NEPA and the Rest of Us
By: Deji Yesufu
The body that handles the distribution of electrical energy all around Nigeria was renamed Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in 2005. Prior that time, it was called National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). And because power supply is so closely knitted with the daily life of the average Nigerian, NEPA suddenly became a house-hold name (and those of us who grew up knowing the power distribution company by this name have found it difficult to call it anything else). This supposed popularity did not come in a positive way but rather in a more ignominious manner because electricity, for a long time, has been very epileptic all around Nigeria. So the NEPA acronym was quickly renamed: “Never Expect Power Always” – which perfectly explained how electricity supply functions in Nigeria.
Many Nigerians travel abroad and find themselves running to press their clothes with a hot iron on, for example, a Sunday because they are so sure there will be no electricity on Monday morning while heading to work. Only to be reminded they are no longer living in Nigeria. Even our friends from Ghana and other African countries have come to know that power supply is the one constant failure in the Nigerian polity. In this essay, I want to write about power supply in Nigeria as it relates to all of us. It is far too common for us to blame NEPA for the failure of electricity distribution in Nigeria while overlooking the responsibilities of consumers also. While NEPA or PHCN (or whatever else they have become today) have a lot of blame in this matter, the consumers also should not be left off the hook. To make my point, I want to tell two stories.
Recently my family and I moved into a new neighborhood here in Ibadan. The first question that we asked before moving in was: is there light here. The next viable question was: does the house have prepaid (meter). These are ready questions tenants asks agents who offer houses to people and the answers we received for the two questions were in the affirmative. While inspecting the house, we noticed there was sufficient power supply in the neighborhood and the prepaid meter was there alright – it even had some credit on it. Everybody was happy. But not so fast. We soon realized we needed to load the meter. We bought some credit into it and we noticed that more than half of the amount we paid was used to offset a certain bill. We complained to the agent and he explained that it was a one-off thing; it is not going to happen again.
The second month, while purchasing power to the meter, another amount was deducted from the money we paid. I went to the NEPA’s head office in Dugbe and I was told that when the meter was supplied a few months ago, there is a monthly charge that came with it. This money is to be paid for 24 months. Before we moved in, eight months had been paid. When we made our first recharge, there was a debt of two months on it – which we paid. The following month also, we had to pay for that month too. We still have 13 months to offset this amount. It sounded fair enough; I will be sorting those issues out with my house agent in some latter time. But I wished that this was clearly stated to us before we took the house. But, again, is this not Nigeria?
The second story is still tied to the first: while I am running (kitty-kitty) and I am running (kitta-kitta – to chill with the Big Boys) to put off light bulbs that are consuming electricity unnecessarily around the house, I noticed that most of my neighbors leave their bulbs on. Both the security lights and the inner bulbs within the house are left blaring all day long. I made this conclusions: although most of these people have meter stuck to the front of their houses, many of them have disconnected themselves from the running meters. They have simply bypassed them and are now using power free of charge. How did I come to this conclusion? Another story.
A few months ago, while at my former house, somebody hinted me that NEPA had come to the neighborhood to meter all houses without electric meters. In a bid to cut off estimated billing, the Nigerian government mandated NEPA to supply all homes with electric meters – free of charge. But someone will have to pay for the supplied meter. So government decided to break down the cost of the meter over two years – twenty-four months – such that while customers buy electricity monthly, NEPA will simply remove the monthly charge. After twenty-four months, the meter will be paid off and every home will have meters and there will be no need for estimated billing. Right? Wrong. Not in Nigeria.
A friend told me that his house, which is a face-me and face-you residence was also supplied this meter. This gentleman told me, in confidence, that a few days after NEPA had installed this meter, that every house that had them in his neighborhood had bypassed the meters and were now using electricity for free. The people in this neighborhood simply laid hold of an electrician who did the “surgery” for all of them. He said that when they came to his house and offered to do it, while many of the tenants bought into the idea, he opposed it. While he was away at work the following day, they came behind him and bypassed the meter. So that at the moment, no one in that neighborhood pays NEPA bill; no one is paying for the meter supplied; and everyone is using power free of charge. I asked him: are these people not aware of a N250,000 fine for bypassing the meter? He said he told them and they said when they get to that bridge they will cross it.
I had this conversation with my friend during the time the meters were distributed to my former neighborhood. This was the period the house I now stay in got the meter also. That was how I came to the conclusion that even my neighbors today might have bypassed their own meter. My colleague in the office told me that the issue of bypassing of meters do not only occur in low income areas; he explained to me that many people living in affluent neighborhoods also bypass their meters. I hope that from these stories, you can understand the point I am trying to make in this essay. I am told that when people are caught, they quickly bribe the NEPA officials and the matter is swept under the carpet.
First, the whole aim of government providing metering to homes is defeated when customers bypass those meters. Government is unable to recoup money invested in the purchase of these meters and the circle continues. The argument that many people proffer that there is corruption in the Nigeria government and that people using power supply free of charge is their partaking of a national cake, is not only vacuous but is also irresponsible. The truth is that government is not just the people in power; we are all government. Yes, there are people in the seat of power and there are people in authority but there are no societies where all we have are leaders alone – it is both the leaders and the led that make up the society and if the society will function properly, everyone has to do their bit. The leaders will do theirs and the led will do theirs.
Second, the problem of the Nigerian nation hinges on this warped understanding that only government has the responsibility to do the right thing. Nigerians hold the position that because certain people are in government, and probably enjoying the perks of office, every other person who is not in government has no responsibility to the Nigerian state. In other words, only the leaders are expected to their jobs; the rest of us, since we are already disadvantaged, are not expected to do anything. So, when Nigerians gather on social media threads, all you hear is a lampooning of government and all the failures of government.
While government may have failed on many counts, I am still at a loss as to understanding whether it is government that is bypassing electric meters in our homes. Nigerians go abroad and we see how those societies run. We see how citizens are committed to meeting their various obligations. The reason why our people work like donkeys for the almighty dollar is because they know that at the end of the month they have bills that must be paid. Yet, the same citizens come to Nigeria and they bypass meters. A friend told me that a Nigerian family relocated from the USA to Nigeria and the man rented a massive house that had about six rooms. My friend noticed that this man also equipped all the rooms and the living areas with air conditions, etc. Three months down the line, this same man had bypassed his electric meter. When he was caught by NEPA officials, he simply tipped the boys and continued to use power for free.
The story of NEPA is the story of the collective failure of all of us Nigerians. NEPA is a perfect depiction of why things are not working in this country: there is the failure of government and there are the deliberate sabotaging of the system by Nigerians themselves. We all need to repent of our ways. One day, a culture of corruption entered into our body polity and Nigerians were left with the notion that they could always have their way by cutting corners. We will not pay our electricity bills; we will not pay for the water the state supplies us (for those who still have those); we will not renew our vehicle papers; etc. During fuel scarcity, Nigerians will not queue up – but will rather jam the roads as everyone is trying to use the station exit to enter and buy fuel ahead of those who came before them.
Let me end this essay by positing a new found doctrine of mine. It is something I have shared before but I will use the opportunity to state it again: the problem of Nigeria is not leadership; the problem of this country is you and I. Therefore, the means of fixing this country is not in getting proper leadership (although a competent leader can be a catalyst to fixing our problems); the solution is in getting every Nigerian to be committed to doing the right thing in his own sphere of influence. You can begin by removing that bypass on your electric meter and paying for the power you use. If everyone bypassing meter are arrested today and taken to court, the Nigerian judiciary and prisons will burst open to overflowing (even though they are already full). Leadership exhumes from a people. When the people are corrupt themselves, they should not expect to elect leaders that will behave differently. There is a need to overthrow the culture of corruption, indolence and ineptitude that is the bane of the average Nigerian person.
As an addendum: NEPA might consider the process of invading communities that were recently metered with security and without prior notice. Since they installed these equipment, they should inspect them and fine every home that has bypassed electric meters. The issue of bypassing of meters must be fixed or else, what will happen will be that a few Nigerians will be the ones paying for power and in a bid to recoup investment, NEPA will be forced to increase tariff. I am convinced that if every person using electricity is paying for it in this country, the cost of power will be forced down.