Customers of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC), especially those connected to Ikorodu, Abule-Egba, and Kollington Undertaking offices, have been suffering. And they are seeking an end to unjust treatment from the electricity distribution company. GBENGA AKINFENWA reports.
Officials of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC), Lagos State, have come under heavy criticism from some customers, who are accusing them of unwholesome practices, which have subjected them to untold hardship.
The aggrieved clients claimed that the DisCo has become a thorn in their flesh, what with their unpleasant mode of operations. As such, they can hardly wait to end their horrid operations.
The Guardian investigations revealed that despite epileptic power supply in its jurisdiction, the electricity company has been infringing on consumers’ rights, chief of which is illegal disconnections and non-adherence to due dates on electricity bills, which is contrary to the Electric Power Sector Reform Act.
Not only are consumers regularly and unjustly disconnected from electricity supply, this is usually done with impunity and without recourse to the Act stipulating that a three-month notice be served before disconnection is carried out.
Also, the due date on electricity bills, which is the deadline for making payments and which shouldn’t be less than 10 days after issuance of monthly bills are not followed. Consumers are harassed three or four days after issuance of bills, which is contrary to the Act.
Reports emanating from Ekoro, Abule-Egba, Abule Taylor, Ijaiye, Ahmadiyya, Alagbado, Ile-Epo and Super, among others, in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), under the Abule-Egba Undertaking office, indicate that despite several attempts to stop the abuses, IKEDC officials are still having field day trampling on consumers’ right, in a bid to extort them.
Sometime in 2017, The Guardian learnt that an IKEDC official was molested by aggrieved youths in Ekoro for disconnecting houses, just one week after a new bill was distributed, as against the stipulated date on the bill.
The development led to the entire area being disconnected for one month, apparently in protest against the molested official. But for spirited efforts, especially from the media, the residents could have been left in darkness for months.
It is the same story in communities under Kollington Undertaking office, as residents of Oke-Abiye, AIT road, Alakuko, Dalemo and other communities are also crying in silence.
The Ikorodu Undertaking office is also not left out, as their communities are also bemoaning their fate, where, it was gathered, IKEDC’s nefarious acts are quite rampant.
Curiously, the IKEDC officials seem unbothered by the complaints and different actions taken by their hapless consumers, as they are unrelenting in their sharp practices, for which they have become notorious.
The Chairman, Irepodun (Ekoro) Community Development Association (CDA), Mr. Fasola Akanbi, who narrated their ordeals in the hands of the electricity distribution company, said the community is helpless, as all efforts to address the infringements on their rights have been unsuccessful.
He said: “On several occasions, many houses in the community were unjustly disconnected. Most times, they come with their ladders three or four days after distributing bills, and without any compassion for their customers, they disconnect houses arbitrarily.
“We have lodged complaints severally at the business office, but we’ve always been directed to the headquarters, where it seems they are also helpless with regard to the situation.”
During the visit, The Guardian actually observed that the DisCo officials were actually on ‘duty.’ It was discovered that some consumers that had been unable to pay for the month, and threatened with disconnection were forced to part with a minimum of N1, 000 each, depending on their bargaining power to prevent disconnection.
A resident, Mrs. Moyosore Olawoye, who narrated the ordeal of inhabitants in the area, said the landlords have become helpless, while the officials extort people and are smiling home.
“On a particular day,” she recalled, “I was forced to call the business office in Abule-Taylor after they threatened to disconnect my flat, two days after the bill was brought. On the bill, the due date was still a week away, but they insisted on carrying out their threat.
“To my utmost surprise, the officer I spoke with said there was nothing she could do about it. I tried calling their headquarters in Alausa to no avail. So, I was forced to bribe them to avoid being disconnected. That’s what they have been doing to us, infringing on our rights and extorting us, despite inefficient services. Another thing is that the officials don’t have good manners. They are ready to insult and even fight consumers at the slightest provocation.”
Oke-Abiye’s plight is not different from that of others. The Guardian learnt that after succeeding in the battle against incessant issuance of estimated billings, the community and neighbouring towns are groaning under the burden of illegal disconnect, which they claim they experience daily.
A visibly worried CDA Chairman of the community, Mr. Akeem Balogun disclosed that instead of the issue to abate, it is steadily getting worse, as the officials have continued to ‘terrorise’ them.
He said: “I am surprised that the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has failed to sanction their excesses. We have written series of letters and are now tired of complaining, since no action has been taken to ameliorate our challenges. The electricity reform Act stipulates sanction for any erring DisCos, but it’s like NERC has been compromised.”
It is the same scenario at Agbede Olosugbo, Ajasa, Agbele, Alogba Estate, Odongunyan, Eruwen, Ibese and other communities under Odongunyan Undertaking office in Ikorodu.
Though some areas can boast of having pre-paid meters, the greater number of residents still operating estimated billing system have also been subjected to painful experiences.
In September 2017, consumers connected to the Frontline Estate Substations 1-3 in Eruwen were disconnected, in flagrant disobedience to NERC’s order.
Miss Modinat Ipadeola, a hairdresser residing in Odongunyan, who narrated their experience to The Guardian, said the community had done everything possible to put and end to the fraudulent estimated billing system by demanding for pre-paid meters, just to end the activities of the DisCo officials but that their efforts had been futile.
She indicted the officials of extortion, as they disconnect arbitrarily and still issue bills, despite the fact that they were not provided electricity during the period of disconnection.
“It’s unfortunate that those who should be speaking are not doing so. We are actually tired of how they have been treating us, as if they are helping us. We’ve had enough of their unwholesome attitudes. Government and other agencies should wade in and save us,” she said.
Efforts to get the CDA Chairman of Onward Community, Mr. Beckley, one of the communities affected was not successful, as he wasn’t around as at the time of visit.
Do electricity consumers have a right to seek redress?
The Guardian learnt that the provision of Section 5-11 of the Commission’s Connection and Disconnection Procedures for Electricity Services Regulation issued in December 2007 declares that all disconnections by the DisCos, which do not follow due process, are illegal. It spelt out the fines offending DisCos would pay.
The report said in part: “Therefore, any community, village, Local Government Area or estate wrongfully disconnected from electricity supply should report to the Commission for further action.
“Consequently, electricity disconnections by Distribution Companies (Discos) are strictly to be effected in accordance with the provision of Section 5-11 of the Commission’s Connection and Disconnection Procedures for Electricity Services Regulation.”
Section 5 (1b), which addresses the issue of due date states: “Payment date is at least 10 working days from the date of delivery of the bill to the supply address or a delivery address provided by the customer, which is acceptable to the distribution company.”
Section 5 (1d & f) specifically explains that a distribution company may only disconnect supply to a customer, if (d) period between the payment date and the date of disconnection is not less than three months, and (f) the distribution company has given the customer written warning that the electricity supply shall be disconnected, if payment is not made by the payment date….
Penalties for Wrongful Disconnection
Section 11 clearly said any DisCo that acts contrary to the provision of the Act will be forced by NERC to compensate the customer through ‘energy refund’ for wrongful disconnection.
Any distribution company that disconnects electricity supply to a customer’s premises in violation of this regulation commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to pay the customer a penalty as stipulated for each or part of a day that the supply is wrongfully disconnected.
According to the penalty, a residential customer would be paid N1,000 daily, while a commercial customer would be paid N1, 500 daily for the period, and the industrial and special customers would be paid N2, 000 daily, throughout the period of the wrongful disconnection.
Based on the penalty, if a residential apartment is disconnected illegally for a week, the apartment will be entitled to the sum of N7, 000 as compensation.
But The Guardian learnt that NERC has not been forthcoming in enforcing the penalty, despite numerous complaints from customers, as the regulatory body has been variously indicted of compromise.
It was gathered that the last time NERC gave such an order to refund customers was in June 2015 through its Order 139, when it said it was convinced that the Abuja DisCo overbilled some customers up to 100 per cent between October and December 2014. It was also the first time NERC issued such a fine.
Efforts to get the Head of Corporate Communications of IKEDC, Felix Ofolue to respond to the allegations failed. He equally failed to pick calls put through his mobile line phone.
He, however, responded to a text message explaining customers’ grouse and the allegations, noting that the disconnections were based on the fact that most of the bills were outstanding, dating back to 12 months.
When asked if the allegations were not contrary to NERC’s acts, he said: “No, they are not contrary to NERC Acts. There are basis for some of the actions taken. It would be better if you spelt out the NERC Acts that were violated, so I can respond to you on a case-by-case basis. There is a lot of misinterpretation of these rules on the part of customers.”
After citing Section 11 to him, he said: “To the best of my knowledge, we are compliant with all the regulations. If there are specific issues customers have, they can report to appropriate authorities and have them resolved.”