Despite the order of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos stopping the Electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) from proceeding with the planned hike in electricity tariffs as announced by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) pending the determination of a motion challenging the decision, it took the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to halt the move. The DisCos were bent on seeing it through on July 1 as proposed.
We commend the president and the National Assembly leaders for taking the bold step to rescue Nigerians by postponing the July 1 proposed hike till the first quarter of 2021. The nation’s highest law-making body, through this noble act, has demonstrated that it is really the representatives of the people.
Much as the postponement of the planned increase is a welcome development, it is disturbing to know that the DisCos treat Nigerians with utmost contempt and no shred of consideration to their yearnings and need for steady power supply at an affordable rate.
The controversy generated by the proposed electricity hike perfected by the DisCos is an indication that the situatioin in the country’s power sector still leaves much to be desired. It is sad that rather than up their game in the distribution of electricity, what the DiScos are after is their undeserved profiteering from the sufferings of Nigerians through the rip off of their hard-earned money.
We see any planned or proposed hike in electricity tariff now or any time in the near future against widespread resentment as an act that smacks of gross insensitivity on the part of the government amid high level of poverty and suffering among the populace.
It is even more worrisome considering that even with the epileptic power supply consumers are forced to pay exorbitant charges through dubious means which include estimated bills for electricity not supplied. This is akin to daylight robbery of the citizenry.
No doubt, electricity remains a millstone in Nigeria of which there seems to be no solution yet in sight. Rather than coming up with a workable strategy to end the electricity quagmire, the interest of the DisCos, at all times and against all odds, seems to be on increasing tariff. This is very unfortunate.
At the hearing of a suit by the Incorporated Trustees of Human Rights Foundation against 15 respondents in the electricity industry, Justice Muslim Hassan had ordered the parties to maintain the status quo.
The group had filed an ex parte motion praying the court to stop the new tariff from coming into effect. It argued that it would “amount to great injustice to impose arbitrary electricity tariff on Nigerian electricity consumers.” However, the electricity industry players were so engrossed with effecting the tariff hike.
Prior to this, NERC had on December 31, 2019 directed the DisCos to raise their rates by over 70 per cent to enable them to have enough capital to pay for electricity distributed by them. But following public outcry, NERC back-pedaled promising that consultation with consumers and other stakeholders would be carried out to determine if or not the new rate would stand.
It needs to be pointed out that the Multi Year Tariff Order (MYTO) upon which NERC based the planned latest hike has not been implemented in the public interest. MYTO presumed that electricity supply would steadily rise, which would necessitate periodic review of tariff. But rather than improve, the power situation had been on the decrease, while the tariff is frequently reviewed based on MYTO.
For instance, NERC premised the present hike in electricity on MYTO 2015 and the Minimum Remittance Order (MRO) for 2020. While poor services persist, NERC has continued to raise tariff surreptitiously not minding the negative impact on Nigerians. There are alternative sources of energy that are not being exploited to boost power supply because there is no competition among the various DisCos.
As a newspaper, it is our view that Nigerians should not be exploited under any guise. What is currently being paid is not commensurate with supply which is currently at an all-time low.
It is also unfortunate that the power sector was sold to parties that have not made considerable investment in any aspect of power supply infrastructure. The terms of engagement were not clear. It is also fuzzy about who should do what, even as the government continues to give bailout funds without clear payment terms.
Rather than provide the necessary capital for investment, government has been bailing out the electricity companies. On its own, the government is not investing either. For instance, there is no investment on the decrepit national grid which the government still owns about 50 per cent. Our national grid cannot carry power beyond the present low output, according to experts.
We submit that before any increase in tariff is made, the necessary infrastructure should be put in place and services improved. The focus should not be on tariff; rather, it should be on service improvement. There are no pre-paid meters for the majority of consumers. The tariff is still charged based on outrageous estimated bills.