By Lukman Olabiyi
More anger and outrage have continued to trail the upward adjustment of electricity tariffs approved for the 11 electricity distribution companies by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
The commission, in a statement, by its Chairman, Garba Sanusi on Tuesday in Abuja, said it adjusted its December 2020 Multi Year Tariff Order and Minimum Remittance Order by N2 and N4 among categories of consumers.
NERC had approved the minor adjustment in tariffs for electricity users effective January 1.
The commission blamed the increase on inflation and the current exchange rate of N379.4/$1 as of Dec. 29, 2020. The agency said the increase would begin in June.
However, against the backdrop of the hardships the new tariff increase would cause poor Nigerians, Organised Labour, yesterday, charged the Federal Government to immediately reverse or risk industrial action.
Both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in separate reactions warned that the hike would further lead to the crumbling of the nation’s fragile economy.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said Nigerians have bled enough already and will bleed no more.
“In the light of the heightened burden that this hike in electricity tariff imposes on Nigerian workers and people, we urge the Federal Government to quickly withdraw this uncanny New Year gift or face an unprecedented industrial resistance by Nigerian workers.”
Wabba said labour really fear for the impact of the new increase on manufacturing in Nigeria, stating that producers of made-in-Nigeria goods and services will find it greatly difficult to cope with the new tariff.
“Before now, many manufacturing concerns and Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) were already reeling in great strain as a result of the negative growth occasioned by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that this tariff hike would sound the death knell for many manufacturing outfits in Nigeria as many of them would resort to either mass lay-off of workers and or direct importation of finished goods.”
He said NLC vehemently condemned the attempt to start 2021 for Nigerians on the grinding stone. He lamented that it is even colder that the tariff increase was announced without recourse to the negotiation process that the government and Organised Labour signed up to about three months ago, noting that labour got the news from media like other Nigerians.
“This is indeed a stellar performance in negotiation in bad faith by the Federal Government. This is completely unacceptable to the working people of Nigeria.It is very awful and indeed cruel for government to introduce yet another killer electricity tariff amidst the soaring inflation and poverty rates in the country,” he said.
The NLC leader also condemned what he considered the double speak in the NERC communique announcing the tariff hike.
“In one breath, NERC denied any new increase in tariff. In another breath, it announced that electricity tariff would be adjusted from N2 per kilowatt/hour to N4 per kilowatt/hour – a 100% tariff increase. The statement in quick reversals also lumped consumers in Band D and E under the new tariff.
“This volte face is contrary to our agreement with government which excluded Band D and E from further increases in electricity tariff. This clearly paints a picture of deliberate mission by government to hoodwink and take Nigerians for a ride.”
He maintained that overall, the increase in electricity tariff apart from negating the agreement reached with government in September 2020 will further imperil the local economy, lead to loss of millions of jobs and trigger wider social discomfitures.
Similarly, TUC leadership equally warned that organised labour should not be pushed to the wall because it will actually do all no good.
“Government must revert to the old price or be willing to accept the outcome of this decision,” it stated.
TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, said the labour centre was disappointed by the hike while negotiations are ongoing over the last hike that became effective from November 1, 2020, because of the untold hardship it has brought on the workers and Nigerians as a whole.
“There are many companies that have either closed shops or relocated to neighbouring countries because they cannot afford to pay the last tariff hike yet this government has done another one,” he said.
TUC president queried how government could increase tariff again when it had not resolved the one done earlier, stating that the action was preposterous, ridiculous and sheer wickedness.
Olaleye said Labour have been labelled what they were not because they wanted a peaceful industrial atmosphere. He lamented that the economy was struggling before the outbreak of the pandemic, hence Labour thought it was wise not to worsen the nation’s situation.
“We call on government to be responsible for once. Nigerians will like to know what we gained from border closures. Insecurity did not stop, neither did it stop the smuggling of rice and others. You don’t just churn out policies without weighing the pros and cons. How many people can afford to pay the last bill talk less of this recent one?”
In its reaction, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Edo/Delta branch, described the increase as ill-timed due to the economic recession.
Mr. Okwara Udensi, chairman of the branch, said many businesses were still facing untold hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and EndSARS violence.
He said the manufacturing sector was experiencing high cost of production noting that any further increase in electricity tariff would worsen production and purchasing power of consumers.
“The economy is in a bad shape, we are in recession, so an increase in electricity tariff will translate to an increase in the cost of goods and services.
“Besides, the purchasing power of the people is low and people will not buy goods produced at very high cost and this will lead to most SMEs becoming moribund,” he said.
Udensi urged NERC to put its intention on hold.
According to him, all over the world, manufacturing industry contributes a greater percentage of GDP to the economy, but in Nigeria, a lot of SMEs have closed due to the pandemic while many workers have been laid off.
He said that what the SMES needed was government support to grow rather than increase in electricity tariff.
Electricity consumer groups, the Energy Consumer Rights and Responsibilities Initiative (ECRRI) and All Electricity Consumers Protection Forum (AECPF) also decried the increment in separate interviews in Lagos.
Mr Adeola Samuel-Ilori, national coordinator, AECPF, said the adjustment was illegal, unjust and unfair to electricity consumers in the country.
According to him, the minor adjustment which is coming after NERC increased tariffs on September 1, 2020, violates the provisions of Sections 32, 63 and 72 of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA), 2005.
He said the Act provides that any minor tariff adjustment should be done after a period of six months, stressing that the review was therefore an illegality.
“The DisCos didn’t fulfil the condition precedent to the increase in the Sept. 1, 2020 tariff in the first place.
“Such condition precedent can be found in Section 76(2)(b) and (7) of EPSRA 2005 which includes wide consultation with stakeholders and noticeable efficiency.
“The other issues have to do with metering and directive on capping which repealed estimated billing methodology in order 197/2020 which is still subsisting.
“Our position is that we are examining the situation because it is a legal issue and we may need to go to court for interpretation if they go ahead with the adjustment,” Samuel-Ilori said.
Also, Mr. Sural Fadairo, National President, ECRRI, said the minor adjustment was not necessary at this point in time.
“NERC has a duty to protect electricity consumers from exploitation but what we are seeing now is clearly the opposite, with adjustment in tariffs within a very short period. We are therefore calling on the National Assembly to urgently intervene and halt this minor review for now,” he said.
Action brutish, inhuman -OPC
While rejecting the increment, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), accused President Buhari of being insensitive to the plights of Nigerians.
The group regarded the sudden increase in the electricity tarriffs as brutish and inhuman.
OPC said the action of Buhari-led administration was an attempt to fuel national crisis.
It also restated its support and commitment to true federalism on the basis of regionalism, adding that Nigeria cannot make any meaningful progress with the 1999 Constitution, which it described as democratic albatross.
Rising shortly after the first marathon meeting of the leadership and National Coordinating Council (NCC) of the group in Lagos, the OPC led by the national coordinator and the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland land, Iba Gani Adams, in a statement jointly issued by the national general secretary, Babajide Tanimowo and Publicity Secretary, Yinka Oguntimehin, said the call for true federalism became imperative given the present situation in the country.
“OPC is concerned about the state of the nation.We are worried about the current political structure. We are also worried about the present state of the economy. We are particularly worried about the security situation in the country.
“For instance, how do we explain the fact that in the first week of the new year,the Federal Government came up with a sudden increase in the electricity tarrifs, it is sad and brutish. FG can no longer save the situation from degenerating further
“We urged the Federal Government to urgently overhaul the security architectures in the country in order to guarantee adequate security in the country.