‘It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”
By Daniel Kanu
Nigerians seem to be getting worried over the consistent inconsistency that has continued to dog the policies, actions, and inactions of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
There were expectations from electric consumers that with the leadership of its present Chairman, Sanusi Garba, citizens will experience relief and hope restored in the services from the sector.
This is given Garba’s experience, exposure and advertised competence as a strategist and power expert in the industry. It was hoped that things will be properly streamlined and better managed under his watch, but that expectation is being dashed.
Prior to his nomination for the position of Chairman/CEO of NERC, Engr Garba had served as the chief executive of Katsina Steel Rolling Co. Ltd and Director (Power) in the Federal Ministry of Power with responsibilities for generation, transmission and distribution in the electricity industry.
It is worrisome that NERC under his direction is giving DISCOs strong rope to strangle Nigerians with high tariffs and over-estimated bills.
At the last quarter of 2020, there was a hike in electricity tariff and before Nigerians could raise the alarm, NERC said diplomatically that it merely adjusted and didn’t increase the electricity tariff.
In contradicting their claim, the Federal Government suspended the implementation of that reviewed tariff and followed it up with an announcement to give Nigerians electricity relief for three months.
Most Nigerians saw that Federal Government action as a curious tariff relief, amid the epileptic power supply situation in the country.
It was, therefore, not clear what the three-month tariff relief tokenism was meant to achieve at a time citizens are expecting a regular and affordable power supply regime.
The general expectation of the people at this time is that any sort of tariff increase should be suspended while effort should be made to improve the power supply situation. This is the feeling of the public which the authorities seem to be ignoring.
The truth of the matter is that NERC cannot be operating outside the directive directly or indirectly of the government. It is, therefore, amazing that the government appears to be playing with the sensibilities of the Nigerian people.
The tariff hike was one of the issues that pitched organised labour against the Federal Government as labour threatened to go on strike at that time.
The report was that the Federal Government and Labour had struck a deal as a follow up to the negotiation arising from the two-week suspension by Labour of the proposed nationwide strike on the electricity price increase.
The deal provides for a tariff relief of N10.20 per kilowatt-hour for Nigerians and that includes distributing six million free meters within three months, which ended in December.
Other logistics that would help to cushion the effect of the situation, as well as improve upon the sector was agreed upon, but still, nothing cheering for the electricity consumers has been witnessed so far.
Observers say that the six million free meters have not been distributed during the period in question, making Nigerians to remain not only in darkness with epileptic supply, but also ripped off with impunity with no ray of hope in sight.
It is so sad that, again, NERC has slammed Nigerians with another sharp increase in electricity tariff, which has again been trailed by serious outcry and resentment.
NERC came out with a deceptive public notice during the week that there was no approval for a 50 per cent electricity tariff hike.
Although NERC tried to deny this, but it has been revealed that it actually instructed the DISCOs to increase tariffs effective January 1, 2021.
Of course, the DISCOs cannot have the nerve and shameless boldness to alter any tariff increase without conniving with NERC.
Sunday Oduntan, executive director for research and advocacy at the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED) in Abuja made a startling revelation on the tariff situation.
Oduntan in a statement which reads in part said: “We are in a regulated sector. We cannot take [a] decision about a very critical aspect of the sector like tariff without a nod from the regulator (NERC).
“However, what has happened in recent days is that our regulator is warning us not to mention their name or the Federal Government in any of our communication about the tariff increase with our customers. This is certainly very unfair”.
Nigerians should not be exploited under any guise. What is currently being paid is not commensurate with supply, which is low. Observers contend that the mass metering being presented now as a relief has been taken for granted.
It is unfortunate that the power sector was sold to unreliable parties and free loaders. Since the privatization of the sector, there has been no investment in any aspect of power supply infrastructure.
The terms of engagement are even not clear to the people and indeed consumers. It is not clear who should do what amid curiosity that the government has been pumping stimulus packages to the industry already dominated by private investors.
The latest report on Thursday was that following the adjustment from N2 to N4 per Kilo which the NERC earlier denied, the Federal Government has ordered immediate reversal.
Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman has directed NERC to inform all the DISCOs to revert to tariffs that were applicable in December 2020, so as to promote a constructive conclusion of the dialogue with labour.
This act of wobbling and fumbling going on in the energy sector is not what Nigerians expect from her government. Nigerians expect NERC under Garba to rise to the challenge rather than the present unreliability, disappointing service and failure endemic in the system.
Sanusi Garba obtained a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Ahmadu Bello University where he graduated as the Best Final Year Student in Electrical Engineering. He later obtained a Master of Science degree in Industrial Management from the University of Birmingham, UK.
He has served on many Federal Government committees, including the Presidential Committee on Power Sector Reform (2007/8) and the Presidential Task Force on Power (2009/10).