but it does not seem to be working as well as it should.

Francisca: so, first of all, there is a lot of consumer awareness that people should have, whether is disco or Immigration passport, any service Provider you are engaging, even with the Banks, when people ask you for money or are  trying to take advantage of you, the first thing to do is try to get their details, ant the moment you do that, most of them know that they may get into trouble. Yes, that is one. but a lot of times people try to act as if they are their messengers you are supposed to be a customer not the other way round. I had  this issue when I moved in  to a new apartment, some guy came and he said, he is from CDE, I need to pay some money transformer overload, and I am like do you work for the disco? If the transformer has an issue, it should be a problem for the disco you should not touch the transformer. All he was interested in was collecting two thousand Naira. I called the disco, but we will not have you do that.

Bekeme: so, what did he do? He went away.

Francisca: yes, people just come and go and tamper with the transformer and making look like light has gone off momentarily and they come collect money that they have to fix the problem.

Bekeme: so, you do not know if they have badges basically, but you are saying ask them for their information.

Francisca: most of them do not have badges but if you ask them.

Bekeme: Speaking of communication, Francisca So, speaking of communication, like signaling by the Disco’s to show that they really mean it can’t they for instance say to people come up with a campaign and say to people, you know what, if any official comes and say that they are representing us, make sure that one, they are wearing a uniform, two, they have their badge number three, they show you something as proof that, you know, they have come from us and that, you know, so and so letters proves that that these issues that need to be sorted you know something official Should they not try to protect consumers? A process that we must follow to show that it is official.

Francisca: Recently, it is something that we are trying to work on. Service providers that are similar should have similar information on their website like I just talked about this disco, not having this criteria for you to get MAP whereas the other does not have the information they have, not putting certain information, some discos have skeletal information on their  website, some are very active on social media some are not, some are very responsible in terms of customer service. I have been to a disco where if you go to the office, you could see that they have a central system where they monitor who goes out for marketing, when there is a power cut, they could tell you.

Bekeme: Francisca, maybe you should advertise them because if they have gone out of their way to do something right, I think that they should be recognise. Secondly, I think that those who are not doing the jobs as well as they should, should go and intern with them if they need to.

Francisca: so, like Abuja discos, they invested in an infrastructure that cost them about two million Euro. when I went to their office, they took me on a tour I could see from one place to the other, you could see that there’s a fault somewhere. And you see who has been dispatched. You could see how long it would take for him to resolve the complaint. What has been done, who has been sent where so on the live screen, I could see the flow information, they said a lot of people have come, even the Minister has come to see their infrastructure.  I could Speak to their head of customer, their GM, and she will be very delighted to talk about what they have done. So also the interesting thing I liked about what they did, was that as a customer, you just need to log on to their App and if you are going on vacation, you will not be in Nigeria for one month, you can freeze your account so, that way it helps to do away with theft, they are able to track and they are also the one looking out to give people meter.

So, it is different I was really impressed I think I took some of the screens and did video recording. The truth is it is not all this disco that wants to invest that much into the business. So, but they are taken the initiative and trained their staff. So, if you go in there, you will think you are in one of the telecom companies, you will see that they have up to 15 people customer service, receiving inbound calls, you see those that are social media, on WhatsApp dedicated round the clock. But what I have seen with the other discos is you send customer service a message you get an automated response not something bespoke to your complaints

Bekeme: Not often attended to unless you follow up.

Francisca: so, for their (Abuja discos) shows that it has not been attended to or has not been resolved. So, there are so many people watching so you cannot afford not to resolve that complain. I feel that maybe in Abuja it is easier because of the nature of the city, though they have rural areas.

Bekeme: Absolutely, there are suburban areas around you know surrounding communities and they seem to be doing okay. So, francisca now the government has introduced a one-year import duty waiver. So, we need to talk about that because obviously that is something that everybody would like to hear about. So, two things, the increment and this but let us start with the one-year import duty waiver. Do you think that acquiring a meter would be easier without that waiver?

Francisca: I do not think so. And I will tell you why. before the import duty was added to the metering process was still not easy. it was not there before, it was added and now it is removed again remember right Engaging the Ministry of Finance and engaging stakeholders to see we can see we want to try to improve this sector I now add other bottlenecks that will make it difficult for them to import meters. Yeah. So that that also showed the price of the meters up. But now they have done that, the next excuse will be Forex, it is unstable. So, because as far as I am aware since it was waved, I have not heard of any MAP that has crashed the price their meter.

Bekeme: prices cannot crash. but could they be getting them more quickly? it cannot crash. I mean dollar has almost doubled, was not It like 250. And then now it is over 400 at least 450. Perhaps it is I do not see that happening. I do not see that happening at all. So. you do not think that is going to happen. So, what do you then feel about the increment in the rate by at least 100%?

Francisca: The increment is something that has been on and I think he just speaks to general issues around subsidies in Nigeria, if you notice also, petroleum prices have increased. So, for most of them as far as we speak, now, I just got an information that the six discos have declared first major over CBN policy on revenue collection. now linking that to the question you are asking, So, I was going to say to you asked the question that will things improve? I was going to say, Well, I am not sure because there are also other issues linking to the conversation around metering to even increment of the tariff. Almost all the discos are not profitable so the reason for the increment. Why it may be painful because the jobs, economy situation is bad, the reality is that it is not just sustainable. It is not sustainable. It just was not the right time, but I believe there are things that triggered it.

Bekeme: Thank you. So much for your time Francisca.

Francisca: Thanks, Good Citizen Radio show for having me and yes, we will see how what we can do to make service delivery within the electricity sector better.

Bekeme: Thank you. Bye.

Francisca: bye.

Bekeme: It has been such a learning process. The good thing though about this situation is that the government has directed that the Disco’s maintain a four Naira tariff for all customers consuming less than 50 kilowatts of energy per month. I guess that what that means is that the poorest people would not suffer this and that they have been provided some sort of boy, discos hope you are listening, invest and train your staff. We know that it is not easy, but the truth is that you have to place in a lot of investment to get the best to be the best at anything that you set out to do.

It has been such a wonderful experience having Francisca and I think that she has given citizens a lot of tips. Remember, when you have a service provider from government addressing you say it is EKEDC or passport official, ask for their details. Ask for the details. If you suspect that they are up to no good, ask for their details and you see them will likely back up. If you also have a problem petition for standardized service, petition for some standardized service, reach out to SERVICOM or go to their website and find somebody that you can report to do not say that Yeah, you know, they want that you don’t know that you need to try first at least.

So, thank you all so much for listening to The Good Citizen Radio show. It has been fantastic. We will keep on having this conversation and of course, you will find more information on our social media platforms @goodcitizenng on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Thank you so much for listening. thank you once again to act foundation. You are wonderful. Thank you to the wonderful team at CSR-in-Action, and I hope you all have a fantastic Friday, fantastic weekend and blessed brand new week. Bye bye

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