Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who met separately with the leadership of the National Assembly, have agreed on the deferment of an electricity tariff hike meant to kick off Wednesday, July 1.
The National Assembly leadership had on Monday intervened in the planned hike of electricity tariffs by power providers, saying that the timing was inappropriate in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of citizens’ incomes.
Senate President Mr Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, who briefed State House Correspondents after the meetings, said both Mr Buhari and Mr Osinbajo agreed that the timing was not expedient, hence the increment should be deferred till further notice.
The Speaker, responding to a question on the hike of electricity tariff and the DISCOS complaints of operating under heavy financial burden said: ‘Let me just say that we saw the President earlier this morning and we have seen the Vice President today. The whole idea is that when there is a major policy decision, it is always good that the legislature and the executive are on the same page so that we don’t sing different tunes.
‘I will like to say that I think we have all agreed on an increase in cost-reflective tariff but the issue is that the timing is also important. Sometimes, timing is more important than even the policy decision that you make. There is a saying that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. So the intentions are good but what about the timing? We have all agreed to suspend this for a while, tarry a while and get the buy-in of the people, explain to the people why this has to be done, that it is for the betterment for the electricity to get stable. They are businessmen (DISCOS) and cannot be undercutting themselves. I think so far, so good. The President listened attentively, the Vice President listener attentively and I think everybody is on the same page and hopefully, we will get some reprieve between now and whenever but it’s not going to happen today.’
Mr Lawan, who also spoke, said the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the country negatively, and that the situation requires that everything possible is done to make life easier for citizens.
‘We have come to visit our Vice President… in connection with the impending electricity tariff in the country,’ the Senate President said.
‘The joint leadership of the National Assembly sat yesterday [Monday] with DISCOS and Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). We believe that this is not the right time to increase the tariff in the electricity sector. Nigerians have a lot of challenges today because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation requires that we do everything possible to make life easy for our citizens.
‘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.’
On if the country will get to a point where Nigerians can get steady power supply so that billing and metering would be more affordable for them, Mr Lawan said all stakeholders must adhere to the share purchase agreement signed by the government.
‘I believe that the share purchase agreement signed by the government and the DISCOS at the point of the privatization must be adhered to. These are businesses and they must do everything possible to provide services. It is when they provide efficient and effective services to consumers that they can make money. But as a government, we too must make sure that we discharge our obligations as provided for in share purchase agreement signed. Once we are able to achieve that, we will have a better situation in the power sector in Nigeria. It is doable, it has happened elsewhere,’ he said.
‘So, we cannot continue to give DISCOS and GENCOS the resources that we can ordinarily deploy to build hospitals. But whatever is necessary for us to do as part of our agreement with them we must do those.’
Speaking on is International Day of Parliamentarism and how well the National Assembly has supported government and discharged its responsibility in the COVID-19 period in terms of emergency laws, monitoring spending, the Senate President said: ‘Well, we have been doing our best but it’s for the public to judge what we do. I wouldn’t say we should rate ourselves but I want to assure you that in the prevailing circumstances, the National Assembly has been doing its best. We try to attend to all those issues we believe are contemporaneous, those resources that government needs to address COVID-19 situation.
‘Recently, we passed the 2020 budget and of course that included the stimulus package to support the COVID-19 situation. So we have been doing our best and we are always available to undertake those parliamentary interventions that will be required as at when due.’