Nigeria’s highbrow estates are embroiled in a scandal as the Nigerian Electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) expose a disturbing surge in energy theft and meter bypass within the elite community, prompting calls for a review of existing laws to bolster prosecution and enforcement.
The Heads of Corporate Communications Department of all the 11 Distribution Companies (DisCos) in Nigeria made this known as part of the issues discussed at the 3-day capacity strengthening session on Communication and Responsiveness to Consumers organised by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) in Kano.
According to the Corporate Communication Chiefs, some affluent members of the elite society have continued to resort to illegal means to siphon off electricity, leading to significant financial losses for the DisCos, thereby posing a threat to the grid stability and drawback on the provision of electricity to consumers.
Abdulazeez Abdullahi, the Head of Corporate Communications at Kaduna Electric, highlighted that even wealthy individuals in society engage in energy theft, emphasizing the need to change the mindset that electricity is a public utility among Nigerians.
He said, “Bypass is a big issue. Even big people in society who you would think are above it also engage in energy theft. The mindset that electricity is a public utility needs to change. We need to reprogram and reorient customer mindsets.Customers need to understand that enjoying power comes with responsibilities and the obligation to pay promptly for it.”
“Currently, customers request for meters but turn around and bypass them. We have customers that have been with us for 8 years, and they will tell you that they do not know that Kaduna Electric is a private company even though their electricity bill and token show that it is. on the need for customers to pay for the electricity they consume.
“A lot of work needs to be done to change minds,” Abdullahi, Kaduna DisCo said.
Patience Ezeagu, Corporate Communications, Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, also confirmed that highbrow areas under Enugu DisCo’s franchise area are also involved in energy theft, recommending an upgrade of existing law to strengthen prosecution of customers involved in energy theft and other electricity offenses.
She said, “There is energy theft in most highbrow areas of Enugu. The Special Investigation and Prosecution Taskforce on Electricity Offences (SIPTEO) was set-up by the federal government to arrest and prosecute electricity offenders and energy theft.
“Vandalism is also a serious issue in our business. When it happens, we lose revenue, and our customers are not happy because they are not getting supply,” Ezeagu Enugu DisCo said.
Babatunde Lasaki, the General Manager of Corporate Communication at EKEDC, in his intervention told EnergyDay that energy theft has become a significant challenge for electricity distribution companies (DisCos) in Nigeria, with most DisCos recording a monthly loss of between N2 billion and N5 billion due to this issue.
The EKEDC’s spokesperson noted that energy theft is not exclusive to the poor, with some affluent individuals also being culpable.
Lasaki emphasized that despite the use of prepaid meters, energy theft still occurs, with individuals altering the facility’s operations to steal energy.
To address this issue, he therefore suggested the implementation of measures such as issuing loss of revenue invoices to caught offenders, who often prefer this route over facing prosecution in court due to the lengthy legal process.
He called for a focus on the processes involved in prosecution and strategy to eliminate energy theft, emphasizing that technology can serve as a deterrent for prospective thieves and criminal-minded individuals.
Lasaki also noted that the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has criminalized energy theft in section 94, subsection 3 of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) in Nigeria, with punishable penalties of not less than 5 to 7 years for violators.
Olubukola Ileubare, Head of Corporate Communications at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), revealed that residents of the oil-rich Niger-Delta region believe they have the right to enjoy free electricity due to their region’s contributions to the country’s hydrocarbon resources.
He said, “In the Niger Delta region, a lot of people feel that they own the oil, so they shouldn’t have to pay for electricity. There are also militants. So, we had to engage with the local communities and do sensitization campaigns. By creating awareness, things can change.”
Blessing Osaro, Head, Corporate Communications, Yola Electricity Distribution Company, YEDC, said, “Most customers think that electricity is free, but as businesses, we know that it is not free. If we give you electricity, we expect payment. We communicate that to customers.
“We also hired people who can communicate with people with disabilities to ensure that we communicate with them as well,” Osaro said.