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Halt the electricity tariff increase!

By Editorial Board
06 September 2020   |   3:22 am
The outrage that has greeted the sudden hike in electricity tariff by more than 50 per cent, stems from the fact that the Buhari administration that rode on the crest of Change Mantra, with expectations of a better and improved living condition has turned out to be a burden inflicting the greatest pain and hardship ever.  …

The outrage that has greeted the sudden hike in electricity tariff by more than 50 per cent, stems from the fact that the Buhari administration that rode on the crest of Change Mantra, with expectations of a better and improved living condition has turned out to be a burden inflicting the greatest pain and hardship ever.  

With increase in the cost of virtually everything that makes life worth living from foodstuffs to transport, petrol, indiscriminate bank charges, medicare, house rent, data bill, paytv, etc, it is obvious that the present government does not care about welfare and security of the people as the constitution provides: that welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. 

The current increase in electricity tariff has jolted citizens – artisans, technicians, teachers, manufacturers, and industrialists who have 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. 

Different stakeholders have expressed disgust and resentment at the insensitive hike. Even former leaders have opposed the tariff increase, saying it is “ill-timed” and disregards the challenges faced by Nigerians. The least that Nigerians need at this time is a stimulus after coming out of a pandemic. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) rejected the tariff hike. The group said the increase is coming at a time that manufacturing was groaning because of deep injuries already inflicted on the sector by the prevailing harsh operating environment, the increasing burden of taxes, and self-generated electricity.

The Acting Director-General of MAN, Mr. Ambrose Oruche, said most of MAN-member companies were classified in the ‘D’ categorisation (D1, D2, and D3), meaning ‘Industrial Consumers’ where the tariff is the highest. The leadership of the Organised Private Sector in Nigeria (OPSN) in a reaction said various projections for generation capacities for different years were made but not attained, yet tariff kept increasing.

The General Secretary of the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organisation of Nigeria (FIWON), Comrade Gbenga Komolafe described the tariff increase as “absolutely insensitive, thoughtless and disdain for the people.”

The Director-General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, said for investments to thrive in the power sector cost-reflective tariff was inevitable. He said the alternative was for the government to subsidise it.

In the same vein, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) rejected the approved tariff hike by NERC. In a statement, its president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba said labour frowned at the increase and completely condemned any plan to inflict further pain on Nigerians at this very time of great economic distress.

So many stakeholders have been deeply concerned on the deaf and the dumb posture of the electricity regulator. It is important to put on record the fact 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. Why should Nigerians be taken by surprise on a week the same government deregulated the oil and gas market by allowing marketers to increase fuel prices anyhow? 

According to reports, President Muhammadu Buhari endorsed the new tariff after an ad-hoc committee was set up to review the tariff in June. Does Mr. President care for Nigerians? According to the tariff hike notices from the DisCos, the hikes in the different electricity rates were duly approved by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) for the next four months. NERC had recently okayed tariff hike but said the DisCos must consult with customers first.

“Following consultations and directions on tariff policy, the Commission (NERC) hereby approves a deferment of the applicable tariffs for customers in service band D and E (that is customers with a service commitment of less than an average of 12 hours of supply per day over a period of one month) for the period 1st September 2020 to 1st January 2021,” the commission said.

NERC stated that the new tariff order would end on January 1, 2021, when sources in the power industry said the Commission is expected to approve another hike for the power firms. Without doubt, feelers from the public are that there is 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.

People are asked to pay N38, 800 for a single-phase meter and the minimum wage in Nigeria is N33, 000. Many states are yet to pay and even the federal government is yet to implement it fully. Besides, the arbitrary tariff hike will worsen 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.

It is baffling that without minding public sentiments, NERC and the Discos, went ahead to announce a new tariff regime for consumers. The tariffs show that consumers would witness different levels of increase across the country.

Nigerians have for long protested against the imposition of fixed charges and estimated bills for electricity not consumed. The government is only being smart by half by removing the irritant fixed charge and then putting it back through the new tariff, which makes no difference. It is thus inconceivable, illogical, and indeed, immoral for the present administration to focus more on the frequent increase in electricity tariff without ensuring a corresponding increase in power supply, especially, despite the huge budget expended on the sector in recent times. The sector has been privatised and the new owners are not being enjoined to invest in the sector. Why the burden on hapless consumers at this time? 

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. All that this government is concerned with is how to meet its huge target from non-performing power plants. Nigerians have suffered for too long because of epileptic power supply. Industrial production and a host of other economic activities that need power have been grounded. 

That Nigerians need power is stating the obvious. The Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO) was introduced to take care of different people but the framework seems to have failed. Consequently, Nigerians should take the challenge at a personal private level. Private individuals, corporate bodies, and establishments should produce power and sell. Many institutions are currently doing this, which is gratifying. States should also take charge by generating power for their people irrespective of the complications in the exclusive federal laws that give NERC some arbitrariness. There lies the solution to the power problem. Nigerians should stop being enslaved. Asking people to pay more without electricity is a scandal that the people’s representatives in all legislatures should reject, or else they should no longer be called representatives of the people.