Men repair generators beneath a tangle of power lines, on the rooftops of electronics stores in Oshodi Market in Lagos, Nigeria, August 24, 2010.
Men repair generators beneath a tangle of power lines, on the rooftops of electronics stores in Oshodi Market in Lagos, Nigeria, August 24, 2010.

Only 40 percent of Nigerians have access to electricity and less than half of those people receive their power through meters that measure how much electricity they use. In Abuja, the capital, stealing and overcharging for electricity usage are common practices - so much so that officials say the problem amounts to a national emergency.

At a hearing in the Nigerian capital, a panel of energy officials listens while community members report on their electricity woes, which are many and common among urban Nigerians.  In the rural areas, access to electricity is not all that common.

Joel Oziri says he is charged almost $20 a week for electricity that is available just a few hours a day.  He paid for a meter years ago, so the electric company could measure his usage, but it never arrived.  When he demanded they deliver the meter before he would pay, his electrical power was cut.

?They will cut off and tell you, you have the right to pay. Whether you like or not, you have to pay it.  Which is unfair,? said Oziri.

Officials say complaints like this are only part of why metering is a key factor in developing the electricity sector, which is essential to developing Nigeria.  The lack of electrical power plays a role in almost every problem Nigeria faces - from security, to poor national health, to economic problems.  Nigeria is Africa?s most populous country and largest oil exporter, but it does not have refineries to make use of its own oil supply.

As the Nigerian government seeks to privatize the energy sector to boost electrical output, officials say customers can steal electricity and companies can overcharge for usage because many electrical connections are not metered. 


Shittu Shaibu is the strategy and project manager at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission.  He says without more metering, the addition of private companies to Nigeria?s electricity sector will lead to an explosion of lawsuits.  He says the current system could also open the door for international corporations to exploit regular Nigerians.

"Metering is critical because without metering, the distribution companies cannot first and foremost get their revenue," said Shaibu. "And secondly, there will be a lot of exploitation of the customers."

Shaibu says 60 percent of the people who have access to electricity are not metered and this lack of organization can discourage potential investors.  

Other Nigerians say metering energy is important, but not nearly as important as finding a way to get electricity into their homes.  Alexander Akinwale, a shop owner who lives in the capital, says his neighborhood has not had electricity for the past two years.

?The first issue now is to have the light.  When we have the light then any issue of or any challenges that come, we will tackle it,? said Akinwale.

Industry regulators say they are conducting a nationwide inquiry on electrical metering.  They say they are devising a plan to solve the metering problem, regardless of whose interests may be at stake.