The General Manager, Corporate Communications of Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC), Mr. Godwin Idemudia, believes that in the next few years, power supply will improve in Nigeria, because of the government effort. In this interview with the Energy Reporter, Nigerian NewsDirect, IKENNA OMEJE, he speaks on the achievements of EKEDC since the privatization of the power sector in 2013, estimated billing, meter roll out by MAPs, average power supply to their customers on daily basis, the role the government should play in improving power supply in the country and more. Excerpts:
Can you tell us what EKEDC has been able to achieve since the privatization of the power sector?
We have achieved a lot in Eko Electricity Distribution Company. I will gladly say that we introduced different channels of payment since we came onboard in 2013; and we have made the lives of our customers easy in the sense that from the comfort of your room you can pay your bills. You can find out what the power situation is; all those things are in our website.
Then, for payment through the banks, it can be done through our website. You go in there, you log in; it can be done. So, you don’t need to come to our office to even make complaints. Once you complain online, a tag will be given to you – a number, that is to show that your complaint has been received and with that number given to you, you can always use that to know when engineers will be coming to your area to rectify the fault if it is fault or if it is supply not being regular – that is equally there. So, you monitor what we are doing online. And aside from that, we have equally introduced Rapid Response Team within our company here; whereby when issues come up, they are there. We work 24/7. We have done a lot since the sector was privatized.
The issue of estimated billing is one that you are always at loggerheads with the customers. How do you estimate those that are not metered?
Estimated billing is something you cannot completely erase, until everybody is fully metered. The reason is this: When you use electricity and you don’t have a meter, how do you now pay for it? Definitely, for the energy used, you have to pay; and for you to pay, you have to be given a bill. And how do we now get to that estimated billing? Very simple. Every transformer is metered. So, what we do is this: We check the load that goes into that particular transformer that serves your area- that is your street or where your property is located; we have the load, because we did load inventory. Definitely, tally it very well. Then, we equally check our log. What was the quantity of energy given to that area within a particular period? Because a lot of people complain about estimated billing always. We only had light for about a week in one month. The light you had in one week, sure is recorded. Then, we now look at the level of the load each houses consumed for those that have meters. So, we put all those things together to give you your estimate. That’s how we do it.
Do you think that the directive to Meter Assets Providers (MAPs) by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to begin roll out of meters from the first day of May, will solve the issue of estimated billing?
Yea! That’s the way to go, because the Federal Government introduced MAPs in order to bridge the metering gap. Because they felt that the DisCos (Distribution Companies) one way or the other could not meet the metering needs of the customers nationwide, that was why they introduced MAP. And with MAP coming onboard, the flexibility is there, the customers have the right to go to appointed vendors by the Federal Government. What that means is this: Even if you don’t want to come to us, you can apply through us, but the vendor that is appointed for each DisCos will now meter you. How do you do that? The vendor will check, is this person credit worthy? Is he owing? If you owe us, you need to clear from us, if you are not owing, definitely, the meter will be given to you within 10 days. And how does that work? The vendors have understanding with the various banks. I think the banks finance them. Once you apply for meter and you are credit worthy, a meter will be issued to you within 10 days. You have the right to pay once for the meter or you spread it over a period of 10years for that particular meter. So, you can see the flexibility is there and the burden will not be much on the customer. So, MAP is the way to go; that is the only way this clamoring for meter will end.
Some days back, you issued a statement on drop in power supply within your franchise. Has the issue been rectified?
Yea, it has been rectified. The Nigerian Gas Company in collaboration with Transmission Company of Nigeria, they have been able to rectify the fault and supply is now being giving out to customers to all the DisCos.
Also, recently you changed the designation of your marketers to Eko Field Representatives. What prompted that?
Yes, it’s about branding. When you say marketers and then EFR (Eko Field Representatives), they come in there, they carry out a lot of assignments. They are not just going to solicit for payment alone. They feel your purse as a customer, because we strongly believe that without the customer being there, we can’t be in business. So, the best thing is: They interact with you, they are to come to your residential area, ask you about our service, whether we are doing okay or not and it’s not just asking for money all the time. If you have issues when they come around, you can lodge it through them. They can equally pass that message to our offices where we will now record it officially and follow up with whatever issue you have raised. So, it’s not just about money, it’s about getting close to the customers. That’s why we changed the name to EFR.
How would you describe your relationship with your customers?
Well, in every business, it is not everybody that will like you – that is for sure, but I will say it’s good. One, on monthly basis we go round the districts. We have 10 districts under our company here; we go round them once in a month to feel the purse of the customers – that’s our town hall meeting. We always go for them to tell us how we are faring and it’s actually led by MD (Managing Director) himself. If the MD is there to listen to you as a customer, you know it’s serious business. So, where we are not doing well, they tell us too; we take note, try as much as possible when we get to our respective offices, all the issues raised at that town hall meeting we address them; and a lot of them have been commending our efforts.
Definitely too, for those that for some reasons, maybe they have transformer issues, or metering issues, they equally use that same avenue to tell us and these we cannot solve in one day. We are doing our best to improve the relationship between us and our valued customers out there.
Let’s look at the issue of energy theft. What measures are you taking to curtail it?
We have one major problem – that’s energy theft and the measures we are taking now is: One, we have created our lines – two lines for whistle blowing, because the customers are the ones to pay. Any energy going to a particular area is already metered.
Our transformers are metered, our feeders are metered. So, if you see anybody stealing energy, definitely, you need to report that person; because if you do not, you are indirectly paying for it; because that energy has gone to your area. We have people we call Nomadic Thieves. Nomadic in the sense that they are moving, like some welders. They come into your area, maybe about 12:00 when people are already sleeping, they hang their wires on top of lines. They use it to work and that machine consumes a lot; they use it to weld whatever they are doing and by 4:00am or so, they are gone – they move on to another location. That’s energy theft. So, if you notice that, maybe you come out at night or you just see them, you report to our whistle blowing lines, definitely, our men will … We are working in conjunction with the police to see to it that they help us prosecute all these people that are caught, when they steal our energy. Some equally go and tap by the transformer, not meter. So, we are doing a lot about that.
Can you tell us how many hours power supply you give to your customers on daily basis?
Well, it varies. I tell you what, there is nowhere in the country now where you have 24/7 power supply, but there is improvement, except the few hiccups we just had a week or two weeks ago. On the average, our customers get out of 24 hours, there are some 18 hours, there are some 20, there are some 15 hours. The least is about five or six hours a day, except there is a fault. And why do we do that? On a very good note, what we are expected to get, is 11 per cent of what is generated nationwide from the grid. It’s 11 percent we are expected to get. When we don’t get that, what do you do? The little that you are given; because we cannot give out what we don’t have. The little we are given, we try to ration it , so that every customer within our network would benefit from it. For you to be completely out for days, we do not, except there is a fault, we do not allow that to happen. So, on the average, at least 6 to 10 hours in some areas, some 18 hours, but not 24.
How can the generation companies, the transmission and distribution companies synergize to improve power supply in the country?
The value chain is very simple and for us to do that, we have been working with others that are in this value chain – that is the transmission and generation. I always say it to people, generation, transmission and distribution is like somebody cooking in the kitchen, the house help bringing the food to the table. The table is now the solution. If nothing comes from the kitchen, there is nothing for the house help to take. That’s how this thing works. So, if we have enough generation and the transmission is able to wheel the power that has been generated to the distribution companies, definitely, the customers will benefit from it. But if we do not get anything from the grid, there is nothing for us to give to our customers. So, from time to time, we always synergize with those on the value chain – that is generation and transmission; we work with them. At times when they have issues or the transmission have issues on their lines and we are informed, we let them know that it is better they quickly take care of it; so that customers will not start their agitation. So, that synergy is there between us.
What role can the government play to improve power supply in the country?
It’s very simple – enabling environment without stringent measures, definitely, Nigerians will benefit. If we have rules and regulations that are very drastic, it’s going to be a bit difficult. So, what we expect from the government is to have policies that will benefit the stakeholders – that’s the only thing. Good policies , not policies that will be harsh. We want the government to continuously assist all that are involved in this value chain – distribution, you know distribution is privatized, generation is privatized, transmission is there with the government. So, they need to still extend that largess , so that a level playing ground will be there for everybody to work. And I tell you the truth, I see light at the end of the tunnel – that in the next few years; Nigerians will rejoice , because the government is working seriously hard to make sure that supply in Nigeria is improved.