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Why Fashola, Discos oppose bill criminalising estimated billing

Contrary to the general views of Nigerian electricity consumers that power distribution companies (Discos) are deliberately avoiding metering every consumer to continue to rake in money from electricity not consumed, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission NERC) have explained why it has not been easy to end estimated billing.

Accordingly, both entities have opposed the move by the House of Representatives to criminalise estimated billing by electricity distribution companies in the country.

During a recent public hearing on the bill, all the Discos, represented by the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors, also kicked against the bill.

Business Hilights gathered that the bill, which was sponsored by the Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, had as title, ‘A Bill to Amend the Power Sector Reform Act to Prohibit and Criminalise Estimated Billing by Discos and provide for Compulsory Installation of Pre-paid Meters for all Power Consumers in Nigeria’.

But in defence of the consumers, lawmakers ignored the opposition, saying that the much that could be done was to incorporate some of the views expressed by stakeholders in the legislation.

Chairman of the Committee, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, who presided over the hearing, said it was not justifiable to continue to ask consumers to pay for power not consumed.

However, in his reason for the objection to criminalizing estimated billing, Fashola argued that it could destroy the entire power sector, adding that the financial challenges of metering must first be addressed.

Fashola stressed further that even though the Discos had a contractual obligation to provide meters, it was not their core mandate.

The minister said “I take it that we all know what is core mandate. Their core mandate is to supply energy.

“My view is that let new players be licensed to have the supply of meters as their core mandate to take the load off the Discos.”

Continuing, Fashola noted that while even criminalizing estimated billing, it is very important to do same to cases of energy theft and meter bypass, saying “otherwise both must be addressed too by prescribing heavy penalties against offenders”.

In his response, the leader of ANED, Sunday Odutan argued that “Any law criminalizing estimated billing would simply promote darkness in the country as it means that Discos must disconnect more than half of Nigerian electricity users who are yet to have prepaid meters so as to meet the conditions of the law which will amount to total darkness nationwide.