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Senate stops electricity tariffs hike

• Implementing new rates is contempt, court warns FG, Discos

From Fred Itua, Abuja , and Lukman Olabiyi

The Senate yesterday stopped the implementation of the new electricity tariffs expected to take off on February 1.

This was as a result of the breakdown in negotiations between the leadership of the Senate and the Federal Government over the 45 per cent increase.

Also, a Federal High Court in Lagos ruled yesterday that going ahead with the implementation would amount to contempt.

The intervention move which was initiated by the Senate leadership, led to a meeting between representatives of the Federal Government and principal officers of the Red Chamber last Thursday. Senate President Bukola Saraki chaired the parley.

Sources said Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, as well as his Labour counterpart, Dr. Chris Ngige attended the meeting.

Apparently unable to strike a compromise, the Senate yesterday during plenary, mandated the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to halt further implementation of the new electricity tariffs until further notice. It said the suspension of the new tariffs will not be lifted until public hearings are conducted by the relevant committees.

The motion which led to the suspension came under Matter of National Importance. It was moved by Senator Suleiman Nazif (APC, Bauchi). In his submission, he argued that considering the biting economic hardship, it was unrealistic to increase electricity tariffs.

Supporting the motion, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said Nigerians were already on life support. He urged his colleagues to reject the new increment and stand with Nigerians.

Saraki mandated the Committees on Labour and Power to meet with the agencies of government and find a lasting solution.

Labour unions held mass protests across the country last week to register their displeasure over the new electricity tariffs. Major cities including Abuja were grounded for several hours.

After the protests, the labour unions then issued a seven-day ultimatum. They warned that if the new tariffs were not reversed, they would embark on a nationwide strike.

Meanwhile in Lagos yesterday, a Federal High Court has warned the Federal Government and Distribution Companies (DISCOS) not to disobey its order on new rates.

Justice Mohammed Idris gave the warning yesterday at the resumed hearing of the suit filed by an activist, Toluwani Adebiyi against the NERC.

The court warned that the government must not act in a way that shows disdain for the court in a constitutional democracy.

Adebiyi had last year filed the suit seeking a perpetual injunction restraining NERC from implementing the increase without significant improvement in power supply for at least18 hours a day.

But NERC’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), said he had filed an appeal against the order. He said he also had a pending application for stay of proceedings pending determination of the appeal.

Reacting, Adebiyi said the contempt charge should be heard first since NERC had undermined the court’s authority.

But Idigbe said the application for stay of proceedings should take precedence since an appeal has been lodged.

Ruling, Justice Idris said after a careful examination of the records of court, there were a number of pending applications to be dispensed with.

Justice Idris said: “Until then, no further proceedings should go on. I will, therefore, take arguments on the application to stay further proceedings in this suit.”

He adjourned till Friday for hearing of the application for stay of proceedings.