ONE MORE FEEBLE VOICE AGAINST THE ELECTRICITY CABAL
One of the issues I believe should not be discussed anymore in this nation, Nigeria, is that of electricity. Other than that it has received too much attention in our national life without commensurate results, it is also only fair that President Goodluck Jonathan should be given a chance to wave his magic wand in that direction. After all, he has chosen to retain that ministry, a sign that he takes the need of electricity quite seriously. Moreover, he had told CNN and the world that our greatest need is ‘power‘. Maybe, the president could demonstrate the seriousness of this need by declaring the long-awaited state of emergency in that sector.
That electricity is one of the biggest, if not the biggest need of this nation can no longer be over-emphasized. That it has gulped colossal amounts of money from our national treasury is not news either. That keeping Nigeria in perpetual darkness has made multi-millionaires of those who matter, and is still swelling the bank accounts of a select few is also not news. And by all means, let them get rich. I am even thinking of getting into the generator business, even if it is as a mechanic. And so many more juicy opportunities present themselves daily in that sector as the darkness deepens.
So why am I talking about this issue again? The reason is simple. I HATE INJUSTICE AND EXPLOITAION. It’s that simple. I may manage to stomach some when I‘m the sole victim, though with great efforts. But watching it done to others snaps something in me. And there’s so much injustice and exploitation in this country, so much so that everything in me just keeps snapping! And this has conspired with the unbearable heat to deny me of much needed sleep. So let me speak out. But right now, I will only speak out about electricity and the cabal that is statutorily entrusted with managing it.
I have deliberately chosen to use the word ‘cabal’, since it had become the most prominent word in the dictionary of Nigeria in the recent past. Even the National Assembly had taken Legislative notice of it. The Federal Executive Council had also taken executive notice of it as well. It is therefore obligatory on all Nigerians to understand that word. Yes there is a cabal that has hijacked electricity from Nigerians. I may not know how high in the echelon of power this goes, but since it is surviving still, then it has connections, or might even be the connection itself. But I will speak from the simple perspective of the everyday consumer, who is the most hit; the most exploited.
This cabal is better known as NEPA. Forget PHCN, it is a mere attempt at escapism. They tried selling us a new name so we’ll think it’s all new, but it’s the same people doing the same thing. And there’s NEPA in our genes already, so we can’t take it out that easily. How else will my little girl’s first word ever be "epaaaah!", and that is usually when the electricity goes out (and the few times it comes on even if by my cranky generator). So NEPA it is for me.
Why has it become so impossible for anybody to get a correct metre reading? Why, like Charley Boy told us a few years ago in a certain commercial, are we made to pay for bananas that we don’t eat? How come for a whole month one does not see electricity in their homes and offices, except the one they generated by themselves at the cost of cranky generators (vandalized by the mechanic), expensive fuelling (almost double the official pump price), reduced life expectancy (considering the danger of daily consuming toxic fumes, being subjected to severe noise pollution, and the risk of explosions, which end up killing us at a much younger age than our ancestors) and environmental pollution? Yet at the end of the month, they receive a bogus bill! How does whoever arrive at how much, when there’s even ‘no much’ in the first place? Then when, after one month, you now see electricity, you also see a truck carrying ladders and thugs, who now cut down your cables because you did not pay the bills for the month that you did not consume since you had no supply in the first place. You are shocked. You now trim your budget, cutting down food for your family, delaying school fees, going for Panadol instead of hospital (that is even if the doctors are not striking), parking your car, etc. All so you can have some money to settle NEPA, which will include reconnection fee. You take a month to raise this money, while you either remain in darkness or keep generating your own electricity and suffering the adverse health implications. Just when you go and pay up, the same team comes along with a new bill for the past month you did not consume. They reconnect and disconnect again, and the whole cycle begins all over again. Frustrating!
Why are we made to pay for bananas that others eat? Why are we made to pay for bananas with our meager resources so as to benefit other people who already have more than enough, and are even throwing away? How much electricity do we really consume?
Then there is the factor of community efforts. This is one of the biggest scams being perpetually perpetuated by this mafia cabal, NEPA. The situation in my neighborhood is a good reflection of what a lot of communities are suffering.
I used to think it is only the Power Holding Company (I meant NEPA) that is empowered to collect bills. But the Landlord Association in my neighborhood collects bills constantly for the same electricity that NEPA also collects for. And they too can disconnect you. They actually disconnected my supply some weeks ago! I thought tampering with electrical equipments by unauthorized personnel used to be a crime in Nigeria. Anyway, they came at about 10:30 pm, just the day electricity had been restored after God knows how long, and it was like a special military squad on special assignment, even though it was one of the landlords leading a bunch of area thugs. They were armed with their ladders and equipments, plus very stern faces and abusive arrogant tongues. Swiftly, they climbed the pole and yanked down the wires. Reason? They claimed I owed some thousands, which should have been my part of the money that had been contributed by everybody in the neighborhood for the acquisition, repair and maintenance of a transformer, cables, fuses and other such electrical equipments. I was even shown some neatly typed sheets of paper that detailed the expenditures. The amount of money was astounding! And it was not a one-time thing, but a billing system that spanned a few years! And for as long as the money was not paid, my supply remained disconnected. When eventually there was no choice than to pay, they even demanded for a reconnection fee!
If NEPA so unjustly bills us for the bananas that we don’t eat, why are the Landlords also exploiting us? The answer is simple. These Landlords are agents of NEPA, in a marriage of mutual profit. I’m not sure if these Landlords even know to what extent themselves are being exploited, but since something comes out of it for them, it’s worth all the zeal.
So how does the cabal run this mafia? NEPA goes and vandalizes the equipment, especially the transformer. The Landlords lodge a complaint. NEPA says there is no money to fix the problem, since the people up there are not willing to release funds. But if the landlords want electricity, they can contribute and pay the cost of repair and maintenance. The cost is given the Landlords, and they in turn share it out according to the number of houses. Each house then bills each tenant to raise the needed amount. Of course the Landlords can also add something to it. The large sum is now given to NEPA, who now ‘fix’ the problem. Electricity is restored, and my little girl can say ‘epaaaah’ again. Just give it a week or two, and something ‘goes wrong’ again, and the cycle begins all over. Now if the community does not help itself, it remains in darkness, but as for bills, they will, and must still pay. If the problem persists for three months, the bills will still come for those three months and the consumers must pay for those three months! So heads or tails, NEPA wins and we lose! No wonder we never have electricity! O wretched Nigerians that we are. Who will deliver us from this diabolic cabal called NEPA? For how long shall we groan under this yoke?
Is it not possible for an act of the National Assembly to be promulgated that can deliver us from paying for bananas that others are eating (that is if they can forget their personal greed for a while and think of the people who sent them there)? Can’t we make it a law that every consumption point be fitted with Pay As You Go meters? Even if we are made to make a one-time payment for these meters, we should prefer that to perpetuated slavery. This is where our hard-working legislators, who desperately need to be appreciated with a few more hundreds of millions in allowances annually, and also passionately have the deep interest of Nigeria and its citizens at heart, can come to our aid and deliver us from a known cabal.
Is it not possible to set up a task force that will include members of communities to monitor the activities of NEPA officials? Is it not also obvious that NEPA (Power Holding Company of Nigeria needs PHCN) needs to be probed? If a panel is set up and petitions are invited, I’m sure thousands on Nigerians will shock the nation with their petitions.
Do we not desperately need the immediate deregulation of electricity instead of petroleum products? If there is competition in the electricity sector like we have now in telecommunications, won’t NEPA become as irrelevant and forgotten like the once "NITEL Almighty"?
Maybe someone can help my little girl learn to say 'dada' and ‘mama’ instead of just 'epaaah!'