UP Nepa!

The National Electric Power Authority was apparently established in the era of Authorities: cf. Nigerian Television Authority, Nigerian Port Authority; and which other ones? And it has none left! No legacy either. One thing that NEPA is remembered for till tomorrow is the epilepsy, sometimes stroke, of power supply– a feature that has defiled President after President, even the shoeless one. And another has been incongruent revenue generation. It just seemed that the masses, as my people are unceremoniously called, do not pay; but not quite so. Because even after its rechristening to PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria), NEPA still held unnecessarily to electric power, to public dismay and presidential chagrin…



Presently, NEPA, or PHCN, is succeeded by five power generation companies, one transmission company, and six (regional) distribution companies. And one yet doubts significant improvement in the modus operandi of the hydra. For contrary to what our President tells the Americans, and whoever else cares to listen, we do not have light; plain and simple. Unless of course you generously include the peri-15th days during which we are wooed with superfluous light to pay the bills they bring invariably on the circum-15th day of each month.

Those days when you cannot but wonder just why we can’t have light like that for the rest of the month; why we still have to depend on the fortunes of the Niger and the politics of Fouta Djallon to power our land while we generously flare employable gas at our rigs; why NEPA officials, like policemen, collect money from people and do not remit such into their meter accounts. Yes, stories abound of how unsuspecting folks pay the man and not the company. So that month after month, their debt rises, with the swindler asking for more time for the deposits to reflect, while it already does in his protruding belly, yet unnoticed by his compliant victim.

For three months I paid N10 000 severally. For three months my neighbours said if I’d entrusted those sums to a NEPA man, they’d have gone home to his wife, or girlfriend, if you know what i mean, and not home to settle my debts. And they spoke from experience. Yes, it is that bad! And what is worse? These people are more concerned with what you contribute, as it were, than with reading your usage off the meter. More often than not, they manufacture the consumption reading and cause inflated billing– like one woulda done to me just last month. So that your meter reads 2111 but the computer believes you are at 2277. Thanks to our “no-amount-is-too-small” men of the streets.

Annoying, right? I was going to sue IBEDC (the distributor for my region) this past May: It is actually amazing how much information the computer puts on your bill. As at May, my meter was last read (going by the LAR, last actual reading on my bill: 27-07-2013) in July of the previous year! For ten months NEPA brought me bills without considering, inputting or reconciling my actual consumption! Of course the smartass manager claimed there might not have been light each time, but i asked if he’d believe i use light after he came to my house ten random times in ten months and met darkness. And he was numb!

Yet, it is my people that suffer. They don’t have light, they don’t use light, yet they must pay. And when NEPA disconnects you this month, they still bring a bill next month! So, why not kúkú connect yourself back (illegally)? At least, that way, you use what you will be made to pay for! Plus, they can be grossly irresponsible: you come to fix a fault, good, it’s for the common good; my wire that was not dangling before dangles by the time you are done; you are asked to please fix it; you refuse, claiming you don’t have obligation! Where is the commonsense in that? What does it cost you to fix my line even if it wasn’t your fault? Why am I your customer? You lucky say I no dey house. Now i have two phases working, though I pay for three. And if I ask the nearby electrician to fix it, you will arrest him: are you God?

Admittedly, not all NEPA officials are stupid. The aforementioned manager taught me the concept of zero-reading (after i cleared my bill and threatened to sue; some N40 000 down the line). Truth is, most people pay estimated costs. Usually shows as ###E units on the bill, where ### is the across-board estimate for that month, say 207. Annoying as it is, it is often justifiable; the computer never lies, but the operator…? na there ‘tori take get K-leg…

The computer estimates readings when your meter is not read for the month; or when the reading sent is less than what it expects, for instance, if your meter reads backwards, as I’m told is often done. Or, if due to previous estimates, whether human, as explained above, or computed, as just explained, your actual reading is less than expected. For example, when my meter read 1950, my bill read 2079 and the across-board estimate for that month was 198 units (I typically use 125 units a month, i check, as should you; shey you see cheating)! Definitely, the computer would expect (2079 + 198 =) 2277 the next month when my meter actually turned out to read 2085!

If 2085 had been sent to the computer, I’d have had an estimate the following month (because 2085 is less than the expected 2277). That is some N3 000 since a unit now costs N16.11 and the estimate for that month was some 195 units, yet my meter read 2111 the following month! So, we tricked the computer, legally. We sent it 2277 as the reading so that it gave me a consumption of zero (2277, sent, minus the previous 2277 = 0); hence the term zero-reading. It does NOT mean i did not pay, it meant i paid some N650 instead of N3 000, that is fixed charge of N625 (me sef dey wonder o, this Naija sha) and VAT which is 5% of your sum for that month, not total.

Interestingly, the following month, the bill man, after seeing that I pasted “FOR ZERO-READING PLS PICK 2277” on my meter still went ahead and put 2320! My meter read 2085, but there was no light while he was there; he should have put 2277 as asked, yet he did me the “favour” of manufacturing 2320 for me! Ábàà! That’s definitely the beginning of yet another batch of estimated bills; we dey quench fire, e dey put petrol– see rhove (love). So I phoned him, and called him to order. Alas, he was just trying to help, innocently enough, by dashing me a manufactured reading…

And this story will not be complete if I don’t mention that one must instigate a class-action suit against IBEDC IF they continue their unsavoury attitude of not picking (credible) readings from costumers’ meters, and of, consequently, bringing across-board estimates. Gone should be the days of impunity, immunity and Mbunity. Check your bill’s LAR and let’s sue.

And if I do eventually, it will not be because I want favours or publicity; it will be because I believe it is what any good citizen should. I believe it is time Nigerians spoke, it is time we were heard, it is time someone stood for what is right. As I shall have. (Ironically, my lawyer has not picked my calls lately. Lol…)

So, if your meter is lagging way behind the bill (computer reading), you just may need to stay with the bill distribution man as he picks your reading; or pally with him to trick the computer POSITIVELY, not to use wayo reduce your consumption o; or visit the branch manager with a picture of your meter displaying your actual reading– and threaten to sue, one of the advantages of privatisation! Of course, be prepared to clear your bill first, and enjoy zero-reading later.

So that when light comes as it seldom does and your neighbours shout (jubilantly), you to may likewise reply: Up NEPA

Ayokunle Adeleye

Ayokunle is a doctor, a writer at heart, his opinions are strong and he wants a better society. Follow him on twitter @adelayok