According to news reports, the Minister of Power, Mamman Saleh on Wednesday said the distribution of the four million free electricity prepaid meters pledged by the Central Bank of Nigeria would soon begin across the country. According to him, the government is wrapping up the distribution of its initial one million meters, which he labelled phase zero, and would soon begin the distribution of the four million sponsored by CBN, which he tagged phase two. He also noted that the Federal Executive Council approved N3bn for the execution of six major electricity projects in the country to upgrade Nigeria's electricity facilities and improve power supply across the country.
Ineffective metering remains a major drawback to the success of power sector reforms in Nigeria. While some consumers avoid paying for power consumed through meter bypass, some other consumers are made to pay for what they have not consumed through estimated billing by discos. Discos have been largely unsuccessful with metering their customers. As far as inadequate metering is concerned, Discos over time, have used this situation to their advantage via estimated billings. It appears that fully metering customers are currently being viewed as a disincentive, given that estimated bills can easily be manipulated.
According to a report by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), only 4,234,759 (40.27%) of the total customer population of 10,516,090 were metered as of 30 June 2020. Clearly, this validates the widely held view that there are a wide number of customers on estimated billing which gives room for illegal connection to the networks and in turn corrupt practices. NERC further revealed that only three out of 11 Electricity Distribution Companies in the country had metered more than 50% of electricity customers under their coverage areas as of June 2020.
Effective metering in our view is one step ahead in solving the myriad of problems embattling the Nigerian power sector. Though supposed to be unpaid for, many end customers in a bid to avoid the bureaucracy associated with getting meters have paid to get their own meters. We believe the provision of meters to all end-use customers will go a long way in ameliorating the liquidity squeeze in the power sector whilst also providing cashflows to the Discos for investment in equipment needed to evacuate unused electricity to consumers nationwide. We laud the FG's efforts at distributing meters freely to end-users, but we note that without effective penalties for erring Discos and consumers, progress may still remain very slow.