Electricity theft has plagued the power sector for years now, but in the eyes of a lot of people, electricity theft is not exactly considered a crime and the adverse effect of these thefts can be lost on many consumers.
Electricity theft is the CRIMINAL act of using electricity without paying for it. In this part of the world, electricity theft usually involves bypassing the prepaid meters and unlawfully connecting directly to the distribution source. Hence, rendering the metering process null. On one hand, this unfortunate common-practise among Nigerians is a damning indictment of our society’s perception of power but on the other, it can be argued that consumers are simply playing the hands that they’ve been dealt. Whatever perspective you choose to adopt, it is clear that electricity theft is ethically, morally and most importantly, legally wrong.
If we look at the bigger picture, it starts to become clear that electricity theft has no winners and sooner or later, all stakeholders (including the consumers of power) will pay the price for these criminal acts.
From a legal standpoint electricity, theft is severely frowned upon and culprits of such acts can face very harsh penalties for their actions.
The Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA) contains provisions dealing with tampering with electrical equipment. Section 9 of the Act provides that ‘any person who unlawfully disconnects, removes, damages, tampers, meddles with or in any way whatsoever interferes with any plant, works, cables, wire or assembly of wires designed or used for transforming or converting electricity shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life.’
Although the EPSRA by S.94 (3) supersedes all other law(s), nothing stops the courts from using its discretionary powers to enforce the MOA which contains stiffer penalties for electricity theft offenses.
If these stiff punishments are not enough to deter electricity thieves, it is also important we consider the long-term effect of these actions.
Electricity theft is a threat to the entire value chain. Although its impact is borne substantially by the Discos in terms of loss of revenue, the overall effect of theft of electricity affects the value chain in totality. One DisCo recently published that it loses N21 billion annually to theft of power, thus amounting to an estimated average of N231 billion for the entire industry. The impact of such criminal activities robs legal customers of available electricity and ultimately, returns on investment to the companies.
It’s easy for consumers to look away and assume these losses do not necessarily affect them but in reality, these losses translate to dilapidated infrastructure of power distribution facilities and poor collections for the DisCos which will discourage investors and adversely contribute to the liquidity crunch in the power sector. All these will only further postpone the actualization of our power goals.
Writing from the perspective of a consumer of electricity, I gleefully admit that the power sector still has giant strides to make before we can truly care about their plight but from an ethical standpoint we must begin to change our perspective of electricity theft and logically, we must realise that in the long run there really aren’t any winners when it comes to electricity theft.