UPDATE: Community sources say this dispute has been resolved. Read about it here. Continue reading our earlier story below.
Despite bragging about its anti-corruption partnership with reputable international organisation Deloitte, Ikeja Electric has found itself in a quagmire of graft, bribery, harassment, sheer inducement and intimidation of its own customers.
The corporate body is also alleged to be capitalising on the federal government’s National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) to defraud its electricity consumers.
This is according to multiple residents and sources who spoke to The Realm News about what they described as an unprecedented move by the electricity distribution company (DISCO) to use the instrument of unauthorised force against a community whose only offence was to call for dialogue.
Kajola, and its environs, is a community in the Fadeyi area of Lagos. Its residents are presently at loggerheads with Ikeja Electric over an alleged extortion saga that has been raging for years but struck an unbearable high note towards the end of 2019.
“For years, they kept serving us outrageous bills that didn’t reflect the amount of electricity we consumed,” a visibly perplexed resident of Thani-Olodo, a subsection of Kajola, told The Realm News.
The resident said she didn’t want to be identified by name for fear of being targeted by Ikeja Electric officials.
“According to Ikeja Electric’s agreement with the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), we should get at least seven hours of electricity supply each day and get an estimated billing between N12,000 and N16,000 per month,” she continued.
“But as I am speaking with you, we get less than four hours of electricity per day and get billed between N39,000 and N42,000 per month,” she said.
Another resident in the area said in order to address the issue, Kajola community appointed a committee to negotiate with Ikeja Electric as is reasonable in any civil society.
“Our power committee wrote several letters to Ikeja Electric and reported back to us via public memos,” he said.
In one of the memos dated March 31, 2020, the Kajola power committee informed the community about a letter it wrote Ikeja Electric on March 27 of that year. According to that memo, which the resident made available to us, the committee said Ikeja Electric refused to accept a March 27 letter that was delivered by hand to the disco’s Ilupeju business district.
A certain Engineer Desmond, an Ikeja Electric employee who was the Ilupeju division’s head of operations at that time, had responded to an earlier complaint and called for a meeting with the committee on March 17, 2020. But the committee said it couldn’t mobilise its members for the meeting on time as Desmond gave them only eleven hours to show up.
“Because of the short notice, we couldn’t honour the meeting and he (Desmond) concluded that we didn’t need power supply in the community,” the committee said in the public memo in which it accused Desmond of allowing his ego override the wellbeing of his clients as well as tarnish the image of his employers.
The complaint raised earlier on the issue, we gathered, followed two weeks of total blackout in Kajola and its environs.
Another public memo dated June 1, 2020, showed that the committee met with Desmond and other Ikeja Electric officials on May 28 of that year and both parties agreed on some terms and came to an understanding about further negotiations on resolving the outrageous billing crisis.
“To my shock,” the female resident of Thani-Olodo area who spoke to us earlier continued, “the outrageous billing never stopped”.
“Businesses and residents are in huge debts and are struggling to pay for what they didn’t eat even in the light of the economic hardship created by lockdowns.
“I am aware that our committee wrote several other letters to Ikeja Electric but were not acknowledged until they wrote another one on February 8, 2021, in which they threatened to drag the company to court for extorting us,” the resident said.
Ikeja Electric, we gathered, acknowledged that letter and later told the committee that it would bring the federal government’s National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) prepaid meters to the area on the condition that all debts, including ones from non-functioning meters, would be gradually deducted each time the meter is recharged.
“For instance,” the resident said, “if I load 100 units, Ikeja Electric could automatically deduct 50 or more units based on the old debts which they had agreed to reduce.”
Residents were said to have rejected the plan and suggested that Ikeja Electric upheld the agreement reached with the community earlier. They, through the power committee, also proposed that only 30 or 40 per cent of prepaid meter recharge units be automatically deducted to gradually settle a new debt structure agreed with the company.
The move, checks by The Realm News showed, was in line with Ikeja Electric’s dispute resolution policy through which electricity consumers can resolve disagreements with the disco.
In an allegedly corrupt contravention of that policy, Ikeja Electric, on March 30, 2021, was said to have arranged a meeting with the committee and some “boys in the area”.
During that meeting, a reliable source said, the Ikeja Electric’s Ilupeju district’s marketing managers’ supervisor, Funsho Odebiyi, was said to have offered to wipe off the electricity debts of each member of the power committee and executives if they helped convince the community to buy into the idea.
The selectively cancelled debts, the source said, would then be transferred to the rest of the community while the power committee members and executives get clean slates.
“But the members of the committee refused, saying that they were entrusted with that responsibility by the community and it would be evil for them to betray their own people,” the source said.
Another source in Akoka area of Lagos said Ikeja Electric is notorious for using this “bribery tactic” to weaken community committees that try to negotiate with it, and exploiting that weakness to impose extortionist terms on communities once their committees are compromised. The source, however, said he didn’t know if the committee in his own area has been “bought off” in this way.
The Realm News gathered that Ikeja Electric officials from Ilupeju business district have being going about Kajola, telling residents to buy prepaid meter forms for N1,500. The move contravened the company’s anti-corruption and whistleblower policy, which is driven by its relationship with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a multinational “Big Four” accounting and auditing corporation whose reputation could be tarnished by any partnership with an organisation accused of, or indicted for, corrupt practices. The federal government and Ikeja Electric have repeatedly used official channels to inform Nigerians that no one should pay a dime for the forms or for the prepaid meters. But the reality on the ground point to a different tale.
“That is not all,” the Thani-Olodo resident told The Realm News, “I learnt that since our committee refused to take bribes from Ikeja Electric, the company decided to use a local warlord to impose the prepaid meters and the old, outrageous debts on us.”
“We asked for dialogue but Ikeja Electric decided to intimidate us with violence. I have never seen anything like this in my life.
“They want the warlord to arrange boys who will go about with Ikeja Electric officials to force residents into taking the prepaid meters and the outrageous debts. And they want us to fill the NMMP (National Mass Metering Programme) forms without first reaching an agreement with us as stipulated.
“Ikeja Electric even used one of their official channel to send members of the community a text message summoning us to a meeting at the warlord’s house,” she said.
The resident showed us the text message which read:
“Dear Esteemed Customer,
You are invited for Debt Dispute Resolution (DDR) as a prerequisite to get metered under the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP). The DDR is to ensure a seamless metering registration process.”
The message also contained the residential address of the said warlord. According to the text, the meeting would hold by 10am on Saturday, April 3, 2021 (today).
“Our community is actually serviced by Eko Electric which, unlike Ikeja Electric, has not been having supply issues,” the resident said.
“But in an obvious move to frustrate us and drag us to the Saturday meeting, Ikeja Electric informed Eko Electric to starve us of power supply. Ikeja Electric sent community members a bulk SMS message informing us about a total blackout caused by some technical fault. But Eko Electric have, for the past five days, been giving us five minutes of power supply two times in every 24 hours, showing that there was nothing wrong with our power source.
“Ikeja Electric officials have also been telling the members of our community that the power supply was okay from Eko Electric’s end but that they would not supply us until we receive the fraudulent conditions of the prepaid meters.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.
“We want to appeal to the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government of Nigeria to save us from Ikeja Electric before they kill us with extortion and violence,” she said.
The alleged intimidation move began after a certain Idris replaced Desmond as head of operations of Ikeja Electric’s Ilupeju business district, we gathered.
We are still trying to reach Kajola power community and Ikeja Electric for comments. This story will be updated when we do.