© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
How AEDC’s delayed response to complaints frustrates customers, robs them of time, money
In this investigation, Ogechukwu Uzor shows how the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company’s delayed response to complaints frustrates customers and robs them of time and money. Customer complaints border majorly on an inconsistent power supply, excessive billing, long wait for meter supply and slow response to complaints.
ON a Tuesday high noon and in what should be the hub of business activity in Nyanya Phase IV, the Neighbourhood plaza seemed deserted except for traders who stood in front of their shops while others stayed inside in a bid to avoid the sun heat.
It was obviously not a good business day, but perhaps a good opportunity to share their story of how Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) has been unfair to them.
Enyoanwan runs a mini-supermarket directly opposite the AEDC Customer Complaint Unit (CCU) and, at 3 pm, still did not have power supplied to her shop. Supply had been seized since midnight and, as she spoke with the reporter, she counted down to the hour before power will be restored.
Monthly, Enyoanwan pays N8,000 for estimated consumption of electricity in her stall.
“In this my shop, I don’t have any other electrical appliances apart from this my fridge, yet I get a bill of N8,000 monthly. I wish this estimated billing of a thing can be resolved. I want to apply again for a meter but it’s like wasting my time.”
With the privatisation of electricity control in Nigeria, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, has been in charge of electricity distribution. It has 11 Electricity Distribution Companies across the country. Since 2013, the AEDC has handled electric power distribution for Abuja, Kogi, Niger and Nasarawa states,
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), a creation of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2005, was established to promote an investor-friendly industry and efficient market structure towards meeting the needs of Nigerians for safe, adequate, reliable, and affordable electricity.
Just next to Enyoanwan is another shop with a constant electricity supply. Her neighbour, who preferred to be unidentified, pays N1,000 to 2,500 monthly, using a meter in her hair salon but she revealed that power supply is rotated among various communities in six hours interval. “As if this was not bad enough, the supply still fluctuated within the six hours.”
“They were supposed to give the other people light from 6 am to 12 pm, then give us from 12 pm to 6 pm but they only flashed the light and until now no light,” she said. The time was 3:37 pm, nearly 4 hours into their 6-hour shift.
The AEDC office at the other end was, however, bubbling with life the whole time. As customers went in their numbers to both complain and recharge their meters, they got a loud welcome from the generator set planted at a corner near the entrance.
Structures have been created by the NERC to monitor the operations of distribution companies and as well attend to complaints from customers. The Customer Complaints Unit is usually the first point of call and is managed by the distribution companies.
Weeks, months, years… how long customers wait
Grace Yemi’s meter became faulty some four years ago but the AEDC perhaps found it easier to quickly enlist her for estimated billing than fix the faulty meter.
“My meter got bad in 2014. I reported this to the AEDC and they told me they will work on it, and then connected me to a transformer. That’s how I started paying an average of N10,000 on estimated billing, but with a meter, I cannot spend beyond N5,000 in a month.
“I went severally to the CCU here in Karu site to complain and apply for a new meter but I only succeeded in wasting my business time, so I resolved to apply through the AEDC marketer that comes to receive our payments. He has my letter, I am hoping his involvement will make the process faster,” Yemi said.
“I think the meter is hoarded and given to choicest people or those who are willing to bribe their way. I have been applying for over two years now, they brought some meters recently but I still didn’t get one,” Enyoanwan also told this reporter.
Some others like a man at Jikwoyi CCU unit, who pleaded anonymity, have waited for months.
“I have been coming here since September last year to request for the separation of accounts for my tenants but nothing has been done yet. I have written about three times and I have been coming here. I think I have to go to AEDC office in town,” he said as he entered his luxurious jeep ride.
However, NERC expects AEDC to respond to customers’ complaints within 15 working days and fix faulty meters within 48 hours.
The cost of waiting for AEDC
Lawal Mohammed Shuaibu, told The ICIR he did not benefit from the power supply from the AEDC throughout January. He spent thousands beside the N10,000 bill he was required to pay.
“Imagine, we did not have light throughout January and spent not less than N1,500 on fueling our generator every day. But when we came to complain they insisted we clear the N10,000 outstanding bill for the power supply we did not receive before they listen to us,” he said.
Even after clearing the supposed outstanding bill, Shuaibu’s problem was not attended to.
Fuming, he said, “Now I have made payments for the outstanding bill as they requested but they kept sending me from one office to another and finally asked me to come back again like many other times,” he told the reporter.
Grace runs an Internet café at Karu site and is among those who enjoy power supply in 6-hour shifts. “The estimated bill would have been bearable but the power supply is not even constant and when power is ceased we have to resort to the use of a generator and the overall cost is something else. How much am I then making?” she said raising her voice.
For Durodola, “the cost of waiting for AEDC to respond to complaints is simply enormous and difficult to quantify in Naira and Kobo.”
He let out his frustration at the café where he came to write the sixth letter to AEDC to apply for meters for his tenants.
“I have written already up to five times and have been moving from one office to another. They only called me to be patient that they are working on it.”
The other ways to get a meter
Chuks Obikwelu, who resides in Wuse Zone II is one of those customers who resorted to buying their way after several applications for a meter proved futile.
“One big problem people have with electricity is meter supply,” he said. “For me, I had paid N25,000 in 2014 to get a meter even though I hear one can get it for free now.”
Another way that works is through the influence of insiders. Durodola only got lucky after a long wait when the manager at Karu site’s CCU intervened.
“The manager had noticed my frequent visits and decided to attend to me personally. She saw from their records that a meter has been allocated to me and then instructed that the meter should be brought from wherever it has been taken to, otherwise my meter would have been installed for someone else,” he narrated.
Ebema Godwin, who lives at Jikwoyi Phase II, said the meter at their house was got with the influence of a close relative.
“When I got back from school, my daddy told me that my uncle who works with AEDC helped us to get a meter,” she revealed.
“As you can see we are the only ones who have a meter in this neighbourhood.”
Of unfair billing
A prominent subject of complaints from customers is unfair billing. Some customers who have no meters accuse AEDC of raising estimated bills.
Apart from the January blackout, Shuaibu also went to AEDC to complain about an unexplained steady increase of his bills.
“Since August 2018, I have been served with a bill higher than the previous month. Today, I now pay almost double the amount I used to pay without getting any better electricity supply,” his letter to Jikwoyi CCU read in part.
Shuaibu’s February bill has details of how his bill gradually rose from N5,996 in August 2018 to N10,154 in February 2019, “while inconsistent power supply remained constant,” he explained, with a mix of frustration and anger.
Some customers complement AEDC still
For Emmanuel Maigari, a resident of Wuse Zone II, AEDC seems to be fair enough with its services. He explained rather lightheartedly that “we all have meters in this compound and we pay an average of N5,000 monthly. At least we are sure we pay according to what the meter reads.”
“Whenever we have issues we call AEDC and they come to attend to us. They also apologise when we sometimes complain of the irregular power supply,” Maigari added.
Obikwelu too thinks there has been a lot of improvement in customer service since the privation of electricity supply.
“There are complaints especially about meter supply but the service is better now,” he said.
Unfortunately, managers at the CCU’s declined speaking to The ICIR on the grounds that they are not authorised to speak to the media. Nyanya CCU manager who simply identified himself as Joseph said “you have to obtain permission from our head office before I can talk to you.
We do have a number of challenges here which I will be very willing to share but I don’t want to risk my job,” Joseph explained.
Fadipe Babs Oyebode, General Manager, Corporate Communications at AEDC then spoke in response to the complaints arising from the various CCUs on a general note.
The CCUs witness challenges include customer apathy to payment, meter bypass, vandalism and theft of key component from power plants. Oyebode thought the biggest of them all was customer bias.
“The biggest challenge we have to contend with is perception. Customers have a preconceived negative notion about AEDC. They become aggressive and this inhibits communication. Any slight lack of understanding of what the customer is saying becomes a problem,” he said.
He added that “Some customers still think they should get power without paying for it, forgetting that power supply is not a welfare service but a business.”
Oyebode does not think lack of capacity is a reason for the delayed response to complaints.
“I wouldn’t say we are overburdened but because of the history of electricity in Nigeria, it is taking extra effort to turn around what seems like a Titanic problem.”
“We have over 3,000 staff covering our four franchise states but I may not be able to provide the exact figure for Abuja staff. Our customer population in Abuja is a little above a million. It is not a matter of staff to customer ratio but how much we utilise available technology.”
“Now we are just five years down the line so people don’t expect that we become the Saint Paul of the Nigerian power sector,” he explained.
Oyebode also told The ICIR about some technological assets possessed by the AEDC including an Integrated Commercial Marketing System (ICMS), a fault locating vehicle worth N114 million and a motorized lather.
About why it takes so long to apply for and get a meter, Oyebode said “Supplying meters is not that simple, we invested N10 billion into meters, August last year. All that amount could produce only 250,000 pieces of meter. Now, will you call that a simple investment?”
“Moreover, manufacturers here in Nigeria are also limited by technological challenges plus their operations are affected by foreign exchange as they produce with some offshore components,” he added.
However, “with the Meter Asset Provider policy soon to be implemented, Government prescribed that meter should get to the customers within 10 days after payment. We are yet to start because we are doing all of the backend activities, Oyebode further explained.
Oyebode is also hopeful that meters will be delivered to customers anytime they ask for it sometime this year.
On illegal fees paid to acquire meters, he thought “it’s unfortunate because customers have been warned about paying money to wrong persons and our staff know they are not supposed to collect money from people.”
More so, fraud in open billing is another unethical practice alleged by customers to which Oyebode responded, “I don’t agree that estimated billing is open to fraud. I can only say it has a high propensity of human influence. Because there is no timer, you then guess.”
Oyebode’s response indeed confirms the allegation of many customers. Since open billing allows for guestimate, AEDC takes the advantage to over charge or under charge as the case may be.
“The best solution is to have meters installed which we are already working on”, Oyebode said. He added that, if there is evidence to show infraction by employees, sanctions are meted out to such staff.
He also hinted that AEDC does not encourage repair of meters except for simple terminal issues.
AEDC compensates customers who have suffered delayed response through credit adjustment, where investigation shows they have been overbilled, the GM, Corporate Communications said.
But a customer who lived in Plot 919 street Shenanga street in Wuse Zone 5 denied this claim.
According to him, AEDC charged commercial rate on his meter for two months, and when he finally got the company to change the status of his meter to residential, he was not repaid for the overcharge that lasted two months. “There was not even an apology from the company for ripping me off of my hard-earned income,” the customer said.
.Meanwhile attempts to reach the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) for their input on the subject was futile. The reporter called the registry and was given a media line that never went through. The helpline attendant also did not take the reporter’s calls afterwards.