The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has warned the Federal Government and the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) not to disobey subsisting court orders on electricity tariff.
The court also warned the government not to act in a way that showed disdain for the court in a constitutional democracy.
Presiding Justice, Mohammed Idris, gave the warning while ruling in a suit filed by a lawyer and rights activist, Toluwani Adebiyi, over the recent hike in electricity tariff on Monday.
Justice Idris fixed Friday, February 19 to hear an application by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) seeking a stay of proceedings in the suit.
The judge fixed the date after listening to the arguments of lawyers representing parties in the matter over the order in which pending applications should be taken by the court.
Mr Adebiyi filed a suit seeking a perpetual injunction restraining NERC from implementing any upward review of electricity tariff without significant improvement in power supply for at least 18 hours a day in May 2015.
He also wants an order restraining NERC from foisting compulsory service charges on pre-paid meters until “the meters were designed to read charges per second of consumption and not a flat rate of service not rendered or power not used.”
Multiple Long-term Financing Approach
Mr Adebiyi wants the service charge on pre-paid meters not to be enforced until there is visible efficient and reliable power supply like those of foreign countries where the idea of service charge was borrowed.
He further asked for an order of court mandating the NERC to do the needful and generate more power to meet the electricity use of Nigerians, emphasising that the needful should include and not limited to a multiple long-term financing approach, sourced from the banks, capital market, insurance and other sectors of finance to power the sector.
The lawyer also asked the court to mandate the NERC to make available to all Nigerians within a reasonable time of maximum of two years, prepaid meters as a way to stop the throat-cutting indiscriminate estimated bill which must be devoid of the arbitrary service charge, but only chargeable on power consumed.
In an affidavit in support of the suit personally deposed to by the applicant, the lawyer lamented that despite the motto and mission of NERC which were expressly stated as “keeping the lights on and to meet the needs of Nigeria for safe, adequate, reliable and affordable electricity,” most communities in Nigeria do not get more than 30 minutes of electricity supply, while the remaining 23 hours and 30 minutes were always without light and in total darkness.
“Nigeria’s poor masses are paying an estimated and indiscriminate residential bill ranging from 5, 000 Naira to 18, 000 Naira, spending an average of 15, 000 Naira to 20, 000 Naira for fuel to maintain generating set.
“Businesses had collapsed, industries had closed down, and residents cannot sleep comfortably at night due to inefficiency of our power industry.
“Companies and commercial houses are groaning under throat-cutting power bill which they are paying for, yet not getting the benefit for such payment,” Adebiyi stated.
He stressed that the proposed increase in electricity tariff came amidst the tangled web of poor power supply with no reasonable proof of improvement.
“The situation is self evident, it readily speaks for itself because everyone is suffering from poor power outrage.
“Bringing further increase amidst this tangled web of hardship and without any improvement in power supply will be highly unjustifiable and will be an economic burden on Nigeria populace. It is totally absurd and not for the good of the people and therefore must be stopped,” Adebiyi submitted.
Justice Idris had made an order directing parties to maintain status quo and for NERC to suspend all actions relating to any increment in electricity tariff pending the hearing and final determination of the suit.
But while the suit was pending, NERC in conjunction with the Electricity Distribution Companies commenced the implementation of the new electricity tariff on February 1.
Protests by labour unions had since trailed the new power tariff.
At the proceedings, the plaintiff drew the court’s attention to an application seeking to commit the NERC’s Chairman and the CEOs of the Distribution Companies (Discos) to prison for allegedly flouting the order.
But NERC’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), said he had filed an appeal against the order by Justice Idris.
He also said he had a pending application for a stay of the proceedings pending the determination of the appeal.
Mr Idigbe mentioned that the plaintiff had not effected service of the contempt proceedings on the alleged contemnors.
The two lawyers were divided on which application should be heard first.
Mr Adebiyi said the contempt charge should be heard first since NERC had undermined the court’s authority, but Mr Idigbe said the application for stay of proceedings should take precedence since an appeal had been lodged.
In a short ruling on the issue, Justice Idris, held that it was in the interest of justice to first hear the defendant’s application for a stay of proceedings pending the determination of their appeal against the court’s order.
The plaintiff then asked for a short adjournment to enable him file his response to the application.
Justice Idris subsequently adjourned till Friday for the hearing of the application for a stay of proceedings..