Senate, Court Join War Against Power Tariff Increase

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Saraki

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The Nigerian Senate and the Federal High court are up in arms against the federal government for increasing the electricity tariff on February 1

| By Anayo Ezugwu | Feb 29, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT |

THE Nigerian Senate and the federal high court have joined the fight against increase in electricity tariff in the country. On February 16, the Senate directed the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, to immediately suspend the 40 percent increment in electricity tariff which took effect from February 1. The Senate statement came on the heels of the nationwide protest staged by organised labour against the tariff increase on February 8.

Bukola Saraki, Senate President, explained that the move was necessary because any increase in cost, without the necessary improvement in service delivery by the power companies is unacceptable. According to him, power distribution companies must work to ensure that every establishment in Nigeria is provided with capabilities for metered billing. Doing this would end the sharp practice of arbitrary billing, which estimates the power consumption of Nigerians in the generation of their monthly bills.

Similarly, the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, on Monday, February 15, warned the federal government and Discos against disobeying subsisting court orders on electricity tariff. Justice Mohammed Idris, trial judge, at the resumed hearing of the matter, said government must not act in a way that shows disdain for the court in a constitutional democracy.

The point must be made that obedience to the rule of law by all citizens is sacrosanct, but more particularly those who publicly take the oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution must entrench good governance by respecting rule of law, the judge said. “In a constitutional democratic society like ours, this is meant to be the norm. It is an act of apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the law and the necessary rules meant to regulate matters. I must say it loud and clear that the government of this country shall be a government of laws and not of men,” he said.

Toluwani Adebiyi, activist and lawyer, had last year in a suit sought a perpetual injunction restraining NERC from implementing any upward review of electricity tariff without significant improvement in power supply for at least 18 hours a day. Justice Idris had made an order directing parties to maintain status quo.

But, while the suit was pending in court, NERC announced the tariff hike. Adebiyi informed the court that he had initiated contempt proceedings against NERC chairman and managing directors of Discos for disobeying the court’s orders and prayed the court to commit the alleged contemnors to prison.

Adebiyi said the contempt charge should be heard first since NERC had undermined the court’s authority. In a short ruling, Justice Idris said after a careful examination of the records of court, there were a number of pending applications to be dispensed with. Among them is the Form 49 filed by the plaintiff and a motion for leave to serve the purported contemnors through their counsel.

But Anthony Idigbe, NERC lawyer, said he had filed an appeal against the order by Justice Idris. He said he also had a pending application for stay of proceedings pending determination of the appeal.

NERC has revealed that the recent increase in electricity tariffs does not affect consumers in the low-income class, otherwise known as the R1 customer class. Anthony Akah, acting chairman, NERC, explained that electricity tariffs for this class of consumers was N4 per kilowatt before the February upward review and still remained same after the review.

Akah noted that the commission should never be seen as siding with either the consumers or the market participants, as it rather works to create a level playing field for all market participants and other stakeholders.

He noted that one of the functions of NERC includes the protection of consumers and that electricity must be rightly priced to ensure that providers of electricity were allowed to make reasonable profit from their businesses. “The commission promotes competition for market practices based on the realities in the sector and the dynamics of the economy. Power is a product and should be rightly priced.”

With the latest directive from the Senate, Nigerians are indeed hoping that the federal government, the NERC and the Discos would comply.

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