Residents and Civil Society Organisations have once again lamented and expressed anger over their frustration and continued nonchalant attitude of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company PHEDC on electricity consumers in Akwa Ibom.
They have also observed that the inability of the company to provide prepaid metres to their customers constitute an illegality and a deliberate ploy to exploit residents with outrageous bills.
This is even as power supply in the state has remained epileptic and worsening by the day with many consumers and communities being forced to pay exorbitant bills for electricity not supplied.
Despite efforts and advocacy by customers and the civil society to ensure sustainable reforms in the power sector as well as ensure appropriate pricing and billing, the distribution company have continued to display nonchalance over their constitutional responsibilities.
One of the leading groups, the Foundation for Civic Education, Human Rights and Development Advancement ( FoCERaDA) recently tasked the electricity distribution companies on the need to ensure that all its customers are metred in order to guarantee justice and fairness in the billing and pricing of electricity.
Speaking with Journalists in Uyo, Clifford Thomas, a human rights lawyer, activist and FoCERaDA Executive Director frowned at the continued display of impunity ,arrogance and insensitivity by PHEDC staff and was of the opinion that PHED was deliberately refusing to supply metres to customers in order to continue fleecing them through high estimated and bulk bills.
He maintained that the company was taking undue advantage of the peoples’ ignorance to force high bills down their throats and blamed helpless members of the public for not standing up to their rights.
“PHED has been stealing from the people, because they know the people don’t know their rights, and very unfortunately the people themselves don’t want to fight for their rights, I don’t know, either they are docile or they are afraid of seeking justice for the unfair treatment they are getting from PHED.
” I can’t also tell if they are enjoying the suffering. How can someone who has been paying a bill of N6,500 before, and suddenly PHED brought a bill of N45,000 and you agree to pay, yet you are complaining, yet, you don’t want to fight against such deliberate act of stealing by PHED in the name of estimated bills.
“We have received several complaints and in the next two weeks, we are going to convene a stakeholders’ forum to address the issues. We are sending letters to the police,, the SSS, and many other groups, and the management of PHED will be invited, the public should come out and air their grievances.
“The company has taken the public for granted for too long. Do you know that if you apply for a metre and you have paid, you are not suppose to pay bills again until the metre is delivered to you, and that when once you complain in writing to PHED about their services, they are not suppose to send you bills until that complaint is resolved, but has that been happening here?” He queried.
Some customers who spoke with newsmen on the state of electricity supply in Akwa Ibom lamented that the situation was made worse by a new strategy where they accuse customers with Pre Paid metres of bridging just to force them to part with huge sums of money as penalty.
A customer who identified herself as Mayen said, “PHED came back to lay claims of bypass after installing a meter in my house. Now they are asking me to pay 300k penalty. Its obvious this is one of their strategies.” She said.
At Asutan Street in Uyo where the Correspondents Chapel of the NUJ is located, their chairman, Mrs. Idongesit Ashameri, complained that after paying a penalty fee for an alleged bypass, PHEDC sent their officials to correct the error only for them to return some days later to cut the cables supplying electricity to the office on same allegation of bypass.
Even in areas where there is steady power supply, customers are quick to accuse PHED staff of extortion under the guise of computing their consumption based on estimated billings.
And corroborating, a resident of Okedo estate, who simply identified himself as Akpan said, “my meter reads but they don’t read the analogue meter because the one in my house and other houses in the estate are functioning. And when you ask the PHED workers why they don’t read they will not give you any answer.
” It is sad. And when you complain about the outrageous bills the marketers will boldly tell you that they have target to meet. So if your area is enjoying steady power supply they will use inaccurate reading to meet their target.
“What do I have in my house that they will send me N20,000 or sometimes N18,000 bill for a month? If not for the high cost of purchasing the digital meter, I would have procured mine since they are not reading the analogue meter which is still working.”
Another resident of Idoro Road Mr. Chris Nse said PHED company continue telling the governor that electricity consumers in the state dodge paying for energy they consume, but they fail to also tell the governor that they don’t supply most areas with electricity.
“There are so many areas that don’t see light for weeks, sometimes months, but they still send bills to such places. But I think people are becoming wise to challenge or even attack them out of anger, it is wickedness. And that is why the issue appear to have reduced. So, what they now do is to give outrageous bills to few areas that have steady light.
” I am appealing to our governor to intervene in the cost of the pre-paid meters so that poor people can also afford it and install. The PHED staff are taking advantage of the fact that many people cannot afford the prepaid to continue to shortchange them.
But the PHEDC in an email message to Journalists in Uyo said that it has increased effort to address many of the challenges faced by its customers regarding unavailability of prepaid metres, epileptic power and overbilling, describing the allegations of deliberate metre bypass by its staff to exploit customers as unfounded.
The message endorsed by its acting Manager, Corporate Communications, Chioma Aninwe, said that in addition to the Asset Provider Scheme, MAP, the company has also taken part in the National Mass Metering Program, NMMP, to make prepaid metres available to customers.
On epileptic power, Aninwe said “in our usual style of keeping customers informed ,we have communicated to customers via our various channels- electronic ,print & social media to inform them of the current challenges being experienced in electronic language ( PHED has been placed on system loading).
“Our Systems Operation Unit is thereby constrained to proactively manage the available load to create a balance in the interim.
“Furthermore, Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry is a full value chain emanating from generation to distribution. Some of the challenges being faced are constraints from the transmission end which are not limited to infrastructural issues. Power supply will improve and stabilize as soon as these challenges are rectified,” the statement read.
On complaints of overbilling she explained that bills are generated based on NERC approved tariff, availability of power supply as well as load assessment adding that many customers who are ignorant of the categorization of billing and the attendant tariff would assume that they are being overbilled.
Aninwe added that contrary to popular opinion, the PHEDC has continued to invest in power infrastructure in Akwa Ibom and was currently undertaking the connection of Ibom Airport to PHED network, rehabilitation of Uyo network, installation of transformers while it recently acquired operational assets to aid their work in the state.
“As regards the purported meter bridge to impose unnecessary bypass offence on customers, this is completely unfounded”.