Since inception of this administration, if there is anything it has achieved in the electricity sector it is all action no movement. Nobody in Nigeria today can point to anything no matter how minute that can be said to be progress in the last two years of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the power sector. It has been one missed opportunity or the other. Mega watts are falling and mega watts rising, no substance. The people and their business just do not get minimum supply not to talk of any increment whatsoever. It’s been one tale of woe after the other. Today like it was two years ago or twenty years ago, most consumers provide their own power supply. It is therefore mindless to hear of constant tariff increments by electricity companies or threats of same. Last January, the Federal Government announced through the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, that there would be no further hike in electricity tariff in the nearest future. The assurance was given to rebutt growing media reports then that government was contemplating an upward review of the existing tariff regime.
But it appears things will change soon. It seems the power sector key players are hotly pushing for another price increment. Their argument is further reinforced by the disagreement between Electricity Generation Companies, GENCOs and Electricity Distribution Companies, DISCOs over a planned centralisation of accounts of the latter. The Federal Government had earlier in the year, threatened to centralise the accounts of the DISCOs over their inability to fulfill their monthly remittances with the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc, NBET, accusing them of remitting only 30 per cent of their monthly energy invoices last year. But the DISCOs had countered that the tariffs paid by customers were not cost-reflective for them to recover the actual cost of power distribution.
The same consideration is said to have influenced an earlier plan to hike electricity tariff which was aborted following stiff public opposition. It would be recalled that the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, had in January 2016 announced a 45 per cent increment in electricity tariff. Fashola had at the time defended the new tariff, saying it was necessary for the market to survive. He said that going back on it would cost government over N575 billion. But the Minister was eventually overruled.
The Senate directed that the new tariff be reversed to enable it conclude a public hearing on it. A Federal High Court in Lagos also declared it illegal, while restraining the NERC from further increasing electricity tariff except in strict compliance with the provisions of the Electricity Power Sector Reform Act 2005. It is not clear if the provisions of the Act are taken into consideration in the current contemplation to hike electricity tariff. What however is clear is that, given the worsening services being provided by the GENCOs and the DISCOs, any hike in tariff at this time is like killing an ant with a hammer.
To begin with, it is near insanity for anyone be it government or the companies to mute the idea of an increment at this time of low power supply and worsening economic reality. With the increments in the last four years, Nigerians spend more buying and maintaining standby generators; buying fuel than they did even ten years ago. Let’s take a product like cement for an example; last year cement companies hiked their prices by more than 100% due largely to the cost of energy to run their plants. This cost has been passed down to Nigerians. This is the same with many more products and services. Ordinary convenience at home is no longer convenient. People sweat at their work places and also sweat at home. Yet we must pay for more darkness. Not even ordinary metering has been carried out. The companies should stop blackmailing government over paucity of collectable rates. It is because they do not want to declare just how many customers they have. They do not want to meter so that they can go behind to collect electricity tariffs through the back door using that exploitative “estimated bill” system.
The Federal Government should stop playing Ludo with these companies. Let FG stop further exploitation of consumers through tariff hikes and instead work towards improving electricity services in the country. Electricity consumers are forced to suffer the double jeopardy of poor services and high tariffs. That is unacceptable. It is the duty of government to make lives of her people comfortable. They are not to allow citizens suffer in the hands of authorised but incompetent service providers.