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Published On: Sun, Jul 4th, 2021

Residents Finger BEDC Staff As Prepaid Meters Thieves Go On Rampage In Warri

Prepaid meter stolen from iron cage


LAGOS JULY 4TH (URHOBOTODAY)-Worried by the recurring stealing of prepaid meters of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) belonging to some residents of Warri, Delta State, EBENEZER ADUROKIYA gauged the mood of the consumers who alleged a connivance among BEDC officials, vigilante members and burglars.
When prepaid meters were introduced at the twilight of the administration of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2006, Nigerians who had suffered regular headaches over estimated metering policy of electricity distribution companies heaved a sigh of relief, hoping that cases of overbilling would soon be over. Unfortunately, nothing has changed. In fact, little did consumers know that the relief provided by prepaid meters would only be for a while. This is because beside the artificial scarcity of prepaid meters orchestrated by alleged hoarding by DISCO officials and other challenges associated with it, some other surreptitious tricks had been devised to frustrate the use of the pay-as-you-go meters in order to ensure the perpetuity of the old order of analogue metering.
In recent times, stealing of electricity prepaid meters has become a recurring pastime in Warri, Warri South Local Government Area and its environs in Delta State. A quick survey at Ginuwa
at Warri Sapele Road as well as First Marine Gate alone by Sunday Tribune, showed that no fewer than 10 prepaid meters had been carted away within a period of two years. Victims of the pilfering, going by findings, had done everything within their power to get a reprieve from the police and Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), Warri Zone, but the only response they got, for those who insisted to retrieve theirs, is “We will see what we can do.”
The wanton pilfering of prepaid meters has, thus, subsisted in spite of the availability of street vigilantes who collect monthly security dues from residents and shop owners. It was gathered that each resident or shop owner pays at least N500 to vigilante groups otherwise known as Civil Defence for the security of their areas and shops, yet their prepaid meters remain unsafe. This is more worrisome given the fact that the prepaid meters, which BEDC officials always insist must be installed outside buildings, are usually fortified with burglary proofs and padlocks.
Despite these precautions, however, no fewer than two or three prepaid meters are stolen from different streets within a month, thereby raising the suspicion that there could be a conspiracy between the criminals and security men. Eyes are also on BEDC officials because victims wonder how prepaid meters which are coded and personalised could be stolen and still be put to use by other consumers without the connivance of the officials.
A victim, Pius Ojakrike, whose structure is located at No. 57, Ginuwa Road, Warri, while narrating his experience said: “The stolen prepaid electricity meter that the building was using was registered with the name Johnson and Joe’s (Chemist) Ltd and the meter number is 01320371113. I got the meter some nine years ago. In fact, I was among the first set of people that was given a prepaid meter when it was first introduced and it was a three-phase meter. It was installed by BEDC officials. I didn’t pay money before getting it, so the money was being collected monthly whenever I recharged and in total, I paid N50,000 for it.
“The meter was stolen on the 4th of June, 2021. I remember that a day before it was stolen, one of my tenants said he saw a wooden ladder placed on the rail at about 5:00 a.m. I bought three more padlocks to lock the burglary proof because BEDC officials won’t allow it to be mounted inside the house.
“It was when I got to the office the following day that I noticed that the keys used on the burglary proof had been cut open and the meter was gone. Fortunately that day, I met one of the BEDC officials, a woman that normally inspects the area and told her about it and she told me to file a police report and a court affidavit and come to the office. I did and went to their office.
“After giving them the required documents, they said they would look into it, but while waiting for their response, I should connect directly and by doing that, I will have to be paying estimated bill, that is, a token every month depending on when they would be able to track the meter. So, I’m still waiting to hear from them.”
‘I’ve lost two meters’
Another victim, Mathias Ebekwe, whose shop is located at 115, Ginuwa Junction, Warri – Sapele road, said he had lost two prepaid meters to the criminals. According to him: “So far, two pre-paid meters had been stolen from me. I bought the first one for N25,000 directly from BEDC and it was registered with the name Ebekwe Mathias with meter number 04177409416 and it was stolen on November 16, 2018. I bought the second one from a guy named Maro and registered with the name Francis Kpokpo Olu Maro, with registration No.0423446224 for N65,000.
“When I came to my shop one morning and didn’t see my prepaid meter (the first one), I felt very bad and went to meet the civil defence people and they told me not to worry promising that they would locate it. Two days later, when I didn’t hear from them, I went to the police station to make a report. After that, I went to BEDC. When I told them what happened, they asked me to go and swear to a court affidavit which I did and they told me they would get back to me. Up till now, I haven’t heard from them.
“I went to the office about three to four times but each time I went, they would tell me that they were working on it, that the equipment they use in tracking the meter was no longer in Warri but in Benin, so it would take some time and process.
“I can’t remember when the second one was stolen because I didn’t bother myself to report it since nothing was done about the first one that I reported.”
Chuma, whose office is just a stone’s throw from Tribune’s office at Ginuwa Junction, alleged with no proof, however, that officials of BEDC were culpable in stealing of their prepaid meters. The customer owns a building material shop at 117 Warri-Sapele Road. His prepaid meter was registered with the name Peter Anakwe with Reg. No. 01326698907. It was stolen on May 28, 2021.
“If you ask me who was responsible, I will tell you that BEDC was responsible without batting an eyelid. In fact, it is clear. If not, how can someone else use the meter that is registered under the name of another person?
“If there are meters everywhere, who will be paying estimated bill? Nobody. The meters they have in Benin, are they not being hoarded? They are stealing meters because they want to continue with the collection of estimated bills. That is where their money comes from.
“When I went to them to report my stolen meter, they said I should go and look for it myself. In this street alone, do you know how many meters they’ve stolen? About five or six if I’m not mistaking.
Mr Ushieagu Nduka Earnest lives at No. 38 Third Marine, Marine Quarters in Warri. His prepaid meter was registered with his name and registration. number as 04218632133.
Speaking further, he said: “My meter is a single phased meter and I bought it in 2010 for about N25,000. It was stolen on January 23, 2021 on a Saturday. That morning it was stolen, I went to meet my community chairman to report it to him, but he said there’s nothing he could do. So, I went to BEDC office on Monday morning and the officials I met there asked me to come back with a written letter, a police report and court affidavit; and after that, they would send somebody to me to give me estimated bill which I was not happy with.
“I was so pissed off that I had to shout at the guy why I would be telling him about my stolen prepaid meter and all he cared about was giving me an estimated bill? So they asked me to calm down that they would try and track it down.
“After giving them what they requested, I still went back to check what they’d done about it, but they said they were still working on it. When I went to the POS to check it one day, I noticed that someone recharged the meter and it’s being used. I went back to complain that somebody has been buying recharge card with the meter number and name, how come they hadn’t located neither the person nor the meter?
Mr. Friday, a boutique shop owner close to Ginuwa Junction, Warri-Sapele road, was also a victim of the prepaid meter thieves. His was stolen a year ago. He also relayed his experience to Sunday Tribune.
“I bought my three-phased prepaid metre for N75,000 directly from BEDC. It was stolen last year despite the fact that I used burglary proof to protect it. I reported it, nothing was done about it. All they did was to direct me to a guy who gave me light; and I’m paying the guy N3, 000 monthly. But I resolved not to pay for security again. How can you say you’re guarding somewhere, and someone in the middle of the night will cut off or break about three padlocks used in locking a burglary and you’d say you don’t know?
Another victim at Ginuwa Junction, Mr. Jude Offor, who gave his meter registration number as 01326117759, said his prepaid meter was stolen on May 28, 2021, but didn’t do anything about it because, according to him, his neighbours, who suffered the same fate and spent money pursuing the case, didn’t get anything out of it.
Our correspondent gathered that in spite of missing prepaid meters, which were obviously stolen at dusk, and reports made to the police at A Division of the Area Command, no arrest was ever made. Sadly too, was ever apprehended by members of the vigilance group otherwise called civil defence who collect monthly dues from residents and shop owners and yet could not secure their prepaid meters.
Speaking with the vigilance group chairman in charge of Warri-Sapele Road, Mr. Benedict Agbakutu, he said although it was a worrisome phenomenon, his men were not responsible for the missing prepaid meters.
“We are not perfect; we are doing our best to nab those boys that are carrying out the act. Though I’m not the one in charge of the Ginuwa security, we are trying our best with the community to tackle the issue. We have reported the matter and we are investigating it seriously,” he said.
BEDC responds
Sunday Tribune also visited the BEDC zonal office at Warri-Sapele road en route NPA and spoke with one Helen Ogagare, who’s the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) of BEDC Delta Region.
She blamed the recurring stealing of prepaid meters in Warri zone on carelessness of owners, lack of patience in purchasing meters from the right channel and following the necessary details to track the stolen meters.
“I wouldn’t know why prepaid meters are missing. We always advise our customers to protect their meters. That is why we have introduced hanging of meters on electric poles now.
“If prepaid meters are missing, we advise customers to get police extract, meter receipt, court affidavit and last recharge slip; then come to our office to report. With the documents presented, we will block the meter and tag it as ‘stolen.’
“If anybody buys that meter and they want to recharge, the meter number will show ‘stolen’ and that person will be arrested. But unfortunately, most of our customers don’t do that. Some will say ‘what are we going to do in police station? Please let’s go.’ It’s not like that. Stolen meters can be recovered,” she stated.
While insisting that stolen prepaid meters could be recovered, Ogagare disclosed that no fewer than 10 stolen prepaid meters had been recovered and the thieves arrested by the BEDC in the past.
On why the stolen prepaid meters had not been recovered in spite of satisfying the procedure for retrieval, the PAO said it was because the people using the meters were not recharging from the area they were stolen from.
“The man that said that somebody recharged his stolen meter last month, we will try to get the location where the person recharged from. If we can get the exact location he bought it from, we can arrange with the POS agent to take note of him so that he can be arrested.
“BEDC officials are not the ones responsible for the missing meters. The claim is not true. Before they can say that it is BEDC officials that are stealing the meters, they should catch the person and let him confess that BEDC is involved. Is it only BEDC that knows how to mount and unmount meters? What of the electricians?
“There’s nothing we can do to prevent customers from losing their meters. We can only advise them to protect their meters and they should watch out for anybody that is coming to their place. The meter is supposed to be sealed and it can only be stolen when the seal is broken,” she enthused.
Tribune

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