By Our Editors
The shock and outcry that greeted the January 1, 2021 increase in electricity tariff in Nigeria, is a clear expression of the frustration Nigerians have been subjected to in recent times. It is commendable that President Muhammadu Buhari reacted immediately by ordering a stay of action on that act of blatant insensitivity on the part of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
Still, we are alarmed by the sheer thought of it which would have resulted in an increase in the cost of virtually everything that makes life worth living from foodstuffs to transport and healthcare.
It is pertinent to recall that in August last year, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had issued an order increasing tariffs starting September 1, 2020. However, a threat by Labour to go on a nationwide strike forced the government to suspend the tariff for two weeks ending October 15, 2020.
The federal government and the organised Labour then agreed to provide a tariff relief of N10.20 per kilowatt-hour for Nigerians for the next three months and also distribute six million free meters following the completion of the two weeks suspension of electricity tariff. The new tariffs eventually took off November 1 2020.
It was, therefore, a rude shock when on December 30, 2020, NERC issued a statement ordering distribution companies to hike their tariff from January 1, 2021.
According to NERC, “In compliance with the provisions of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPRSA) and the nation’s tariff methodology for biannual minor review, the rates for service bands A, B, C, D and E have been adjusted by N2.00 to N4.00 per kWhr to reflect the partial impact of inflation and movement in foreign exchange rates.”
Although the outcry that greeted the hike forced the government to order NERC to suspend any increases for now, the point needs to be made that NERC has consistently been acting as an anti-people agency intent on inflicting maximum pain on Nigerians already weighed down by other socio-economic forces.
The reactions to the now rested increase in electricity tariff were not pretentious as they cut across the broad spectrum of electricity consumers – artisans, technicians as well as manufacturers who rightly described the action as ill-timed, insensitive, and a deliberate move to further impoverish and increase the difficulties Nigerians are passing through at a time they were trying to recover from the shock of months of COVID-19 lockdown.
Members of the Organised Private Sector of Nigeria (OPSN), have been struggling with poor power supply and rely heavily on privately generated power with the attendant huge costs. Yet, they are still subjected to high electricity bills, the same electricity they are not supplied.
According to them while electricity outages average about 10 hours per day, electricity expenses still constitute about 40 per cent of the total cost of production and the average cost of self-generated electricity averages N119 billion.
This has driven many big time manufacturers out to neighbouring West African countries where electricity is more stable.
It is not surprising that the organised labour through the Trade Union Congress (TUC) warned the authorities concerned not to take the people for a ride by pushing them to the wall because nobody will like the resulting consequences.
It is high time agencies of government began to think first of the wellbeing of the citizens before the profit they want to make. It is our view that NERC would be putting its name on the wrong side of history if it continues to play the ostrich while a group of portfolio investors make a blood meal of Nigerians.
There is absolutely no need for tariff increase at this time regardless of the excuses or pressure from Gencos and Discos because there has been no remarkable improvement in power supply. Besides, majority of Nigerians have not been metered, meaning most consumers are still being charged the outrageous estimated bills.
The regime of arbitrary tariff hike is already worsening the high cost of living at a time when most people have lost their jobs and many workers have not earned income since COVID-19 lockdown began last March.
There has never been a time Nigerians were told that a new dam has been built or that the dormant Independent Power Plants (IPPs) lying waste in different parts of the country have been completed and energised to add to the power supply grid.
We challenge members of the National Assembly to amend the constitution to remove any barriers to private power generation in Nigeria. This whole thing must stop. Nigerians have been cheated and enslaved for too long.