Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State said he had to intervene in the disagreement between Civil Society Organisations in the State and the Benin Electricity Distribution Company in the interest of justice, public good and stem a breakdown of law and order.
Speaking during a meeting at the Government House with executives of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) in Benin City yesterday, Oshiomhole recalled that what led to what is now globally referred to as the Arab Spring was a solo protest by a man who committed suicide.
According to him, “I called this meeting for us to talk through some of the issues raised by the leaders of the Civil Society Groups that organized some protests specifically against some of the actions of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), so I thought our role here as a State Government is basically to facilitate a dialogue between the consumers of electricity, who happen to be my employers, and have complained about the policies with regards to some charges by BEDC. I thought that we can talk through the issues and hopefully get results and resolve it in an amicable manner so it does not result into a major crisis.
“We all know how one single man started what is now known as the Arab Spring. It has consumed Governments and destabilized economies. So, when I heard people were protesting and I asked questions, I was told about money collected without services. I then appealed to my Civil Society people that we might need to engage the company and let us see how we can sort it out.
“The facts are not in dispute, there are no arguments whether or not there are fixed charges. There is no argument or not whether these charges are paid even when services are not provided. We have agreed that, that is the case. There is no argument about the fact that someone sits down and makes estimates for what he thinks that a customer ought to pay, which may be understated or overstated.
“MD, you will recall the day I had the honour of receiving you in my office, when you formally introduced your company to us. I made some statements namely that privatization will lead to greater efficiency and I remember I told you that a private service provider cannot collect money for services not rendered, and therefore the challenge of privatization and the beauty of it is that you pay only for what you consume and the service provider has certain obligations; both as a market player, but also in the eye of the law.
When I began to hear the complaints and about the protest, it just reminded me about the things that I said to you.
“For me, the issue here is not what the regulatory authority wants to do; they cannot regulate in such a manner as to compel someone to pay for something he has not consumed. If they seek to do that, they will be acting outside the law. No law in a democracy can empower anyone to collect money from anyone who has not been offered a commodity or a service. If they so legislate, it will fail, because the primary document of the country which is the Constitution states that the State must protect the citizens, so it amounts to State collaboration if any State authority, maintained by tax payers money, uses its privileged position to regulate in a way that will lead to people paying for services they did not consume.
“I understand as part of your explanation that the reason why consumers must pay fixed charges even if they don’t get electricity for months is that whether or not the power is distributed to them, someone has generated power and that person needs to be paid. I find that very laughable and completely offensive.
“The electricity regulatory Commission cannot endorse practices that bother on complete exploitation and my attitude is simple: if all the other people, the other States accept it, in Edo State we have a duty to protect our people against exploitation and we cannot endorse those practices and we reject them flat. If you generate power and you could not distribute it, why would you call on me to pay for it”, he asked.
Earlier, Managing Director of BEDC, Mrs Funke Osibodu said there are three main parties involved in power: The Generating Companies, the Transmission Companies and the Distribution Companies.
She said the fixed charge collected by the Distribution Company is for the whole chain.
She said the tariff is set by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) which engages all stakeholders before fixing the tariff. She said: “They set the tariff and then the Distribution Companies use the tariff to execute. We have highlighted that Benin was not the highest and it was not the lowest either.”
She admitted that the Distribution Company was involved in estimated billing, saying “it is true.”