NLC demands outright cancellation, as Buhari, NASS agree on electricity tariff hike delay

…DISCOs yield to NASS’ pressure to suspend hike By Victor Young, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Chris Ochayi PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday agreed with the leadership of the National Assembly on the need to delay the planned hike in electricity tariffs. The leadership of the National Assembly had on Monday met with the Electricity Distribution Companies, DISCOs, where it was agreed that the planned new tariff expected to take effect today, July 1, should be delayed till first quarter of 2021. Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamil, met with President Buhari after the virtual flag-off of the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano Gas Pipeline project coordinated from the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja. The Presiding Officers of the National Assembly also met with the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in his office. Speaking to State House correspondents, Lawan and Gbajabiamila said the timing for the tariff increase was wrong, hence, the effective date has to be postponed till first quarter of next year. Gbajabiamila said: “Let me just say that we saw the President earlier this morning (yesterday) and we met with the Vice President also. The whole idea is that when there is a major policy decision, it is always good that the legislature and the executive are on the same page, so we don’t sing different tunes. “I will like to say that we have all agreed on an increase in cost reflective tariff but the issue is that the timing is also important. Sometimes, timing is even more important than the policy decision that you make. “We have all agreed to suspend this for a while and get the buy-in of the people, explain to the people why this has to be done, that it is for the betterment for electricity to get stable. “They (DISCOs and GENCOs) are businessmen and cannot be undercutting themselves.  I think so far so good, the President and the Vice President listened attentively and I think everybody is on the same page and hopefully, we will get some reprieve between now and whenever, but it’s not going to happen today.” Also speaking, the Senate President affirmed that the Villa meeting was in connection with the plan for electricity tariff hike, saying  time was not right for an increase. He said necessary measures, including the provision of prepaid meters must first be put in place before any hike could be made. Lawan said: “We have come to visit our Vice President, in connection with the impending electricity tariff hike in the country. “The joint leadership of the National Assembly sat yesterday (Sunday) with DISCOs and Nigeria Regulatory Agency. We believe that this is not the right time to increase the tariff in the electricity sector. ‘’Nigerians have a lot of challenges today because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation requires that we do everything possible to make life easy for our citizens. Of course, government is doing a lot in this respect but we believe that DISCOs should meet with consumers, find better cost effective tariff. ‘’But before then, there must be some steps to ensure consumers are properly metered, otherwise you will still go back to guessing what consumers are consuming. That is to say, let the billing be scientifically based, it has to be based on what you actually consumed. “So we had this discussion with Mr. Vice President and we are sure that that announcement in the increase of electricity tariff in Nigeria is wrongly timed. We believe we need to do more work to ensure that before any increase, there must be some measures, steps, line of actions that must be exhausted, including the metering.” On how to achieve billing without overburdening Nigerians, he explained: “I believe the share purchase agreement signed by the government and the DISCOs at the point of the privatisation must be adhered to. ‘’These are businesses and they must do everything possible to provide services. It is when they provide efficient and effective services to consumers that they can make money. But as a government, we too must make sure we discharge our obligations as provided for in share purchase agreement signed.” Similarly, electricity distribution companies, DISCOs, yesterday said they agreed to align with the recommendation of the National Assembly leadership to suspend the implementations of the proposed new tariff regime till the first quarter of 2021. The DISCOs under the umbrella of Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors, ANED, which made this known via a statement issued by its Executive Director, Research and Advocacy, Mr Sunday Oduntan, in Abuja however, maintained that the meeting to suspend the tariff hike was in instance of the National Assembly. FG rates DISCOs’ performance poor Also reacting last night, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said the suspension of the hike in electricity tariff was not enough, and demanded a total cancelation of any future hike. It contended that besides any hike not in tandem with nation’s socio-economic realities, Nigerians could not be paying for darkness and inefficiency of power distribution companies. President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said in a statement: “As much as we are pleased with the current truce on the campaign by DISCOs to subject Nigerians to killer-electricity charges, we know that the battle is far from over. ‘’In addition to the untold hardship that the intended tariff increase by DISCOs would unleash on private citizens, the NLC is greatly distressed over the hemorrhage businesses in Nigeria would suffer in terms of productivity, jobs and livelihood if the planned tariff hike is allowed to stand. ‘’Electricity is the backbone of businesses – big manufacturing concerns and small/medium scale enterprises. Already, the inability of DISCOs and GENCOs to provide constant power is taking a huge toll on national productivity, growth, employment creation and job retention. ‘’The Organized Private Sector in Nigeria, OPSN, in a recent statement posited that electricity outages in Nigeria average ten hours per day, with the cost of self-generated electricity averaging N119 billion in 2019. “The Nigeria Labour Congress rejects any further hike in electricity tariff, pump price of petrol and other essential public utility charges. The NLC is fully ready to mobilize our people to resist attempts by anyone to impose modern-day slavery on Nigerians – be they DISCOs or regulators of public utilities. ‘’We insist that further hike in tariff and user access charges at this time of great socio-economic dislocation would be ultra-insensitive, callous and a pre-meditated attempt to send many Nigerians, workers, pensioners and businesses to untimely graves.” “In the interest of fairness, equity and justice, we demand that the DISCOs refund Nigerians all the estimated billings that had been unjustly collected from our people all these years. We also demand that DISCOs pay consumers the cost that their inefficiency has imposed on citizens, residents and businesses. ‘’DISCOs must also repay bailout funds they had unjustly collected from public coffers. We wish to remind the DISCOs that the provision of pre-paid meters, transformers and investment in the sector are statutorily the job of the DISCOs not consumers or government.” ‘’DISCOs were fully aware of these conditions before subscribing to the power sector privatization programme. Enough of the lies, deceit and exploitation of the Nigerian people. On the strength of the open admission by DISCOs in Nigeria to their own grand incompetence and crass failure, we call on the Federal Government to immediately set in motion processes for the review of the power sector privatization. ‘’Enough is enough. The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress reiterates its resolve to act on the side and in the interest of the Nigerian people, workers and pensioners always.”

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