In West Africa, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) on Tuesday took the first step in establishing the Nigerian Electricity Consumers Advocacy Network (NECAN) in an effort to support the rights of power users in Nigeria.
At a meeting between the commission and consumer advocacy groups in the capital Abuja, NERC said NECAN’s objective is to ensure and reassure energy consumers’ that the energy industry has their best interests at heart, local newspaper The Guardian reported.
NECAN will be made up of members from resident associations, the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria, National Association of Small Scale Industries, business, artisanal and professional groups as well as non-governmental organisations.
In addition, the network will create a strong foundation where electricity consumers can use this as a platform to interact with the state, creating an open line of communication and promoting transparency.
Consumer advocacy groups
NERC, which said it would “first midwife NECAN to allow it to gain some level of bargaining advantages in the sector”, claims that the disconnect between the consumer and the state is due to consumer advocacy groups, whose “levels of engagement were too superficial to make the desired impact in the sector”, according to the newspaper report.
Sam Amadi, chairman of NERC, said that “undue operators’ advantages also undermine transparent and accountable processes which define a fairly regulated electricity market.”
Amadi noted: “Such overbearing influences, would be cut down by introducing and sustaining democratic processes and models in the way decision and choices are arrived at by operators and consumers in the sector, hence the network.”
“We have institutionalised anti-corruption practices and procedures to inoculate NERC against regulatory capture, but in spite of our noble intent and progressive actions, outcomes are still not fair to consumers.”
Organised consumer groups
According to Amadi, the democracy bargain in the Nigerian power sector will remain inadequate until consumers are organised and are equipped with the knowledge and backing that they need to make an informed decision.
“To cure this deficit, we are proposing the establishment of consumer advocacy organisation that can easily build technical and political capability to effectively contend against other organised interests in the electricity market,” Amadi stated.
“This organised consumer advocacy is not just focusing on challenges in tariff setting and such other commercial activities like metering and billing. It should also step up as a major contributor to the big debates about building smart grid, clean energy, privatisation and modernisation of the electricity grid. It should also be involved in the debate about the constitutional framework for energy policy in Nigeria,” Amadi explained.
Amadi stressed that the consumer needs to be an active participant in the energy sector rather than a passive one: “Either as consumers per se or as pro-consumers who could sell self-generated electricity to the grid, the consumer needs to be more engaged and more eloquent in the deliberation about the future of electricity in Nigeria.”
“There is a strong case to incorporate the consumers as part of the decision makers in the electricity market. This is the reason we are proposing the set-up of NECAN. The fact is that consumer voice is under-represented in the electricity in the emergent electricity market,” Amadi concluded.