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Last week we examined a flurry of ‘signs and wonders’ from our electricity distribution companies alias DISCOs. Those of us of the old order (who are nearer to where they are going than where they are coming from), know very well that disco was all about dancing. These electricity DISCOs are also dancing, except that their dance steps are weird and out of the tune with the music and with the expectations of their patrons, the customers.
These strange dance steps are in the form of audacious thievery through estimated billing, excuse-based customer relations management strategy, general service failure and inability to profitably exploit the huge market, which was why they jumped into the disco bandwagon in the first instance. They also have this wicked tendency to blackmail customers with power disconnection and this is more worrisome because the disconnection would occur whenever there is light and this may be the only day there has been light in a whole week. At times, they show naked power as when in October 2015, officials of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company invaded Oke-Abiye in Agbado Oke-Odo area of Lagos State with an armed contingent of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, threatening them to pay their bills immediately or face immediate disconnection!
The most frustrating to customers are the estimated billing and the disconnection. Incidentally, Engr O Azih, who is VERY knowledgeable in these matters says that estimated billing is neither new nor strange. He however avers that there is a scientific and mathematical method of doing so. I do not understand the jaw-breaking terms he used (he was actually speaking in tongues) and as such, I do not want to spoil the day for my readers by repeating them here. But in Nigeria, the DISCOs resort to a crude and arbitrary estimated billing model, which is based on ‘as the spirit directs’ because they can get away with it and because they have government support, just like a child sent on a thieving mission by his father does so without any fear or caution. I have also wondered why they resort to disconnection over very petty bills, despite the high-risk nature of such disconnections. And of course they will NEVER give customers the mandatory notice required by law before such disconnections.
Customers have over the years complained about this highhandedness, which started since the days of NEPA. They complain verbally to the non-responsive field staff, go to the desk-bound ones who would always assure that ‘we shall look into the matter’, while some undertake the non-sustainable-under-the table negotiations. But since these are not working, the customers upgraded their reactions to writing (as we did in Igbo-Ukwu and Ijebu Ode), telephones, SMS and emails (as we did in Samuel-Ekunola) and public demonstrations, which are commonplace. Some have even gone to court and that was how a staff of PHEDC at Port Harcourt was arrested and remanded in prison for disconnecting a customer’s light without the required 3 months notice!
Unfortunately, and dangerously too, the customers tolerance threshold have been exceeded and they have decided to go physical over the matter. It did not start today. Around 20 years ago, some ‘knots in my head’ got off-balance and I used my car to block a NEPA operational vehicle and its staff, who had disconnected my light. In the process, I also blocked the entry and exit into and from the street (Dele Orisabiyi Street, Okota). What happened was that I occupied two flats in a 4-flat building. I paid my bill FULLY but the others did not pay. NEPA staff then disconnected my light, claiming they could not identify which lines supplied which apartment. My level of anger went a notch higher when they threatened me with arrest because it was illegal to disrupt staff on essential duties. That was when I locked the car, abandoned it and walked away from the spot, daring them to effect the arrest.
That was a one-off affair and if you want to know how it ended, give me a call. The recent worrisome development is that customers are taking out their frustration on the DISCO disconnection squad, whom I assume, are doing what their ‘oga’s at the top’ have mandated them to do. Customers now attack DISCO officials all over the place. Some engage them in full blown free-style wrestling contest, some let lose their dogs after them while some have removed the ladder leaving the DISCO staff literally dangling and dancing from the electric poles. What the DISCOs (IKEDC, IBEDC, ENDEC and PHEDC) have done is to appeal and decry the attack on its staff( see Punch, 7/6/19; Punch,18/5/19; Guardian, 16/3/19 and Today.NG, 15/6/19) . NERC has even joined in the appeal. As you can see, this is a ‘national character’ affair. It was a different matter in Gusau when a Sharia Court-1 jailed Habu Mai Shago to one year imprisonment for assaulting a KDEDC staff. A Sharia Judge? Wetin concern the vulture with the barber? Anyway, I digress. This is a worrisome trend and before it becomes the new normal, the ownership and management of the various DISCOs should strategically review their customer engagement strategies. They don’t need any root-cause analysis because the causes are in the opendential. This crazy billing and highhanded disconnection is not sustainable and treating customers like conquered people, without any dignity and rights, will not do. The other day, one of my students introduced himself as a DISCO staff and I told him that my street was planning to demonstrate to their office and that I would personally come after him on that day. He gleefully replied that they had enough security men to ward off any such invasion. I was shocked at such mentality from an MBA student –and a future DISCO executive. I told him so there and then. You already know that your customers are angry; you know that they would protest or do something funny and you encircle yourself with assorted security personnel rather than taking customer-centric steps and thinking of ways to assuage the customers. You see, NEPA, PHCN, DISCOS are already in the Guinness Book of Records as the only organization in the world that has more customers than it knows what to do with!
Other matters: Everybody is mad but the degree of madness varies…
It was late Nick Erege, my boss, friend and brother at Cooperative and Commerce bank Jos, who told me that everybody is mad but the degree of madness varies with individuals. Thus, we consider those below 30 per cent mad as normal and those 70 -100 per cent as, well, MAD. But they are all mad. I have also grown to know from experience and education that the evidence and indicators of madness varies with time, circumstances and environment. The other day, one Sasha Smajic spent 4000 pound-sterling to give her dog, Captain, a befitting burial. The 11 year old Captain, suffered cardiac arrest while undergoing a surgery and died on 25/12/18. The funeral was not just lavish, it was elaborate. Captain’s body was taken from the vets in a horse-drawn carriage to a park where he used to go for walks. His coffin was then transferred to a hearse for the 40-minute drive to Willow Haven Cemetery, where a poem was read at it’s graveside with 11 doves – one for each year of his life – being released at 2pm during the service after he was lowered into the ground. I don’t know if she would have had the presence of mind to do so if she had no light in the previous 4 weeks, suffered a 5-hour traffic gridlock at Sagamu-Benin Highway or has just escaped from herdsmen-kidnappers den!
Meanwhile, in far away Mumbai, a 27-year-old Raphael Samuel is planning to sue his parents, with whom he has ‘great relationship’, for giving birth to him without his consent. He sees having children as kidnapping and slavery and believes that it is wrong to put an unwilling child through the ‘rigmarole’ of life for the pleasure of its parents. Could he have exercised this queer freedom if his parents had not given birth to him? In our own Lagos, when the political-campaign stock-market was enjoying its bullish run, two matured men audaciously stripped to their make-shift panties and decorated their bodies with the inscriptions of All Progressives Congress, at an APC rally. They were campaigning for their candidates. As you can see, everybody, including the ones you see as normal, is mad. It is just a matter of degree