One of the added benefits or advantages of the privatization of the electricity power sector, and the establishment of the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005, can be seen in the establishment of a set of consumer rights and obligations.
Prior to this, customer’s rights under the power sector were practically non-existent and electricity consumers were left to the whims and caprices of officials of the power sector.
Empowered by the EPSR Act 2005, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission ensures that electricity operators while recovering costs on prudent investment must also provide quality service to customers. These rights are intended to protect electricity consumers from any arbitrariness or excesses that may occur by the electricity distribution companies in the process of service.
In no particular order, consumer rights as set out by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission are as follows:
1) The right to electricity service and supply in a safe and reliable manner. This presupposes that electricity supply and service must be provided in such a way as not to be injurious or a threat to the life and property of consumers. Therefore actions such as the installation of electrical equipment within and around premises must be conducted bearing in mind the safety of the consumer.
2) The right to be properly informed and educated on electricity service. The electricity consumer should not be left ignorant of actions relating to his electricity service. Consumers have a right to be informed of new guidelines, changes, supply interruptions, service rendered by the DisCo etc, which may directly affect their supply of electricity.
3) The right to a properly installed and functional meter. Without the exemption, every electricity consumer is entitled to a working meter. By this, it is inferred that there should be no bias or discrimination in the supply and provisions of meter to consumers. The DisCo is obligated to ensure the proper metering of customers in their distribution area.
4) The right of un-metered customers to be issued electricity bills strictly based on NERC’s estimated billing methodology. In the instance where a customer is yet to be metered, estimated billing should follow the methodology set out by the NERC and should not be arbitrary. Therefore estimated billing carried out via supposed “transformer readings” are contrary to law.
In reality, however, since NERC’s billing methodology seems to confound the DisCos, estimated billing can be calculated via load assessment of customer’s premises.
5) The right to transparent electricity billing. This is quite simple: customers with pre-paid meters should be billed based on the purchase of units; customers with a functioning post-paid meter should be billed on actual meter readings while un-metered customers should be billed by reasonable estimates. Electricity customers should be billed on actual energy consumed, no more, no less.
6) The right to contest any electricity bill. Electricity bills are not set in stone. Where an electricity consumer believes that his bills do not accurately reflect his consumption, he has the right to contest such a bill by requesting a bill review to be carried out on his supply address.
7) The right not to pay a disputed bill but only the last undisputed bill while the disputed bill goes through the resolution process. While a consumer contests his bill, he is not obligated to pay the amount on the contested bill but to pay, instead, the amount on the last undisputed bill as the current bill until the billing dispute is resolved.
8) The right to refund when over-billed.
Where it is proven that a customer has been overbilled, the DisCo is obligated to refund whatever excess money paid by the customer on a bill. The practice by DisCos, however, is not to refund the physical cash, but to transfer the excess amount into the customer’s account as credit for subsequent electricity bill and payment.
9) The right to be notified in writing ahead of disconnection of electricity service by the electricity distribution company serving you. Unfortunately, this is a practice regularly ignored by DisCos. Electricity disconnection should never be arbitrarily done. Where a customer’s electricity supply is to be disconnected for whatever reason, he should be notified in writing prior to the disconnection. Failure to do this amount to a crime by the DisCos and, if convicted, the DisCos are liable to pay the sum of #1,000 to the customer for each day the unlawful disconnection persists.
10) The right to prompt investigation of complaints arising from the customer’s electricity service. By law, customer’s complaints should be handled within 15 working days from the day the complaint was made, except in circumstances where more time is required to resolve the issue.
11) The right to forward complaints to the NERC Forum Office within the coverage area of the DisCo if a consumer’s complaint is not satisfactorily addressed by the DisCo.
The law provides for Forum offices of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission within the coverage areas of the DisCos to handle disputes relating to electricity service between the customer and the DisCo.
12) The right to appeal the decision of the Forum at the Commission (NERC).
Where the customer remains unsatisfied with the decision of the NERC Forum, he can appeal its decision before the Commission itself.
13) It is not the responsibility of the electricity customer or the community to buy, replace, or repair electricity transformers, poles or related equipment used in the supply of electricity.
The responsibility of repair and purchase of electrical equipment lies with the DisCos in charge of the supply area and not with the residents or community. All-electric equipment integrated into the grid are automatically the property of the DisCo. The customer or community is not a partner with the DisCo in its business and cannot, therefore, be compelled to pay for such equipment.
Should a consumer or community decide to handle this responsibility, it must be done with the full knowledge of the law regarding consumers’ investment in electricity.
14) For new electricity customers, the right to be connected at first instance with a meter being installed as all-new electric connections must be done strictly on the basis of metering.
15) The right of customers who procure meters under the Credit Advanced Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) Scheme to be metered within 60 days, the failure to do so in which the electricity customer will neither be billed nor disconnected by the electricity distribution company.
As laudable as these rights are, one would expect that their implementation would be swift and progressive such that customer and DisCo relationships under the power sector could be smooth sailing. The reverse is, however, the case.
Years after the privatization of the power sector, customer service relationship remain at an all time low, still reminiscent of the pre-privatization era where electricity consumers were subject to the dictates of officials of the power sector.
Unfortunately, this problem persists as a result of a lack of awareness by electricity consumers of the rights that cater to them under the reformed power sector.
As evidenced by the popular saying: when the purpose of a thing is not known, abuse becomes inevitable, it should be noted that until consumers understand these rights and become proactive in enforcing them, they will remain at the mercy of unscrupulous officials of the power sector.