One problem that has defied solution since independence has been the issue of regular power supply. Successive governments laid out ground plans on how to increase the generating capacity of electricity but none was able to break the jinx. The sale of power assets to private individuals by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2013 was meant to end decades of debilitating power shortages. However, about 14 years after, it turned out to be all motion and no movement as the country is still grappling with poor power supply.
The senate had recently disclosed that the federal government invested about N1.8 trillion in the power sector through the Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) from 2013 to date. Sadly, there is nothing to show for this whopping sum of money after it was claimed to have been spent in that sector.
The President Muhammadu Buhari administration, in a bid to solve the perennial problem finally, signed a power deal with electricity giant, Siemens, which would lead to the production of 25,000 megawatts of electricity by 2025. The president asked Siemens, the Transmission Company of Nigeria and the regulator to work hand in hand to achieve 7,000mw and 11,000MW of reliable power supply by 2021 and 2023 in the first and second phases of the deal respectively. By 2025 when the contract would have elapsed, a total of 25,000MW is expected to have been met. The deal came out of the August 31, 2018 meeting between the Nigerian President and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Abuja when she visited Nigeria.
Regrettably, as Nigerians were still battling with poor power supply, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission ( NERC) gave Nigerians a new year gift this year by directing the 11 electricity distribution companies (DisCos) to increase their tariff effective from January 1, 2020. Expectedly, the decision was greeted by outrage by not a few Nigerians who felt it was insensitive and anti-people. Sensing the negative implication, NERC was forced to postpone the implementation of the electricity tariff hike.
The planned implementation of the increase by NERC in January first was also halted by the National Assembly. When the matter popped its head again recently, President Buhari and the National Assembly leadership arrested the situation. They agreed to suspend the increase in electricity tariff for now. Speaker of the House of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, disclosed the swift intervention that once again halted the tariff hike to State House correspondents after meeting with President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, alongside Senate President Ahmed Lawan at the presidential villa. According to the NASS leaders, this was not the right time to increase tariff in the electricity sector. Gbajabiamila stated that they agreed on an increase in cost reflective tariff but stressed on the issue of timing. On his part, the Senate president also said this was not the right time to increase the tariff in the electricity sector.
He explained that Nigerians have a lot of challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation requires that the government do everything possible to make life easy for the citizens. He said, “Of course, government is doing a lot in this respect but we believe that DISCOS should meet with consumers, find better cost effective tariff. But before then, there must be some steps to ensure that the consumers are properly metered otherwise, you will still go back to guessing what consumers are consuming. “That is to say that let the billing be scientifically based; it has to be based on what you actually consumed. So we had this discussion with Mr Vice President and we are sure that that announcement in the increase of electricity tariff in Nigeria is untimely.
“We believe that we need to do more work to ensure that before any increase, there must be some measures, steps, line of actions that must be exhausted including the metering. This is a welcome idea to the Vice President as well.” We must give kudos to President Buhari and the leaders of the National Assembly for coming to the rescue of vulnerable Nigerian who right from when the country gained independence had always been at the mercy of bad government policies that most times are unilaterally made by some agencies without proper consultations with the president or the vice president. It was for this reason that organised labour in the country owed to fully mobilise Nigerians to resist any attempt to increase electricity tariff by the Distribution Companies (DisCos).
The distribution companies had insisted on increment of electricity tariff, insisting that recent effort by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to distance itself from the July 1 commencement of a new service-based electricity tariff regime was unfair. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in a statement by its president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said the congress was aware of plans by airport authorities, airlines, banks and others to hide under COVID-19 and hike user access and services charges.
He said any further hike in tariff or other charges at this “time of great socio-economic dislocation would be ultra-insensitive, callous and a premeditated attempt to send many Nigerians, workers, to untimely graves.” Wabba said in as much as Nigerians are relieved by the halting of the tariff hike by the DisCos, following the intervention of the National Assembly, the NLC is aware that the DisCos are unrelenting. He, however, said in the interest of fairness, equity and justice, the NLC demands that the DISCOs refund Nigerians all the estimated billings that had been unjustly collected from our people all these years.
Wabba noted: “We also demand that DISCOs must pay consumers the cost that their inefficiency has imposed on citizens, residents and businesses. DISCOs must also repay bailout funds they had unjustly collected from public covers. “We wish to remind the DISCOs that the provision of pre-paid meters, transformers and investment in the sector are statutorily the job of the DISCOs not consumers or government. DISCOs were fully aware of these conditions before subscribing to the power sector privatization programme. Enough of the lies, deceit and exploitation of the Nigerian people!”
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