Official 419 in Nigeria: PHCN as a case study.
By: Chris Onyishi
October 14th, 2009
I am writing this peace with kerosene
lantern. This is because my little “All neighbors are
equal” generator has just stopped. You remember one
Steve Nwosu , an Editor with The Sun newspaper, was the
person who gave these brand of generators this baptismal
name. It used to answer “I pass my neighbor”. But Steve
argued that power situation had become so unbearable
that almost every family has had to acquire one and as
such it should be referred to, and known, as “All
neighbors are equal”.
And since I have been firing this machine for over 24
hours, I have spent so much on fuel and continuing
further may mean delving into the money meant for other
things – maybe the children’s meal the following
morning. Secondly, my little mechanical sense tells me
that this machine may break down if I continue to use it
I had written severally in the past where I bemoaned the
poor power situation in Nigeria. And this erratic power
situation in Nigeria has become so malignantly normal
that writing anything about it is like singing one old
song over and over again. People are no longer
interested talking about it. And remembering that one of
our past power Ministers - and now a second termer
Governor - had promised that this situation will take
fifty years to normalize, it has become more absurd to
dwell on it. By the Power Minister turned governor’s
account, we still have about forty two years to go
before normal power supply is restored in Nigeria - the
giant of Africa. So, one may then ask, what then do I
want to say here? And what is official 419 got to do
I do not intend to go technical about the definition of
419 - whether official or not – because one, I am not
very competent as I am not a lawyer. Two, a copy of the
constitution of the Federal Republic has just been
smeared with kerosene when I was trying to refill the
lantern when my “All neighbors are equal” generator went
off. Opening it near this lantern may prove more
dangerous than anything else. So I cannot even look up
what EFCC act has to say about obtaining money by
pretence - OBT. So permit me to give a lame man’s
meaning of 419 and later show you how official it is.
419, they told us, relates to the Interpol code
representing the action of and punishment for obtaining
money fraudulently from an unsuspecting person. Let us
for now leave it at this and later on we will see how,
at official level in Nigeria, money is obtained
fraudulently from unsuspecting Nigerians by government
agencies at the nose of our President and his “biggest
Party” in Africa; the PDP - a party that will rule
Nigeria for fifty years.
I had gathered my kids to educate them on the e-this and
e-that syndrome which one of them had asked me the
meaning the other day. I had narrated to them how, in
the past, we used to go to Festac and queue up, for
minutes, to pay for NITEL bill. I then asked them to
compare that situation with the prevalent situation
where I just ask them to run out and bye me recharge
card across the road and I would recharge my phone and
continue to make my calls.
I told them that I do not know where the operator of the
company whose SIM card I use is located. And the
operator did not have to know that a man like me, their
father, exists and yet we are doing business together. I
was trying to teach them about e-payment system.
I then followed it with the issue of getting money on a
Sunday night when no bank is open let alone a bank
official anywhere around. We were talking about
e-payment with ATM – Automatic Teller Machine.
I also gave them the picture of what happened in the
past when one wanted to communicate with his relation
far away. It was either a telegram or telex or a letter.
If one is to be told about his father’s death - say
James - and date of burial, a telex or telegram is sent
thus: “James father died bury next tomorrow”. They were
amused but they had also been taught about this in
school and they were told that it was because every word
costs so much in those media that statements are
abridged to the barest intuitive minimum. I told them
that a letter posted from one part of Nigeria to the
other may take about two weeks to get to its
destination. I was trying to show them how email has
made things easier because I got them around my computer
and showed them an email sent to me and how I just
replied it and the person at the other end has received
it as well, all within a twinkle of an eye.
We also talked about e-trade where, from Nigeria, I can
order and pay for cars in Japan and it will be shipped
to me without me being in Japan physically.
And I told them that, with e-education and e-learning,
it is now possible for people to take lectures and pay
for same from the comfort of their homes or offices and
the teacher might just be at the other end of the world.
I narrated to them how, in the past, one had to come to
a street in Ikoyi Lagos - from far away East - to check
his or her JME result. Today results can be checked from
anywhere, tanks to the e-infrastructure. And students
can fill their class admit cards for their subjects from
You can trust the inquisitiveness of the children’s
brain. One of them then asked me Daddy; can’t this
e-payment system be applied to the NEPA or PHCN Bill?
This question sent a goose pimple over all of my body.
Six days earlier I was far away in the Eastern part of
the country when I got a call back in Lagos from my kids
that PHCN/NEPA officials are around and they are about
to disconnect us from the pole. I quickly put a call
through to the account officer who is in charge of our
house PHCN/NEPA billing. I explained to him that we do
not owe as he is aware of. As a matter of fact we had
more than two hundred naira credit in our favor. He
argued that he was there with his Oga who ordered that
we should be disconnected because the other two flats in
the compound owe. Our house is such that each flat has
its own meter.
It is true that there is outstanding bill on the other
two flats’ meters but this is partly because most times
when there were no tenants in those flats, PHCN or NEPA
kept bringing bills to the tune of N500, N800 and
sometimes as much as N1,200 - as they wish - monthly.
There was one case where a Chinese lived in one of those
flats for 12 months without light connection but PHCN/NEPA
kept bringing bills. So when new tenants pack in, it
becomes illogical for them to pay for what they did not
consume. I have discussed this with the account officer
who had always advised that I should come to the office
to write a paper for discontinuation of billing. My
argument has always been that you come here to read
consumption figures from these meters. Do I have to
leave all I am doing to come to your office to begin to
argue with some people who find it difficult to see that
the right things are done? I told him that some of us
make a living by our day to day genuine efforts and
leaving our bit just to go to their office when he comes
to our house to read the meters does not sound like a
good harp music for me. And the bill keeps pilling
because they know that they will intimidate us to paying
for what we did not consume.
The point here is that when - for any reason – PHCN or
NEPA disconnects you, they do not disconnect the bill.
For as long as they keep you in darkness, you are still
being billed. Isn’t this akin to obtaining money by
pretence – OBT or 419 or still yahoo yahoo.
There was a time they mistakenly introduced the
e-billing (prepaid) system in some roads in Festac Town.
When PHCN/NEPA saw that their revenue nose dived because
this system of billing is based on what you consume -
and they are not supplying much – they stopped the
system of payment. It was then a big problem because
residents refused to pay their power bills until the
prepaid device was installed for them. Till today PHCN/NEPA
has refused to implement the prepaid system further.
They choose, like they do in our case, to come
physically to disconnect people, and keep billing them,
whether they are supplying power or not. They drive big
cars from the money they extort from us while we
languish in darkness.
President Yar’ Dua who has been taunting us with 7 point
agenda does not think that one of the best agenda is to
make sure that Nigerian’s are billed for only the power
they consumed. He does not consider that more Nigerian’s
will be comfortable with prepaid billing system. He does
not think it’s necessary to force PHCN/NEPA to implement
the prepaid system just as it is done in other areas of
life. He does not seem to be comfortable with policies
that have human face. He is only more disposed to
deregulating the oil sector because that will bring more
hardship to the average Nigerian.
I would have expected that The President should have
constituted a committee, the type he had when he was
asking the militants to submit their weapons, to see
that PHCN/NEPA implements a prepaid billing system for
Nigeria and Nigerians.
The only thing constant with Nigeria’s PHCN or NEPA is
that it never supplies power constantly and you can
image how terrible this can be when Prof. Okey Ndibe’s
kids asked him whether NEPA has visited America
I am one Nigerian who still thinks that Yar Dua’s PDP –
the biggest party in Africa that says it will be in
power for fifty years, as bequeathed by the Ota
Engineer, does not have the mental capacity to
facilitate any development in Nigeria. Now that they
cannot even stabilize power until fifty years, can’t
they even implement e-payment in this their PHCN/NEPA so
that some of us, or all of us, will only be paying for
what we consumed, even at a little exorbitant rate. At
least, with prepaid billing, we will be spared some
payments when we did not consume power and it will
become obvious when they try to tan us. We are poor and
we are still being made poorer by paying for what we did
not consume. What is more 419 than this and is it not
official enough to be seen as official 419 in Nigeria?
My laptop battery just notifies me that I am running out
battery power and I may just have to stop here till some
other time. Remain blessed my fellow Nigerians and let
us keep praying that PDP will some day become the
smallest party in Africa with the biggest idea as to how
to solve Nigeria’s numerous problems so that there wont
be 419 again in our mother land, whether official or
private, and this way Prof. Dora’s rebranding would have
become e-enabled and automated for maximum effect.
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