By Ikem Okuhu
I live in an apartment that has, since 2014, enjoyed the privilege of having prepaid electricity meters. For this, I have been grateful, given the burden of estimated bills and other troubles I have had to contend with when occupants of other apartments fall behind on their bills’ payments. Visitations by ladder-carrying “NEPA” officials have been so infrequent that the only time I remember Ikeja Electric are during the familiar periods of outages.
In the days when “NEPA” cuts off your connection, you’d have to go through the routines of “begging” and bribery. But thanks to the prepaid meter regime, this has not been my lot, until Monday December 13, 2023, when I had to visit the Okota office of Ikeja Electric in response to a summons over when they termed, “dispensing free.”
It was during this visit that I met Tosin, the most uncouth customer-facing person I have ever seen. Tosin dispenses disrespect with authoritarian condescension and at the front office area where he holds court, customers take their turns to have their egos bruised by his monologue delivered in drunken grammar.
Tosin was not drunk when I encountered him. At least, I was sure he wasn’t working under the influence of alcohol. But it was clear he was high on something more dangerous than alcohol. Power was making Tosin intoxicated. He does not tolerate any responses to his monologue. When it was our turn to make our presentation to his court and I breached his rule by interjecting, he made me know in no uncertain terms that such was not tolerated. His bad manners know no gender and it knows no age. He talks to people, even his junior colleagues, with entitled arrogance and condescension.
A man, obviously in his late 50s or early 60s shriveled when Tosin asked him to stop talking or he walks him out of his presence. A lady, obviously married, was confounded when Tosin accused her of trying to seduce him. A lady, who, like most of us, waited for Tosin for two hours, before he showed up, was asked to chose between the work she said she was running late for, and staying back to solve her “NEPA” problems.
In the 10 minutes we spent listening to him, Tosin made us understand that there is no difference in the modus operandi of Ikeja Electric than those of the security forces. In fact, he said, “In this our work, we are like the Federal SARS of the police…” And he was right. The kind of terror he unleashed on the ego of customers can only equate with those of the discredited police special squad. When he likened himself and his work to those of SARS, I took a closer look at him, placed his age at between 30 – 33 and wondered what he thought of his generation that dared death, on October 10, 2020, to confront the evil operations of the defunct Police Squad. He sure must think they were fools, or in the typical hypocritical nature of many people, it’s possible he even showed up at Lekki, protesting against SARS, even while in his own workplace, he was doing his best to clone and introduce the soulless DNA of same organisation.
Tosin is the perfect epitome of bad manners and unpleasant social etiquette. He’d frequently rummage his nostrils with his fingers and examine the unpleasant filth on his fingers while talking to customers. I not usually very patient with people who perform their duties like they are going through the privileged rites of royalty, but I was very patient with Tosin, patient until he strolled into a room and emerged with a paper that contained a bill of 430,000 that we are to pay, for, as he said, bypassing the meter allocated to our pumping machine.
This brings me back to what took me to the Okota office of Ikeja Electric where I had the misfortune of encountering customer-facing personnel with such disgusting manners. I returned home on Saturday, December 11 to be informed that officials of OKDC had paid us a visit, with the news that we had illegally tampered with the prepaid meter allocated to the water pumping machine in our compound. A certain Ebuka signed off on the document and requested we make ourselves available in their office the following Monday by 9.30am.
Monday was free for me, so I went over there with an occupant of one of the six apartments in the building, Peter Ifeajuna. We arrived a few minutes before 9,30am but could only meet the officer in charge, Tosin when it was well past 11.00am. It was Tosin who broke down our alleged offence to us, explaining, with fancy diagrams, that we had bypassed the meter, making the pumping machine to dispense free.
It did not make sense to me. And I will put it the way we tried in vain to put it to Tosin. There are six apartments in our building. During the metering round that took place in 2014, seven meters were allocated to us, one for each apartment and the remaining, for the water pump and the gateman’s house. All of us contributes money to fund the water pump electricity bill, which s far lower than what each of us consumes in our various apartments.
It does not therefore make any sense for us to come together to agree on bypassing the metering of the water pump while not tampering on the ones in our individual apartments. And it is also not a task that only one occupant of the compound could ever undertake because, even if it was ever contemplated, the cost of doing it would far outweigh the gain so much it would amount to a futile enterprise.
Before we found ourselves in the harrowing presence of Tosin, we had sought out Ebuka and I took time to make the same explanation and his view was that the problem could have been an installation error. And while this might not be exactly true, it is the only thing close to the truth. I say this because, nobody in the compound had ever mounted a pole on that wall since the meters were installed. This is so for three reasons. The first is that compared to many areas, electricity supply in our neighbourhood had been relatively good in the past three years and there is therefore no reason to worry about meters. Secondly, and I can beat my chest in thanksgiving for that, there is none of us that is in such financial situation where he cannot pay his electricity bills. Thirdly, I remember that those who installed the meters left a myth around their equipment after the installation; they told us NEVER to tamper with the meters because once we touched any of them, an alarm would go off at the headquarters, triggering dire consequences.
I need to add that even Tosin, in spite of himself, acknowledged that whoever tampered with the meter must be a “very technical person” with expert knowledge of the workings of those sorts of equipment. In order words, it was not a job that was don by the run-of-the-mill electrician. Where can such “very technical” people be found?
The answer to this question was found from other residents who confirmed that Ikeja Electric staff, have on a number of occasions, visited our apartment building for routine inspection works. During these periods, they climbed to the meters high up on the wall for whatever they were inspecting. Was it possible that this “installation error” happened during one of these periods?
These were what Tosin refused to even allow me put before him and from his obviously affected arrogance, I took away the impression that himself and IKDC were more interested in the penalties they are imposing than in getting customers satisfied. According to Tosin, this alleged bypass had occurred since February 2021 and I wondered why it took a while 10 months for this to be communicated to us, if the objective was not to extract undue rent?
As we speak, IKDC has disconnected us from the grid, pumping machine and all and the threat is that we will not be reconnected until the bill of N430,000 is paid.
Where is this done, except in Nigeria!
Ikem Okuhu is an Author and the publisher of Brandish journal in Lagos.