Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja
Senate on Tuesday suspended the proposed 45 percent increment in the electricity tariff approved the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), which kicked off on February 1, 2016.
This followed a motion moved by Senator Suleiman Nazif, and entitled: urgent need to stop the increase in electricity tariff by Power Ministry, NERC and distribution companies (discos).
Following the motion, the Red Chamber directed its Committee on Labour to carefully review the law establishing NERC with the principal aim of establishing a strong regulatory body that will ensure proper and pocket-friendly billing system in such a way that the consumers and investors will be treated fairly and equitably.
The Upper Legislative Chamber also mandated the committees on Employment, Labour and Productivity to address a public hearing of stakeholders, Ministry of Power, NERC, discos, labour with the aim of re-examining the matter.
It particularly tasked the committees to be able to arrive at a logical conclusion such that the Nigeria workers and the entire Nigerian masses are not short-changed.
Leading debates on the motion, Nazif observed that the increase will have a multiplier effect on the Nigerian economy, with manufacturing companies having to pay more for power.
He stressed that due process in the extant laws for such increment was not followed in consonance with Section 76 of the Power Sector Reform Act (2005).
He also observed that the distribution companies (discos) have continued exploit Nigerians by estimated billing system for the majority of consumers, while deliberately refusing to make pre-paid meters available
According to him, most consumers are not metered in accordance with the signed privatisation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of November 1, 2013.
The UNION reports that the MoU stipulates that within 18 months gestation period all consumers are to be metered.
“The increase is only intended to protect the investment of select few and not to serve the interest of Nigerian masses who are already battling with the prevailing economic recession.
“Worried that increase in tariff will pave way for additional heavy burden on consumers and coupled with challenges in the economy. It will adversely affect the purchasing power of Nigerian workers and the entire Nigerian masses and by extension, aggravate restiveness in the country,” Nazif said.
Thereafter, the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, mandated the committees on Labour and Power to meet with the relevant agencies of government and find a lasting solution.
He further mandated the two committees to conduct public hearings.
“NERC should forthwith suspend the implementation of the new tariff. I believe that when we have a public hearing, these issues will be addressed. Until then, the new regime stands suspended,” Saraki declared.
Supporting the motion, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, noted that Nigerians are already on life support.
He urged his colleagues to reject the new increment and stand with Nigerians.
“As Nigerians, we are now on life support. This increase is evil and we must as a Senate ensure that we insist on the reversal of this increment. There is already poverty and hardship. Any additional load on Nigerians means we do not want them to be alive. We must be able to ensure that their welfare is protected,” Ekweremadu said.
Also, Senator Albert Bassey gave his support for the move.
“I want to join the labour unions for protesting. This Senate must take a stand to protect the interest of Nigerians. How can anyone increase the tariff when things are high? Why will, as a government agency, do that? We need to be firm,” he said.
In his contribution, Senator Dino Melaye urged lawmakers to go beyond the suspension of the new tariff regime.
Melaye observed that there was need to call on the electricity generation and distribution companies to pay back the loans they obtained from the Federal Government to get metres for their customers.
“This increase makes it the fourth time that electricity tariffs will be up after the privatization of the power sector. Their excuse has always been that they want to improve on the electricity. There was a time that the government gave loans to distribution and generation companies to buy metres and give to customers. They are yet to pay back that loan.
“We need to take a stand and mandate the government to reduce the tariffs. There was no negotiation with the Senate or the Labour. They arbitrarily increased the tariffs and expect us not to talk,” he said
It would be recalled that the labour unions held mass protests across the country to protest the new electricity tariff.