Agitations by many consumers of electricity to have meters to correctly record their consumption may continue for some time to come, as the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission has said total metering of all consumers in the country will not be possible until the next 18 to 20 months.
The Federal Government has also started talking to traditional rulers across the country to support the new electricity tariff billed to commence on June 1.
The government is also working on standardised estimated billing for electricity consumers who may not be provided with billing meters by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria.
The Executive Chairman, NERC, Dr. Sam Amadi, ruled out the possibility of providing meters to all electricity customers in the country before a period of 18 to 20 months.
He, however, said the attainment of the 18 to 20 months target would depend on availability of funds and the volume of work needed to be done.
The Federal Government had last week directed the full deployment of prepaid meters, which it said, must be provided free to consumers nationwide within a maximum period of 18 months.
Admitting that there were finance challenges in providing meters for all before the take-off of the new tariff regime on June 1, Amadi told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Monday that only 50 per cent of electricity consumers currently had meters.
“It is impossible to get everyone metered before the commencement of the new tariff, for instance. Where is the money? It is not possible,” he said.
Amadi, however, said the regulatory agency was working on standardising estimated billing for customers who did not have meters.
According to him, the standardised estimated billing will go for approval before it is rolled out for implementation along with the new metered tariff on June 1.
Standard estimated billing:
The Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji, confirmed the move towards standardisation of estimated billing for customers without meters in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Monday.
Nnaji also ruled out the possibility of waiting until meters were provided for all customers or until electricity supply improved dramatically before the new tariff would come into effect, saying the new tariff regime would increase the capacity of the Federal Government to meet the power needs of the nation.
He said, “We cannot complete metering before the adjustment in tariff. Where are we going to get the funding from? What NERC has done is to standardise estimated billing for consumers without meters.
“What is important is that the urban poor and rural dwellers are going to be provided with subsidy. There is N50bn in the budget for that. The subsidy ensures that rural dwellers, the urban poor and small scale entrepreneurs such as welders, hairdressers, and the like are not destabilised. For the middle class, there is only 11 per cent increment in tariff.”
Responding to a question from one of our correspondents, Nnaji said it was also not necessary to wait until the volume of electricity produced before adjusting the tariff, but pledged that the country would witness improved supply beginning from July.
He, however, refused to give the current volume being generated and the quantity expected in July, saying that what Nigerians were in interested in was improved supply, which would show some improvement in June before stabilising in July.
The minister hinged the improved supply on better supply of gas, beginning from June, as well as stable water supply to the hydro plants.
Nnaji said the new tariff would not only increase the capacity of the government to improve electricity, but also increase the entire value chain in the industry, including metering.
He said, “By June, there will be an increase but I don’t want to begin to make promises. What we want is, going forward, relative improvement. When we talk about megawatts, people who are seeing the light will not be happy.
“The megawatts do not give enough information. Nigeria is a country of 150 million people. While we improve power by megawatts, we want to see improvement in the number of hours that Nigerians enjoy light. That is how we want to measure it.”
“In sub-Saharan Africa, other than Zambia, Nigeria has the lowest tariff. As a result, the less you pay, the more difficult it is to generate adequate power. We want to be in the middle in tariffs within the region,” he added.
Traditional rulers’ support:
In another development, the Minister of State for Power, Mr. Darius Ishaku, has urged traditional rulers and leaders of thoughts to be veritable partners with the government to drive the ongoing reforms in the power sector.
Ishaku made the plea when he paid a courtesy visit to the Emir of Borgu, Dr. Haliru Dantoro, in New Bussa, Niger State, according to a statement made available to our correspondent by the Assistant Director of Press in the ministry, Ms Patricia Deworitshe.
Ishaku said the Federal Government was determined to raise the economy of the nation with adequate and regular power supply through the participation of investors in the power sector.
The minister said the planned tariff adjustment was designed to encourage Nigerians and foreign investors to deploy resources to the capital intensive sector, adding that there were too many important programmes and national needs competing for the limited national resources at the disposal of the government.
He said, “We are shielding the citizens from estimated billing, which forces them to pay for what they do not consume. As the new tariff regime comes into effect, government is not only ensuring metering services, but is also setting up the process to distribute energy saving bulbs.
“With energy saving bulbs in Nigeria, we will be conserving the little energy and releasing what would have been in waste back to the national grid for distribution to other areas of the economy. You are closer to the people and, therefore, must engage your subjects against being used by those who benefit from Nigeria being kept in darkness.”
The minister told the emir that new power stations would be inaugurated this year and emphasised that his visit to Kainji was to inaugurate a huge project of the Power Institute meant to instil the needed capacity in electricity workers.
In his response, Dantoro commended the resilience of those in charge of the power sector to improve and sustain the industry and promised to address his subjects on the need to cooperate with the government over the new tariff regime.