By Engr. George Osunkwo, Metering Specialist, PHCN

Electricity consumers across Nigeria have hailed the introduction of prepaid meters by Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), claiming it has reduced the recurrence of estimated bills. A nationwide survey conducted by News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) showed that the prepaid meters were being used alongside the analogue as the meters had yet to be installed in all the states of the federation.

The Business Manager of PHCN, Awka District, Mr Emmanuel Ezeugwa, said that Anambra had a problem of consumers trying to bypass the newly introduced pre-paid meter to enjoy energy free of charge. “More than eight persons have been arrested and handed over to the police,” he said. NAN learnt that about 4,000 meters had been distributed in some sections of Awka, the Anambra capital. In the FCT, ENL Consortium, a PHCN consultant on National Prepayment Metering Programme (NPPMP), said it had installed about 40,000 prepaid meters in Abuja. “We have installed about 40,000 prepaid meters in the FCT and with 7,000 per month we are sure to cover most part of Abuja before the year ends,” he said. He said that with the decentralisation of PHCN, each state had the autonomy to choose its own prepaid meter contractor.

On tariffs, Yusuf said the billing pattern had not changed from what it used to be when the analogue system was in use, adding that “the meter reading is still 6 Naira (about 6 US Cents) per unit and Niara 4 (about 2 US Cents) per unit (Kwh) on three and single phases, respectively. While Meter Maintenance Fees (MMF) and fixed charges on single phase metre are N100 (US$ 0.66) and N30 (US$ 0.20) respectively, the MMF and fixed charges on three-phase meter are still N500 and N120 respectively.”

NAN also reports that the desire of many residents of Lagos State to get connected to the prepaid meter has been stalled by the inadequate supply of the facility. Customers preferred to be connected to the prepaid meter which they believed was more beneficial than the current analogy system.

In Abeokuta Business District, only 11,693 out of 79,000 electricity consumers have had prepaid meters installed in their houses. The Public Affairs Manager of PHCN in Abeokuta, Mr Tokunbo Peters, however, said that installation of the new meters has been temporarily suspended because of fraud perpetrated by those who already had them. “The biggest advantage of the ‘prepayment metering scheme’ is that it allows the district to collect its money in advance before delivering its product. The system also allows for the collection of a percentage of the customer’s outstanding debt each time the customer comes to purchase energy. The prepaid meter has therefore effectively eliminated the problems of customers accumulating huge debts for service delivered. It has also acted as an effective check against wasteful use of energy,” he said.

In Damaturu, Alhaji Mohammed Babakura, the PHCN Distribution Manager in Yobe, said that the Company had not received supply of prepaid meters to commence installation. PHCN has so far installed 18,500 prepaid meters in Kaduna metropolis according to the Principal Public Affairs Manager, Kaduna Electricity Distribution PLC, Mr Baba Omar. While some residents have welcomed the introduction of the new meters, others said it was another method of exploiting the less privileged members of the society. “Why should the PHCN ask us to pay for the new meter after removing the old ones which we paid for?” asked Malam Bello Umar of Narayi Low Cost Housing Estate.

But in Kogi, the Manager of Lokoja Business District, Mr Tanyi Sama, said that the prepaid meters would be introduced in the area in the next three months. He said demands for the meters from the public and contractors were on the increase, adding that the contractor handling the Lokoja ultra-modern market had requested that all the stalls be fitted with the meters.

Katisina State also has not started enjoying the new meters as the facility was yet to reach electricity consumers in the state. Investigation conducted by NAN showed that consumers were willing to use the prepayment meters instead of the analogue system which, according them, led to billing anomalies. Some of the electricity consumers, however, said that even though they preferred the prepaid meters, getting stable power supply was what they wanted most.

PHCN spokesman in Katsina, Alhaji Iddris Kofar-Wambai, attributed the delay of the introduction of the system to the fact they are taking a phased approach in the Kano zonal electricity distribution office. PHCN had mapped out areas for the introduction of the meters and appealed to electricity consumers to await the completion of the exercise. PHCN has installed 2,398 prepaid meters in Gombe metropolis, the PHCN Business Manager in Gombe, Alhaji Ibrahim Zanna, told NAN. PHCN had 40,305 customers in the state.

NAN reports that PHCN, with its consultant, Apha Consortium, had commenced the installation of the prepaid meters in the zone in March 2007, having installed 17,974 as at January 31. Many electricity consumers in Kano have rejected the prepaid meters introduced by the PHCN in the area, saying that the device “frustrates” their energy needs. Consumers complained that “electricity units run faster in the new meters, when you compare it with how they move in the old meters”.

A PHCN official in Umuahia told NAN, on condition of anonymity, that arrangements had been concluded to introduce the prepaid meters in that state. Consumers in Maiduguri would soon join the network of users of the new system as the PHCN has completed plans to begin the installation of the new meters. PHCN has taken delivery of 600 units of the meters from the Zaria-based Electricity Company of Nigeria (EMCON).

According to data provided by PHCN, only 72 out of 64,000 consumers in the state capital have made payments for the meters. But in Bayelsa, the installation of the new system may take sometime as the state government was still paying for electricity consumed by its residents.

A PHCN official told NAN that: “We cannot introduce prepaid meter system because we are not dealing directly with the consumers. The state government pays in bulk to PHCN for electricity consumed”. The Energy Commissioner, Chief Diekivie Ikiogha, said the Bayelsa government would soon introduce prepaid meters for its own agencies, corporate organisations and commercial outfits. The government, according to him, pays between N45 million (US$ 300 000.00) to N50 million (US$ 333 000.00) monthly to PHCN for the bulk supply of power to the state. NAN reports that since the creation of the state in 1996 electricity has been supplied free to residents through the state’s Independent Power Plant at Imiringi.