In a way most of us are hostages of service providers in Nigeria. They have us over a barrel. The rule that customer is king doesn’t apply here. Your charges just go up but the services provided only deteriorate. We all feel powerless to do much about the rubbish they dish out to us. Yes, there are consumer protection organisations. But who has the time to waste on what, in most cases; turns out to be a fruitless effort.
Service providers are not only those who provide airtime for your phone; or provide internet access for you. Government and its agencies are also service providers. So, when taxes are heaped on us by various arms of government for services they promise to render but do not; they are as guilty of taking us for a ride just as the private sector providers.
At the time the Buhari government put the 2020 federal budget together; it transpired that the estimates had been partially based on an increase of 2.5 percent (from five percent); on value added tax, VAT, a consumption tax.
The argument had always been that among its peers, VAT in Nigeria was among the lowest. Comparison was made with Ghana where VAT is 12.5% and with South Africa where it is 15%. Nevertheless, there was no attempt by the government to consult with stake holders on this issue. Not even any pretence. And without a whimper, our pliant National Assembly passed budget 2020 into law; and weaponised the undiscussed and unapproved value added tax. With the increase, 7.5 percent VAT is now being charged on goods and services in the country.
No one can argue that compared to many other countries, VAT in Nigeria was not low. It was. But today’s economic circumstances ought to give any government cause for pause; before it heaps more misery on the people. With coronavirus raging across the world and devastating economies, there may be more misery to be heaped on Nigerians.
Basket prices of crude oil are crashing in the international market. Also, landing costs of products are very low now. But it would be the uniformed Nigerian who would thump his chest; and proclaim he knows the steps government would take.
It must be clear to all of us by now that the vultures are circling; once again to devour the carcass of the naira.
They’ve been at it for the past three years of naira stability. But the noise is deafening again that it must be devalued.
Even our legislators have begun to talk about it as one of the steps to take to shore up the economy which still largely depends on foreign exchange from the oil industry. If that devaluation is done, you can only imagine what would happen to prices; particularly of petroleum products which our do-gooder economists always argue won’t affect the ordinary man; who still uses kerosene to cook.
As a matter of fact, the domino effect would be disastrous. You wonder why our governments talk about diversification of the economy to better absorb unforeseen shocks; but cannot make that leap and move us away from absolute dependence on revenues from the hydrocarbon sector.
They cannot walk their talk.
But this piece is really about how shabbily Nigerians are treated and misery heaped on us; not only by the government but also by the so-called private sector that should know better. For instance, we continue to have dropped calls and generally poor services. However, nothing happens to the phone companies but threats and raps on the knuckles from the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.
In fact, what really gets my goat is how the power sector treats Nigerians. We have come from Electricity Company of Nigeria, ECN, to Nigeria Electric Power Authority, NEPA; derisively called Never Expect Power Always by Nigerians, and then to Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN; (and they indeed held power rather than release it to consumers). But then a leopard never changes its spots, so changing the names hasn’t improved service delivery.
Indeed, things have just been getting worse.
In 2005, the Electric Power Sector Reform Act decided to unbundle PCHN into 18 successor companies; 11 power distribution companies, DISCOS, and six generation companies, GENCOS. Added is the National Power Transmission Company, TNC, then the regulatory agency, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC.
It is fair to say the consumers have just been unbundled into a more complex situation; one in which everybody passes the buck. The DISCOS blame the GENCOS and vice versa while they both blame TNC. The long and short is that Nigerian consumers are left with the short end of the stick. There is light but only occasionally and it costs an arm and a leg. While there have been attempts by the DISCOS to get an increase in the unit price of the electricity they supply us; there has been a robust resistance to those attempts.
But the DISCOS are smart. They use estimated billing to charge what they want. Although NERC capped what the discos should charge consumers via estimated billing; especially if they don’t provide prepaid meters to their customers; the charges are still ridiculous and extortionate and there seems to be no remedy for consumers.
You can complain many times, write letters, send emails, send texts and even visit your local Disco’s office; you’ll get no joy. You are told to pay first and promised that some officials would come to visit your home; to determine what you should be charged. You better believe nothing is coming out of your complaint.
For a man who lives alone in a three-bedroom apartment; and who spends almost six months of the year away from Nigeria every year; my bills are virtually the same every month, whether I use electricity or not. The current one is more than 46,000 naira, yet I don’t manufacture anything in the house. I go to work every day and seldom have stay-over visitors. It is a brick wall every time I complain.
There is a stock answer you get from the officials of Ikeja Disco, which supplies electricity to my area; “Your complaints have been resolved”. Not true. On top of this, I have paid 75,000 naira for the supply of a pre-paid meter. But no dice. So, I am left carrying the can.
What is even more galling is this new willing seller, willing buyer that these DISCOS have introduced. They’ll promise you at least 20 hours of electricity daily; if you are willing to pay a cost as high as 55 naira per unit of supplied electricity.
Because those in the middle and upper classes are desperate enough to want electricity at any cost; their estates or areas enter into agreement with the DISCOS to put this into effect. I don’t know if this is legal. But it seems to me that they will be short-changing some poor areas; to make sure they fulfil the terms of those agreements.
Yet we are told that Nigeria generates at least 13,000 megawatts of electricity; evacuates about 7,000 megawatts but distributes less than 4000 megawatts. Doesn’t it make sense for the DISCOS to invest in distribution infrastructure to improve supply; and make life better for Nigerians?
There are people who have argued that those who bought the power companies thought it was another opportunity cash cow which would enable them to reap where they have not sown. I am not one to argue with this logic. At least in the telecommunications sector, there was real infrastructure investment.
Not so with the DISCOS.
On average I get 16 Dear Customer text a month about power interruption. Sometimes more. Yet the bills remain very high.
There’s no end in sight to poor electricity supply. And our governments lack the willpower to force the issue and bring in those willing to invest to rescue the power sector.
Probably what sums up the plight of Nigerians is a viral message Electricity Distribution Scam in Nigeria; which says: “You bought a pole; you bought the cable and you bought the meter. And you contributed money to buy or replace the community transformer. As soon as you have done all this, they automatically become their property. Then the fraudster electricity distribution companies will, without taking the meter reading; send outrageous bills to you for power never consumed.
‘‘And if you dare raise a question against their barefaced robbery; they will come and remove the cable you bought with your money as their property. Then you will be charged what they call reconnection fee to get your cable fixed back. And you will have to bribe their personnel to replace a melted fuse; or you will remain perpetually in darkness and still pay the bill at the end of the month.
‘‘The most heinous part of their corporate crime against the people is the revenue target they set for their personnel as to how much they intend to rob Nigerians every month…This daylight robbery from electricity distributing companies must stop.
United we stand.”
Are there many ordinary Nigerians whose experiences are different from what is in this viral message? Probably Not. So, who will take away the chains?
This toothless government?
It would be waiting for Godot. We’ll continue suffering and smiling. Apologies to the late Afro Beat oracle, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.