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With the right behavior, commitment, Nigeria can achieve regular power supply – Ezeh

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Mr. Emeka Ezeh is the Head, Corporate Communications, Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC. In this interview with ADA NWANAGUM, he looks at the challenges faced by the company since its inception, efforts made to surmount some of the challenges, and progress made so far. Excerpts

From the inception of the current National Mass Metering Project, what progress has EEDC made in ensuring that its teeming customers are metered?

We commenced the deployment of meters under the National Mass Metering Project late January, 2021. All efforts have been geared towards ramping up the pace at which we’re deploying the meters. I can say that we have metered over six thousand customers (6,000) so far, and efforts are being made to increase the number of customers metered.

By the end of March this year, we expect that we’ve done about twenty thousand (20,000). Hopefully, by the end of April, 2021, we expect to have deployed more. The management of EEDC has also supported the metering team by recruiting more installers, and providing other required needs to facilitate the metering process.

The NMMP is a very welcomed development, and we commend the federal government for the initiative which is geared towards closing the metering gap in the sector, and for assisting distribution companies to get their customers metered. It is also important to note that the federal government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, advanced loans to distribution companies, to acquire prepaid meters and deploy to their customers.

It is an ongoing exercise, and we are pushing to make sure that the target is met. It is also important to state that the Office of the Vice President, the CBN, and other stakeholders are interested in this exercise, as they are updated on the progress on a weekly basis, where targets are set and reports of progress presented to them. So, it is an exercise that I will say is moving on fine.

This issue of mass metering is informed by the need to ensure that customers no more complain about estimated billing. So, once the meters are out there, there won’t be any case of estimated billing anymore. Remember that those in the estimated billing platform are those customers that are not metered, but are enjoying the services.

So, if you are enjoying the service, somehow, you have to pay, and we have a guide on how we bill customers that are not metered. We are hopeful that by the time we are through with the mass metering exercise, customers under the estimated billing platform will no longer exist; then, we will now have ample time to meter new customers.

We hope that the federal government will continue to support us through this project, because the number of meters at the moment is not enough to close the metering gap. But what we have on ground is a good step in the right direction. We are hopeful that before we are through with the meters available, maybe, more will come in; so that we will further close the metering gap.

Is there any available data on the number of customers metered already by EEDC, and the number yet to get the service?

Part of the challenges we are encountering as an enterprise is quality of data. You might also be aware that we’ve commenced what we call customer enumeration and asset registration exercise. This is an initiative that will help us identify and take head count of customers using our services. We realize that a whole lot of people are using our services; but few pay for the services.

What the customer enumeration exercise has done is to help us identify these individuals and organizations that are in the network or connected to the grid, and are using our services. The customer enumeration has, in a very great way, helped us identify these areas.

It has also helped us in deploying resources, and embarking on some network expansion projects. Under this customer enumeration exercise, we capture our customers, both individuals and organizations. We also capture the infrastructure serving them, such as the transformers and feeders, as well as the lines they are feeding from.

It is a detailed project. We have the GIS image of the South East, and we are using it to capture all these areas. Every customer and building has a unique identification number. And there are some other applications that we’re already putting together that would ease the process of getting to these customers and identifying what their issues are from a remote end. So, I will say that the customer enumeration exercise is helping us address this issue of head count you are talking about.

What constraints does EEDC encounter distributing prepaid meters to its teeming customers?

Before the introduction of mass metering program, funding has always been our major problem, because, the fund that we need to meter all our customers is not readily available. The metering gap is quite huge, and funds have been a major constraint.

It is also difficult for us to access loan. This is because, there is no bank that can advance loan to us as an enterprise, because, we are not bankable. That makes it difficult for us to source funds from anywhere. The only source of revenue for us is from the electricity we market and distribute; but such revenue or income has not been adequate for us to be in this business and service our teeming customers.

Time is also another factor. Even if we have all the funds now for the project, we equally need time to do this. Metering is a process. The meter we are deploying is not something you just pick and install. There are some processes that would take place before any meter leaves for installation. For instance, the customer details will be installed in the meter; we also ensure communication is established with the meters before they are deployed. If these things are established, the meter can then leave for installation. If there is no communication, the meter cannot leave.

What challenges does EEDC encounter servicing customers at the rural areas, especially those that are not metered; most of them not readily willing to pay for services provided for them?

Major challenge we encounter providing services to the rural people is poor attitude towards payment of electricity bill. Those categories of customers find it difficult to pay for services EEDC provide; yet, they enjoy the services.

They enjoy good and quality services; but the revenue coming out of such services cannot sustain the services we provide for them. This is a major concern. Even for some of them that have distribution transformer meter in place that records their energy consumption, we still find them not meeting up with their obligations.

Many countries of the world, including 3rd world countries, enjoy constant power supply. Is there any hope for Nigeria to get there?

Certainly, there is the hope that Nigeria will get it right in no distant time. Wherever there is the will, there is hope. Some of the countries you are referring to, if you look at their population, it is not even up to the population of one state in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country of over 200 million people, and still counting. So, our electricity consumption capacity cannot be compared to those countries you are referring to.  But I will answer your question by saying that there is hope that Nigeria will get to the era and stage where it will start to enjoy regular and uninterrupted power supply.  What Nigerians need is to be sincere with ourselves.

Most of these countries you are referring to are patriotic to a very large extent that they pay their bills; they do not tamper with or vandalize their power installations. But here, we record cases of vandalism on a daily basis. We record cases of customers bypassing prepaid meters; cases of people using electricity but not paying for services received, and cases of people building houses and connecting their houses to the network without authorization or following due process. 

So, a lot of factors are working against us in Nigeria. So, until we come to terms with ourselves, and agree to do things the way we are supposed to do, we will continue to have issues with power supply. But once we agree as a people to move forward, we will certainly move forward, and we will get to the point and level those countries with constant electricity have gotten. So, people have to do the right thing.

Don’t steal or destroy electricity installations; pay your bills because all these add up to the challenges we are having in generating and distributing regular power in Nigeria.

Despite efforts by EEDC to improve on its services, there are still pockets of complaints from customers about the quality of services. What is your take?

Of course, at this stage, we are not expecting total absence of complaints. As you are aware, most of the installations have been in existence for over two decades, and some of them need to be improved upon. We are tackling the problems by providing up-to-date facilities; despite the financial constraints.

There are lots of network expansion projects that we commissioned sometime in December, 2020. About 30 projects were identified in the network; some of them have been awarded; some of them delivered, and customers are currently enjoying the benefits of these investments.

In the area of transformers, we have procured 180 units of transformers of different ratings, to help address issues of failed transformers and overloaded transformers. We are also doing re-conducting and upgrading of our lines to get them deliver reliable power to our customers. We have a lot of grounds to cover; but gradually and steadily, we shall get there.

A lot of customers, who have one issue or the other, had reported their inability to communicate with the electricity company, due to, maybe, lack of medium to do so. How is EEDC addressing this?

Part of what we have done in this regard is that we created channels through which our customers can reach us to let us know about their concerns, and we work towards addressing them. We try as much as possible to open our doors to customers, because, they are the reason why we are here.

Without the customers, we have no business being here. So, any challenge they have should be of concern to us. But we also require them to use the established channels to lodge these complaints. Some of them will tell you that they have reported their problems; but there are people dedicated to take customers’ complaints and escalate same to the appropriate quarters; but if you take such complaints to the wrong person, there is every possibility that such complaint will not be addressed.

Before now, we have customer service representatives at the district offices; but now, we have expanded the scope and now have them also at the service centres.

We have also set up a 24/7 call centre where customers can call and lodge their complaints via 084700100. We have an e-mail platform [email protected]. We are also active on social media, where customers can get us to lodge their complaints, so that we can get it across to the appropriate quarters, and come back to them with feedback.  We can be reached on Facebook and Twitter via @enugudisco. While on Instagram via @enugu_disco. So, these are channels through which customers can reach us. They can also do us formal letters. We always encourage customers to do us letters, as they can be used as reference.

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