The outcry by electricity consumers in Nigeria against their alleged exploitation through ‘unjustifiable and astronomical’ estimated billings by distribution companies (DisCos) necessitated the Federal Government to introduce programmes aimed at bridging the prepaid metering gap. Unarguably, the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) has a huge metering gap despite the implementation of many metering programmes by the government for electricity consumers in the past. Some of the initiatives had failed and had to be replaced with new pro- grammes. However, estimated billing is still a major issue for electricity users without metering devices.
Since the 2013 privatisation of the sector, the electricity metering gap has not been substantially ad- dressed such that many electricity customers pay for tariffs according to their DisCos’ estimated billing procedures. Sadly, there are allegations that these estimated billing procedures lack accountability, fairness and transparency. Many electricity consumers, therefore, became hesitant to foot their bills on the assumption or allegations that they could not reconcile that the bill given to them is equivalent to the electricity services they consumed. The non-adequate payment of bills, therefore, decreased the DisCos’ collection rates and exacerbated their liquidity challenges. Industry players opined that more meter penetration would en- gender customer confidence in the system and make electricity consumers pay bills promptly, as many people view the estimated billing system in Nigeria as outlandish, opaque, regressive and exploitative. To address the metering gap, therefore, the Federal Government initiated and executed some programmes.
FG’s CAPMI In 2015, the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) introduced the Credited Advanced Payment for Metering Implementaion (CAPMI) scheme, which aimed to provide meters to customers willing to pay, while DisCos refunded the cost in cash or equivalent energy units. The metering scheme kicked off following an official order from the NERC, which mandated the DisCos to commence implementation of the CAPMI. CAPMI came about due to the slow pace of customer metering by the DISCOs, as well as the high level of complaints received from custom- ers and dissatisfaction with the esti- mated billing practices. It provided a platform for willing customers to pay the cost of the meter into a dedicated account jointly managed by the DisCo and meter Vendor/Installer. According to the programme, once payment was made, the custom- er had their meter installed within 45 days, by a NERC accredited Vendor/ Installer. In a statement by Maryam Yaya Abubakar, who was the Assistant General Manager, Media, NERC, the then Chairman of the commission, Dr Sam Amadi explained the modalities. He said: “The cost of the meters was arrived at using the standard market price plus the most efficient installation costs.
The DisCos submitted data based on costs sub- mitted by the DisCos during the MYTO review, as well as a review of prices supplied by local manufacturers. “In arriving at a list of meter Vendors and Installers of meters to partake in the CAPMI scheme, NERC followed a comprehensive due process by first advertising, and inviting the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to supervise the process of certification based on the Metering Code. “Consultations were also held with various stakeholders including preferred bidders, would-be vendors and installers and DisCos as well as the financial institutions to agree on the framework and logistics of implementing the scheme.
In selecting successful applicants, the Com- mission gave emphasis to local firms as a way of localising and promoting local content in the sector.” In a related development, the Com- mission has also signed an order mandating DisCos to supply meters paid for by customers dating back to January 2011. Amadi said: “It is regrettable that customers paid for meters and were not supplied with the same months or even years after. This is double jeopardy considering that meters ought to have been supplied to them free once they paid bills. “The Commission had to take January 2011 as the deadline for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, we are working on measures to ensure that customers who paid before January 2011 are metered within the shortest possible time.” The programme was, however, adjudged to be unsuccessful. MAP Following the failure of CAPMI, NERC introduced the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) scheme in 2018, which was aimed to empower meter asset providers to finance, procure and install meters for electricity customers in Nigeria.
The MAP framework was targeted as a medium for the provision and maintenance of end-user meters as a service by third-party investors on which customers ben- efitting from such meters pay metering service charges. According to the programme, the cost of the meters was to be recovered through a Metering Service Charge billed to the customers as part of their tariffs. Unfortunately, this metering scheme was also adjudged as not as successful as envisaged as only about 350,000 meters were installed in over eighteen months. NMMP To further bridge the metering gap in the NESI, the federal govern- ment kickstarted the first phase (Phase 0) of the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) un- der the office of the outgoing Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on October 30, 2020, with a loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Phase 1 of the NMMP targeted four million households. The programme was a policy in- tervention with support from the CBN for the provision of long-term (10-year tenure) single-digit inter- est loans to DisCos strictly for the provision of meters to customers. “The funding for the first phase of the NMMP only covered 1 million meters,” NERC said. The programme’s first phase was aimed to disburse a million meters to electricity consumers; however, only about 980,000 meters were dis- bursed. The NERC Commissioner for Finance and Management Services, Mr Nathan Shatti, later announced frustration amid FG’s efforts that the second phase of the NMMP would commence in August 2022 and that 45 local meter manufacturers were to bid to be part of the second phase. According to NERC, the registered energy customer population stood at 12.78 million, of which only 4.77million (37.3% of the identified customers) were metered, leaving the unmetered population at 8.01mil- lion customers (62.7% of the registered customers) as of September 2021. Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, Ga- ruba Sanusi, also said that Phase 1 of the NMMP was billed to begin in August. According to him, 45 local meter manufacturers jostled to be signed under the FG’s meter providers’ programme. “By the end of August, meters from local manufacturers will be deployed by the DisCos.
As a result, DisCos have been ordered to re-open the MAP, and customers are advised to take advantage of the window to purchase theirs if they cannot wait for the free meters,” he said. Sadly, the rate of deployment of electricity meters, which had picked up in the first half of 2021, declined by a whopping 71.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2021 amid the wind- ing down of the NMMP. However, as of 2022, reports had it that the programme had reached over a million households, while the programme was adjudged to have made some impacts. Metered users The National Bureau of Statis- tics (NBS) revealed in its electricity report for the first half of 2022, that the number of metered consumers for Q2’22 was 4,958,795, compared to 4,789,799 in Q1’22. The report also shows that the estimated billing consumers for Q1 were 5,840,927, while 5,849,152 was recorded for Q2. In spite of the NMMP and the MAPs programme, many Nigerians are still under the estimated billing regime, while DisCos still decided what customers should pay monthly based on their own evaluation and not on the basis of an accurate elec- tricity measuring device. CBN’s intervention Reports have it that the CBN disbursed over N40 billion to indig- enous meter manufacturers for the mass metering programme. FG order Still, to find the solution, the FG later instructed DisCos to resume the MAP that was slowed down by the National Mass Metering Programme.
Challenges Many Nigerian have related un- inspiring and sad experiences they encountered while trying to get pre-paid meters. Not only that they lamented that the cost was high as according to them, they paid about N38,000 for a single-phase meter and about N67,000 for three-phase ones, even in the current excruciating economic doldrums. They, therefore, called for a reduc- tion of the amounts. Some of them lamented the rigours of getting the right account to pay to. One of them told New Telegraph that when he relocated to another apartment, the former tenant who was on estimated billing owed a substantial electricity bill and he wanted to transit to a prepaid meter, he passed through a harrowing experience. According to him, some of the DisCo officials he approached told him to pay into their personal accounts, a suggestion he found, unacceptable.
He spent many months making enquiries about the right source to pay to and get his prepaid meter fixed. Manufacturers’ challenges Meter manufacturers, like some other manufacturers, complained that they faced challenges of high energy costs, for- eign exchange scarcity, poor infrastruc- ture, multiple taxations, and hiccups at the nation’s regressive port system. A manufacturer, who did not want to be named said it will cost about N14 bil- lion to provide 200,000 customers with meters. Some stakeholders have suggested that the government, rather than pay billions of naira in electricity subsidies, should rather remove bottlenecks in the metering programme while adopting the multi-thronged approach of allowing the importation of meters and sup- porting indigenous local meter manu- facturers to close the metering gap. Aba Power launches own programme However, in an attempt to address the metering challenge, Aba Power, regard- ed as Nigeria’s 12th and newest electricity distribution company, launched its own metering campaign to accelerate the process of making prepaid meters available to all electricity users in the Aba Ringfence which comprises nine out of the 17 local government areas in Abia State. The initiative is less than five months after the DisCo keyed into the FG’s MAP.
The campaign known as the Aba Power Mass Meter Programme (APMMP), should provide meters to electricity users without prepayment. Mr. Patrick Umeh, the Aba Power managing director who used to be a commissioner with the Nigeria Elec- tricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), said the APMMP started with custom- ers on the Township 11KV Feeder which covers Asa Road, St Michael’s Road, George’s Road, Pound Road, Park Road and Azikiwe Road. He added that the feeder has more available power than most feeders in the Aba Ringfence, and so would benefit many more persons and organisations. Last line The metering programme will be run in phases because of the huge cost as there is a revolutionary step.