In the midst of a challenging economic climate and the persistent shortcomings of the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) in providing essential services, it appears that the public may be compelled to bear the enormous cost of procuring electricity meters valued at a staggering ₦1.005 trillion.

This predicament arises against the backdrop of the Federal Government’s poorly executed National Mass Metering Programme, which has encountered sustainability issues due to allegations of corruption and mismanagement. The program, initially supported by the World Bank and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), now faces fresh hurdles.

One of the major roadblocks relates to the planned distribution of 1.2 million meters funded by the World Bank. Unfortunately, a deadlock between the apex bank and the Meter Manufacturers and Assemblers Association of Nigeria (MMAAN) has forced the World Bank to reconsider its approach, necessitating an additional ₦40.8 billion for the project to proceed.

As the planned upgrade of existing five million meters by Distribution Companies (DisCos) draws near, concerns have arisen about calibration issues that could result in meters registering consumption at an accelerated rate. Stakeholders have questioned the capacity of the Nigeria Electricity Management Agency (NEMSA) to ensure that consumers are not unfairly billed during the meter upgrade, which should adhere to global standards.

Highlighting the persistent metering challenges in the nation’s power sector since privatization, which have exacerbated financial woes and led to opaque billing, NEMSA acknowledged receiving numerous complaints following the deployment of the first phase of the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) regarding fast-reading meters. The agency asserted that the upgrade would be closely monitored to ensure safety and quality assurance.

Regrettably, only four DisCos have successfully metered at least 50 percent of their customers, while some have achieved a mere 19 percent metering rate. Out of the 12,378,243 registered customers in the country as of March this year, only 43.31 percent (5,360,434) have received meters, leaving over 7 million consumers subject to arbitrary billing.

Furthermore, the cost of meters has surged, with a single-phase meter now priced at ₦81,975.16, up from ₦58,661.69, while a three-phase meter’s cost has risen to ₦143,836.10 from ₦109,684.36. Consequently, the public is faced with an expenditure ranging from ₦574 billion to ₦767.2 billion, depending on the type of meter needed to bridge the metering gap.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been compelled to withdraw its controversial move to freeze 157 accounts belonging to approximately 10 meter-producing companies accused of misconduct during the National Mass Metering Programme. This program was introduced by the Federal Government to mitigate public outrage over increased electricity bills.

While the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) announced plans to provide four million meters to consumers this year, the World Bank had initially intended to supply 1.2 million meters to kick-start the first phase of the NMMP.

The Performance Agreement (PA) for the Distribution Companies (DisCos), rooted in the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) through the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) of 2005, stipulates that power utility firms are responsible for metering consumers. This is the foundation for Sections 32, Sub-section D, and Section 76, Sub-section 2 of the Act, which seek to determine tariffs to achieve the liberalization legislation.

Even when the Meter Asset Providers (MAPs) policy was introduced by NERC, the commission maintained that metering all electricity consumers remained the responsibility of DisCos, as established by the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) Regulations of 2018.

Despite the failure to meet the expected average deployment of 1,640,411 meters annually over the past decade, a fund intended for the government-funded NMMP program was allegedly misappropriated as meter suppliers, DisCos, and influential figures in the sector allegedly manipulated figures.

Last year, the CBN sought a court order to freeze 157 accounts of Meter Asset Providers accused of diverting intervention funds intended for the NMMP between January 1, 2020, and March 15, 2022. The accounts of companies such as Mojec Meter Asset Management Company Limited, Integrated Power Nigeria Limited, Holley Metering Limited, and others were identified.

Some stakeholders suggest that the federal government’s handling of the NMMP resembles the Siemens deal and may have been a means to recoup investments made by MAPs in capacity. They argue that consumers should not be burdened with meter costs, even if refunds are promised.

The slow pace of meter installations, with many customers waiting months after payment without explanations from DisCos, has further complicated the situation. The lack of penalties for non-compliance with installation timelines has resulted in only a few DisCos adhering to the stipulated deadlines, with NERC largely unresponsive to complaints.

Experts suggest that the regulator should be linked to an online meter installation monitoring portal to access real-time data on DisCos’ compliance with regulatory timelines and to enforce penalties for non-compliance.

Additionally, they propose that estimated billing should be criminalized since meter bypass or tampering is a criminal offense