Outrage in Enugu over EEDC’s new metering policy as CSOs, residents asks Buhari to call them to order

Outrage in Enugu over EEDC’s new metering policy as CSOs, residents asks Buhari to call them to order

…Human rights lawyer drags EEDC to court

By Chukwuemeka Chimerue

ENUGU— The Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC, have come under serious condemnation and attack after it introduced a new metering policy, ordering Enugu state residents to purchase a ‘single phase meter’, following the phasing out of the ‘stand-alone prepaid meters.’

As a result, there is currently a public outcry and uproar in the state as residents returning from Christmas and New Year holidays were harshly confronted with the new policy which barred them from purchasing electricity recharge pin code for their prepaid meters.

According to the policy, residents were tasked by EEDC to purchase the new estimated smart meter which costs ₦39,000 for the single phase meter and ₦70,000 for the double-phase meter, before they could regain access to electric power supply.

However, in a joint press briefing on Tuesday by the Coalition of Civil Societies Organization, CSOs, in Enugu and the Enugu State Concerned Citizens, the groups called on President Muhammadu Buhari to call the EEDC to order, saying that residents of the state and South East in general would resist the ‘unhealthy imposition of a new metering regime in the zone.’

Comrade Igboke Onyebuchi, leader of the civil society coalition in the state, who described the new metering policy as arbitrary, insensitive, evil, fraudulent and outrageous said many electricity consumers were unaware of the policy which was recently introduced, vowing that it would be vehemently resisted.

According to him: “The Coalition of Civil Societies Organization in Enugu is calling on every well meaning individuals, political stakeholders, organized private sectors, trade unions and organized labour in South East zone to rise and resist the unhealthy imposition of a new metering regime in South East as against the NERC Slight Price increase across the 11 distribution companies in Nigeria.

“We consider the manipulative move by Enugu Eletricity Distribution Company to phase-out prepaid meters in South East as evil and unacceptable by all.

“A notice claimed to have been signed by EEDC Network Manager, Mr Jyotirmaya Lenka, dated Dec. 16, was sneaked into consumer’s premises few days to Christmas and which many consumers are not aware up till this moment.

“The letter stated move to replace the black box pre-paid meter in use in many South East premises with pre-paid meters from Meter Asset Provider (MAP) commencing from Jan. 1, 2020.

“However, each customer may cough out about ₦39,000 and ₦70,000 for double phase to get single-phase new MAP pre-paid meters.

“The new charge they claimed is in line with MAP scheme approved by National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) that was rolled out in May 2019 across several distribution companies.

“As the residents of South East was trying to adjust in complying with NERC increase, if President Buhari fails to act on this untold hardship and planned exploitation imposed to the law-abiding citizens of South East residents, it may only confirm the belief of some certain people that Emeka Offor building of Library last year in Katsina State is now compensated by this ungodly, intentional exploitation and which may ridicule the present administration’s fight against corruption.”

Onyebuchi further directed several posers for EEDC to clarify, concerning the new metering policy, asking: “would customers repay for the new meter even though the technical inability to generate the recharge pin code is incompetence from the part of EEDC as they claim?

“Why retrieving the old meter? Are they replacing for what and deliberately failed to engage the consumers?

“Why is NERC not saying something or have they compromised?

“Why 1st of January? When people are still battling with house rent, school fees, recovering from Charismas and New Year expenses?

“Finally, we are going to resist it in the same manner Nigerians resisted fuel subsidy removal as a new gift on the 1st January 2012. All interest groups should get ready to fight this ill policy.”

Paying for another person’s property?

Piqued by the new development, the convener of Enugu State Concerned Citizens, Mr Ken Onyeka Onwu, who noted that the policy was obnoxious, intimidating, exploitative and oppressive, queried why citizens should be compelled to pay for what(meter) belongs to the EEDC.

“The obnoxious policy introduction is that every citizen or resident in the South East is expected by the EEDC to cough out a minimum of ₦39,000 or thereabout for a single-phase meter and a maximum of ₦70,000 for a double-phase meter.

“The irony of this is that after having to cough out this money to purchase a property that is supposed to be owned by a private firm, the meter so purchased will still belong to the same private firm. Where is it done?

“When has NTA and AIT come to our homes to claim ownership of our Television sets? When will MTN and Globacom come to claim ownership of our cellphones? When will MTN also claim ownership of our satellite dishes that we have purchased with our money?

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“How then do we cough out ₦70,000; such a humongous amount of money only to purchase a property that will remain property of the EEDC?” he asked.

Continuing, he said: “we’re resisting this. This is exploitation, extractive and we’re not going to let it happen.

“If the black box meter of the EEDC is malfunctional as they claim, we the consumers are supposed to be the ones to lay the complaints, not them. If they are laying this complaints, then the financial burden of replacing the meters should lie on them.”

Is the new smart meters readily available?

Raising concerns about the availability and accessibility of the new meters to users, Mr Onwu said: “You may help us to understand that these meters are not even readily available because if they are available, they will have to be given to consumers upon application but the good people of Enugu state were requested to wait for a minimum period of one month before having access to these new meters and this distribution company, EEDC, is ready to enrol all of us into the scheme they call estimation where we’re going to pay for what we’re not sure we have consumed.

“If these meters are not available and the EEDC cannot split the payment for new meter overtime for poor citizens of the South East to be able to pay without having difficulties, pains or hardship, if they cannot let us have ownership of the meters we’re going to pay for, then we’re saying ‘No’ to this policy.

“Policies are meant for human beings and we’re not going to accept this because it’s not going to be good for us as citizens of this state and as citizens of the South East.”

“We’re calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to tell us why he has not been able to revoke the licence of EEDC as they have so threatened. EEDC is nowhere in any form serving the interest of the southeasterners. We must own whatever property we are buying with our monies.

“If we’re buying the meters, we must own them. If we’re paying for the meters, we must have them ready. We don’t want to go into estimation because we have meters that are serving us very efficiently. If it is not generating efficient amount of money to them(EEDC), they should bear the financial burden of replacing them.

“If the EEDC fails to yield to the demands of electricity consumers, we’re going to resist them with all the arsenals within the civic space because Nigeria belongs to us and we own the country as citizens. EEDC should be careful, they should thread with caution and approach issues the way it ought to be,” he concluded.

Impending legal battle as lawyer drags EEDC to court

Angered by the ‘illegality’ of the sudden new metering policy, a human rights lawyer cum chairman of African Peoples Alliance, APA, Barr. Chinonso Daniel Ogbe has instituted a fundamental rights suit against the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC, at the Enugu State High Court.

The matter, filed by way of public interest litigation, and expected to be called up for mention on January 16, is to determine whether the actions and/or activities of EEDC amounts to violation of the rights of citizens/electricity consumers in the state, not to be exploited or subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment as enshrined under Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The lawsuit is also praying for the enforcement of the rights of electricity consumers and for the court to make consequential orders stopping the EEDC from embarking on its envisaged line of action.

Others joined in the suit as respondents includes the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, Deacon Okey Ogbodo and Mr Oguejiofor Nsude as representatives of Amechi-Uwani Community Development Union.

Commenting on the suit action in an address to journalists, the human rights lawyer said: “the matter is now pending before Hon. Justice Azubuike Onovo of the High Court of Enugu State and it is coming up for mention on 16th January, 2020.

“If the court gives nod to what EEDC has done for us so far, so be it. If it rules otherwise, so be it. But as law-abiding citizens, despite the provocative stance of the EEDC, I’ve deemed it fit to approach the court of law.

“We are aware that the whole of South East is involved and/or affected in the matter but we have to restrict it to Enugu state because of the issue of territorial jurisdiction. If you want to carry the entire southeastern states along, the issue of jurisdiction may come up and it may lead to the defeat of the case but that does not bar any other neighbouring states from embarking on similar line of action.”

Ogbe added that the “strange and obnoxious policy introduced by EEDC with regards to the phasing out of prepaid meters known as stand alone prepaid meters was repugnant to natural justice.

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“It is an inhumane and degrading policy which the EEDC seek to foist on the people of the South East geopolitical zone and I will like to make it clear at this juncture that it behooves on all right thinking members of the South East region to rise up and condemn this ugly development.”

Is it applicable to other geopolitical zones in Nigeria?

“As a person, I would like to know if this policy is going on in other geopolitical zones in this country and if the answer is in the negative, I then wonder why EEDC is keen on embarking on this strange policy and most importantly, some days ago, on the 2nd day of January, 2020, EEDC made a publication on their Facebook page, making this strange policy known.

“Yesterday, I was privileged to speak on air with one of the officials of EEDC and he asserted that they dispatched letters to the adversely affected consumers of electricity in the South East region and I enquired from him whether any publication or prior notice to that effect was given on their social media pages and he never gave any concrete response to that.

“In other words, this policy is a deliberate ploy to foist a state of helplessness and hopelessness on the people of the South East. As far as I am concerned, this line of action is insulting and provocative because the environment is tensed. People are not happy. There is acute poverty in the land and this policy which they seek to implement is coming on the heels of the poor practice and attitude of the EEDC over the years.

“Many people of the South East zone have been having hard times in procuring the prepaid meters, inclusive of the about to be phased out stand alone prepaid meters and I wonder how EEDC intends to make magic of working hand-in-glove with the meter access providers to issue the people meters overnight.

“What they failed, refused and/or neglected over the years, I wonder how they will now wake up. In other words, they want to force people to embrace the post-paid billing system in which they will be dishing out obnoxious charges for electricity not consumed by the citizenry,” he noted.

Calls on National Assembly to review the constitution on electricity distribution

“I also want to use this opportunity to call on the National Assembly to amend the provisions of the Nigerian constitution because these anomalies are coming on the heels of the fact that it is only the Federal Government that has the constitutional powers to embark on the distribution of electric energy in Nigeria. The state governments only have the power to generate, but not to distribute and it’s an anomaly.

“I’m calling on all the Nigerian legislators to amend that part of the constitution, so that state governments can have the powers to also generate and distribute electricity with or without the national electric grid. This will also ensure that there is an effective competition because I believe that if there is real competition in the power sector, all these anomalies won’t suffice. It won’t be taking place,” the lawyer added.

Urges FG to probe activities of NERC, EEDC

“I wish to state as far as I’m concerned that NERC as a regulatory body disappointed the people of the South East region. There are series of petitions right, left and center over the activities of EEDC and NERC has not taken any concrete action to call EEDC to order neither has it made any bold statement to checkmate this new year anomaly that EEDC is perpetrating.

“Therefore, I call on President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the Enugu NERC or better still, the NERC in the South East region vis-a-vis the activities of EEDC and I’m calling on President Buhari to revoke the licence of EEDC.

“If EEDC believes that she’s no longer making profit as a business venture, let them handover to others. There are others who are willing to come in. In the alternative, the president should look critically into the power sector. He should privatize in the true sense of it, so that there will be full competition in all ramifications, and so that others can come in and avail the people of this region with affordable and constant electric power supply because every other economic activities hovers around this particular issue. Once electricity is unaffordable and unavailable, then it affects every other sectors of the economy adversely.

“So, this policy will not stand. I, as a person, will use all legally available and tenable means to challenge it,” he concluded.

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