The incessant reports of attacks on staffs of electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos), which in most cases, occur in the course of carrying out their lawful duties have become a source of worry to many stakeholders in the industry, including this medium.
In the same vein, the industry regulator, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), has severally expressed its disdain for the persistence of these nefarious acts.
To this end, the Commission has severally and on many occasions, advised electricity consumers to explore its complaint and redress mechanism; rather than resort to jungle justice in settling disputes with officials of electricity distribution companies (DisCos).
Unfortunately, available evidence suggests that a great number of these attacks occurs when staff of the DisCos are trying to ratify anomalies such as electricity theft.
A case in mind is the video currently trending on social media of a group of young men in a neighbourhood within Lagos pulling off a ladder which a staff of a DisCos was climbing to carry out his lawful duty.
That unfortunate incident is a reminder of a similar one which involved a staff of Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC), Mr Abayomi Ololade who sustained injury after a violent attack on him by electricity consumers in Ajele area of Lagos Island.
Ololade who was reported to have been thrown off the ladder and beaten to a pulp while disconnecting some consumers in the area was hospitalised for months. But thank goodness for the benevolent spirit and insurance policies of the company, it could have been worse.
Although, he was handed a cheque of N1.7 million for the settlement of his hospital bills, the pain and scare resulting from the attack remain indelible.
Such incidents are not limited to Eko DisCos as there have been reported attacks across the country. In March 2019, the management of Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC), reported an ugly incident of hoodlums attacking its staff with dangerous weapons, shoting sporadically into the air before forcefully gaining access to its office in Ilesha.
The bitter tales emanating from these ruckuses do not augur well for advancement of a business relationship, especially when it involves an essential services like electricity.
Interestingly, appeals from the regulatory agencies, DisCos and other stakeholders against the attacks on staffs of electricity distribution companies seem to be falling on deaf ears.
At a point, it was claimed that the refusal of DisCos to issue meters to consumers was responsible for the unpalatable occurrences. Hence in 2016, NERC directed the DisCos to provide meters for all customers within their networks.
But further probe indicates that electricity theft is largely responsible for the rancour that usually result in the battering of DisCos staffs in line of duty.
As Mr Yahaya Usman, an Abuja- based lawyer squarely puts it, “Electricity theft is one of the most rampant criminal offences in the Nigerian electricity industry which unfortunately has been flagrantly turned to a norm, despite the fact that the applicability of laws which prohibit the act subsists.”
According to electricity theft information booklet of Abuja Electricity Distribution plc, electricity theft occurs through various schemes, which usually include: Direct connection to overhead low tension distribution cables; by-passing or circumventing the meter so that it does not measure the load being consumed; tampering or interfering with the meter so that only a small load is connected to it while the rest is connected directly to the supply behind the meter; and tampering or interfering with the meter to make its reading inaccurate.
This offence is said to include non-settlement of bill by consumers, this shows that the acts which constitute electricity theft cannot be estimated.
Admittedly, it is a wrong belief of electricity consumers in Nigeria that the electricity theft only affects or shortchanges the distribution companies, but the case is that, the consequence of it ,either directly or indirectly extends to the entire nation. Electricity theft as a crime causes dangers to the people, their property, electrical system and the economy at large.
For instance, as to its danger to the people, the illegal connections to power lines are not in any way safe, they cause severe electrical hazards.
This is because the installation has not been carried out by professionals, which makes it dangerous for anyone who comes into contact with it. This also destroys property , and affects the stability of electrical system; which usually leads to electrical system failure.
It is saddening, when Nigerians blindly ignore their rights as consumers, and consider electricity theft as a viable alternative to expressing their challenges on failure of electrical system.
It is an established fact that, for every offence there is a punishment. Theft of electricity is a crime punishable under section 10 of Miscellaneous Offence Act.
Meanwhile, investigations by EnergyDay revealed that the normal procedures to follow by customers for any irregularities that occur are not religiously followed; while some customers even refuse to lodge any complaint, but prefer to take the laws into their hands and commit illegality.
We are convinced that, the challenge with electricity consumers in Nigeria is that some do not know their rights, and those who claim to know these rights, do not know when and how to enforce them. Hence they commit a lawful act through an unlawful means.
We, therefore, suggest that both NERC and DisCos should embark on frequent enlightenment campaigns with the aim of educating their customers on how to go about issues of irregularities such as over-billing, electrical system failure and the likes, and the danger which resides in electricity theft.