Lawmakers urge public hearing
GIVING vent to the frustrations of electricity consumers in the country, the Senate yesterday ordered the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to halt the 45 per cent proposed increase in tariff.
The upper legislative chamber gave the directive at its resumption of plenary after a two-week suspension to enable them to consider the 2016 budget proposals of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Adopting a two-prayer motion moved by Suleiman Nazif (APC Bauchi North), the Senate directed its Committee on Labour to carefully review the law establishing NERC with the principal aim of establishing a strong regulatory body that would ensure proper and pocket-friendly billing system in such a way that the consumers and investors would be treated equitably.
The Senate also mandated the Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity to hold a public hearing of stakeholders, Ministry of Power, NERC, distribution companies (discos) and others with the aim of re-examining the matter and be able to arrive at a logical conclusion such that Nigeria workers and the entire Nigeria masses would not be short-changed.
Nazif observed that the increase would have a multiplier effect on the Nigerian economy with manufacturing companies having to pay more for electricity, stressing that due process in the extant laws for such increase was not followed in consonance with Section 76 of the Power Sector Reform Act (2005).
He also observed that the distribution companies (discos) had continued to exploit Nigerians through an 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 1st, 2013, which stipulates that within 18 months gestation period, all consumers are to be metered.
“The increase is only intended to protect the investment of a select few and not to serve the interest of Nigerian masses who are already battling with the prevailing economic recession.
“ We should be worried that increase in tariff will pave the way for additional heavy burden on consumers 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,” he said
The Senate President, Abubakar Saraki thereafter mandated the Committees on Labour and Power to meet with the relevant agencies of government and find a lasting solution. He also 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, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said Nigerians were already on life support. He urged his colleagues to reject the increase and stand with Nigerians.
Senator Albert Bassey (PDP Akwa Ibom) also supported the move, saying: “I want to commend the labour unions for protesting. This Senate must take a stand to protect the interest of Nigerians.”
Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi-West), urged lawmakers to go beyond the suspension of the new tariff regime. He said there was the need to call on electricity generation and distribution companies to pay back loans they obtained from the Federal Government to get metres for their customers.
He said: “This increase makes it the fourth time that electricity tariffs will be up after the privatisation 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 those loans.
“We need to take a stand and mandate the government to reduce the tariffs. There was no negotiation with the Senate or labour. They arbitrarily increased the tariffs and expect us not to talk .”