Just last week, the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) started the distribution and installation of Recharge Prepaid Metres to buildings in some parts of Umuahia metropolis, raising high hopes that all will be well soon in terms of reduced billings and steady power supply.
This is coming after several efforts and calls have been made to the energy company to live up to its billings in Umuahia and its environs by providing the required services. From industrialists to the common widow who live in makeshift apartment, the pleadings for the energy company to regularly read its metres and bill its consumers accurately have been spontaneous.
But despite the overwhelming and spontaneity of these pleas, EEDC continues to look the other way, grossly unconcerned. The marketers of this company, who ought to be in the field, reading metres, sit comfortable in their offices and issue outrageous bills to the detriment of consumers in what they call estimated billing. The worrisome aspect of it is that a week after the fake bill is issued; the consumer is disconnected if he/she doesn’t pay. And what will follow is total blackout.
As a result, micro, small and medium enterprises are frustrated. Those that couldn’t power their machines with generating sets because of poor revenue to fuel them or didn’t have gen sets at all were forced to close down. By this development, Abia State, the nation’s SME’s capital continues to suffer some revenue decline as its gross domestic products (GDP) equally drops significantly.
Complaints, text messages, threats, letters etc sent to the offices of EEDC to remedy the situation by directing its staff to carry out their job of reading metres or better still provide Recharge Prepaid Metre have continued to fell on deaf ears. Against this backdrop, the only alternative left for some injured consumers was to drag the energy body to court. But the snail speed of dispensation of justice is a big encumbrance. Would the case end as quickly as one would want it? Many questions without answers.
However, some persons who believed that they had had enough from EEDC decided to lay their complaints on the desk of the Abia State Legislature. With time, torrents of complaints and pleads to the House of Assembly followed and the 24-man assembly under the Speakership, Rt Hon Chinedum Orji had no alternative than to intervene. The next move was to summon the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company to at least answer some queries why its consumers in Abia State are made to lose huge sums monthly through its operations and also experiencing blackout.
The Honourables agreed with submission of some the petitioners who insisted that the non installation of the Prepaid Metres was leading to wastages of energy because consumers are no longer careful with their consumption since the tariffs are ever high no matter the snarl-ups of switching off all appliances.
Interestingly, on June 16, 2021, the matter came to the front burner before the Assembly as it resolved to invite the officials of EEDC to its plenary. On Monday, July 5, 2021, the EEDC management led by Mr Onyebuchi Ozoezeh came to the House. He was there also with an official of the National Electricity Regulations Commission (NERC), Mr Emeka Odoemelam.
Part of what the lawmakers discussed with the EEDC officials include inadequate Power supply, high electricity tariff, insufficient prepaid meters, bribery among its personnel and other issues. Journalists that covered the proceedings that day Monday, July 5, 2021 noted that Speaker Chinedum Orji reminded other Honourabke Members the reason the EEDC officials were summoned; pointing out that it was because of the incessant complaints of Abia citizens concerning the activities of the electricity company in Abia that House took the decision to invite EEDC.
At this juncture, the Speaker informed them that Abians are bitter over it and had been complaining about the lack of prepaid metres and the ever increasing sums from estimated bills charged by EEDC. He described it as totally unacceptable to the 7th Abia State House of Assembly.
In response, Ozoezeh explained that the company has installed over a thousand distribution substations at the cost of over N350,000,000. 00 in the last one year alone, and that installation of the substations was for the company to checkmate estimated billings.
According to him, EEDC has installed 16,000 meters at the cost of over N800,000,000.00 in Abia State, even as he added that the company has procured 3,000 meters that are currently being programmed, stressing that their target is to meter all the customers in the state in due course
Indeed, the meeting with officials of the energy company was so friendly and convivial that the officials assuredly told the Honourable Members of its readiness to not only improve power supply in the Umuahia and its environs, but supply them with the Prepaid Metres to stop the estimated billings immediately.
Contentedly, precisely a week after the assurances were given to the Abia State House of Assembly, the management of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, through its Umuahia District commenced the installation of Prepaid Metres in Umuahia and its environs free of charge.
But shockingly, Representative Sam Onuigbo has come out to posit a different thing. According to the Representative Onuigbo who is representing Ikwuano/ Umuahia Federal Constituency, the EEDC action was propelled by the letter he wrote to the energy company, asking it to provide Prepared Metres to his constituents. Arguably, there could be such a letter, but it may not have propelled the recent mass metering of buildings in Umuahia with the Prepaid Metres.
If letters are written without physical follow ups in Nigeria, the letters are only good for the trash cans. Therefore, Rep Sam Onuigbo’s claim that his letter brought electricity fortunes to Umuahia is neither here nor there. First, he didn’t make his action public before now and only did so when EEDC has started this commendable effort.
Second, he had the opportunity of complaining about it at the House of Representatives where he is a ranking member or even raise a motion through ‘Motion of Urgent National Importance’ to summon the chief executive officer of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company or NERC to the Green Chambers. His claims now should be seen as afterthought and should regarded as such; simpliciter.
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.