More than 60 percent of electricity customers in Nigeria are yet to get prepaid meters despite several metering programmes by the regulator and government interventions costing billions of naira.
Despite efforts by most Nigerians to acquire prepaid meters as a way out of what they called “crazy bills”, data sourced from the latest report by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) showed the number of power consumers who lack meters has risen to over 7.8 million.
The regulator said that of the 12,542,581 registered energy customers as of March 2022, only 4,740,114 (about 37,79 percent) have been metered.
This implies that a total of 7,802,467 power users are without meters and receive estimated bills; meaning, out of every 10 registered electricity customers, six are still on estimated billing, which has contributed to customer apathy towards payment for electricity bills.
“If these figures are anything to go by, it means the initiative of NERC has largely not bridged the metering gap as intended,” said Adeniyi Adeoloye, a senior energy lawyer with strong interest in Nigeria’s power sector.
He added, “Behind the figures are humans who mostly struggle to pay the estimated bills delivered to them by the distribution companies.
“There is a need for NERC to come up with a more robust implementable metering policy to overcome the metering gap.”
NERC’s report showed a total of 85,510 meters were installed in the first quarter of 2022, compared to the 79,978 meters installed in the fourth quarter of 2021.
“At a macro level, quarterly meter installations have been reducing as a result of the winding down of the National Mass Metering Programme phase 0,” NERC said.
By comparison, the net metering rate dropped from 45.40 percent as at December 2021 to 37.79 percent in March 2022.
“This can be explained by the constant updating of DisCos (distribution companies) customer base information as a result of ongoing customer enumeration,” NERC said.
Sunday Oduntan, executive director, research and advocacy of the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors, questioned NERC for releasing Nigeria’s metering data for Q1 2022 in January 2023.
“A lot of things have changed from March 2022 to January 2023,” Oduntan said.
Beyond the lack of real-time data, Oduntan also blamed rising foreign exchange, the growing cost of living and the unwillingness of those who can afford it to avoid paying the exact cost of their power consumption.
Experts query why a number of the initiatives by the federal government have struggled to close the metering gap in the country, with estimated billing still a major issue for customers without metering devices.
In 2018, the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) scheme was introduced by the regulator, in conjunction with private sector players, to provide customers with prepaid meters as a way of resolving the issues of the estimated billing system in Nigeria.
Under the MAP programme, meters are sold to customers, in line with arrangements made by private companies and NERC. Two years later, NERC and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) launched another ambitious programme called National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) in August 2020.
In conjunction with the Presidential Power Task Force, the N120 billion initiative, where about 6 million meters are expected to be given to consumers on the account of the distribution companies, was expected to bring an end to arbitrary billing of customers.
However, the CBN, on July 20 2022, asked the Federal High Court in Lokoja, Kogi State, to freeze accounts belonging to 157 MAPs for allegedly diverting funds meant for the procurement of prepaid meters.
Kunle Olubiyo, president of Nigeria Consumer Protection Network and coordinator of Power Sector Perspectives, said corruption is frustrating the federal government’s planned mass metering scheme.
“I am telling you based on information from informed sources. And as I speak with you now, there is no institution of government that is coordinating this National Mass Metering Programme. Is it the prerogative of the CBN?” Olubiyo said.
Two weeks ago, the management of BEDC Electricity Plc raised the alarm over the whereabouts of the meters provided by the federal government under the NMMP to the company.
Henry Ajagbawa, the company’s managing director and CEO, said: “We cannot account for the free meters obtained from the federal government under NMMP.”
Read also: PHED set to detect meter bypass with hitech
“Everything about the NMMP meters sent to BEDC is shrouded in secrecy. As the head of the new management team, I have ordered a forensic audit to look into it,” Ajagbawa told the News Agency of Nigeria.
In the race to close the country’s metering gap, findings showed the federal government is planning to deploy six million meters in the first and second quarters of 2023.
According to a December 2022 document on the review of the performance of the power sector under the current administration, the government said it had successfully executed a metering initiative post-privatisation with one million meters rolled out in the first phase of the NMMP.
Abubakar Aliyu, minister of power, said the CBN and NERC were fundamental in designing and implementing the programme.
“The first phase generated 10,000 jobs in installation and assembly and we anticipate over 20,000 additional jobs would be generated in the second phase. Both the phases have sustainable financing structures,” Aliyu said.
He said the government was also establishing a Meter Service Fund that would allow for continuous metering in the Nigerian electricity supply industry.