That  Power  Minister’s Defence of New Tariffs


By Tunji Aderibigbe

It  sounded  unbelievable when  I first  read the news  that  the  Power  Minister  Mr Babatunde  Raji  Fashola SAN told the House of  Representatives Committee   that  asked him  to come and explain  the blackout  all over the nation,  that the government  had   legally   sold its  ownership  of PHCN  before  the distribution  companies  bought  in.  And that  the  new  tariffs announced early  this  year  would  eventually  benefit  the Nigerian consumer  of  electricity  in the immediate  or  foreseeable   future.

As  a Nigerian very  interested in seeing the nation  get  out  of the doldrums of  constant  power failure  and its  dire  and  negative  consequences on our economic   development     and   the  welfare  of  Nigerians I  had heard  many  things  on the issue of privatisation  and the    emergence   of  the distribution  companies  saddled  with delivery   of electricity after  the   Reform of   Power  sector  during  the Obasanjo regime . Notably  I  had   heard  what  the legislators  told  the Honorable Minister ,  a Senior  Advocate  of  Nigeria and  I was pleasantly surprised  by  his blunt  rebuttal  of the mistaken  notion  of the law makers on  the privatization involving the discos . And  of course  , the  Minister, being   a legal  luminary  in his own  right ,   his  utterances  lent     immense  gravitas  and  credibility  to    his  position  on the  subject .

Similarly  the impression  one had  on the new  tariffs  as peddled  by  the trade unions  who mixed  it up  with  the new fuel price  of  145  naira in the  last  failed strike  was that  the discos were guilty  sharks   fishing  in Nigerian power  waters illegally  and milking Nigerians dry  with  high  tariffs  without  supplying  the expected  electricity . Now  the Minister  of  Power  has come out  to defend  the new electricity  tariffs  as  cost  reflective  and structured  to create  liquidity  for the industry and make the discos viable  as a going  concerns ,  able  to  recoup  their.  huge investment at  a given  and monitored  time  ,  while  guaranteeing  customer  satisfaction  for  the  Nigerian consumer . In  effect  the Power  Minster is telling us that the days of   suffering      of  Nigerians   on  constant   and perennial  power  failure   are    numbered  and  there  is really  some  light  at  the end of the tunnel  on  availability  of power  in this  country .  That  to me is quite  cheering  news  although  there  are  still  some  obstacles  in the way  in  spite  of  the bold and patriotic  posture  of  the Minister   supporting  both  the legality  of the discos , power  privatization , as  well  as the legality  of the new tariffs  and their technical  cost  reflective  nature .

The  first  obstacle  which the  Minster  should confront  was  the  suspension  by  the  Nigerian  Senate   of the new tariffs  approved for  the  discos  by the  Nigerian Electricity  Regulatory  Commission – NERC –the  regulator  of  the electricity  industry  in Nigeria . The  Minister  has  stated  now that  the tariffs  are correct  and legal  and    he should  impress that  on  the  Nigerian  senate  so  that  that law  making  body  sticks to  its lawful  duties  of  making laws   for  the  Nigerian  people  so  that  electricity  can  be regulated by  the lawful  institution empowered  by  law  to  regulate  it  ,which  is the  NERC.

In  this regard  the  Minister  should  have  the  support  of  all  right  thinking  Nigerians   who  knew what  led  to the wrong  decision  of the Senate  on  the new  tariffs.

The  senate  was hoodwinked  by  the trade  unions  which  said  then  that the  discos were just  taking Nigerians for  a ride with the new  tariffs  and that the discos  did  not have  the requisite capital  and skills  to deliver  electricity  when  they  came  aboard  through privatisation of the PHCN then.

Unfortunately the   Minister  made a half  hearted   and    feeble  defence  of the discos  then , but  later withdrew  into  his shell  .  Now  that  the Minister , a  SAN has  recovered  his voice  and  is throwing  the weight  of the law  as well  as his office  behind  the legitimacy  of  the discos as well  as  the legality  and desirability of the new  tariffs ,  the Senate should  just  retrace  its steps  and rescind  its illegal stoppage  of  the new  tariffs.

This  is more so     because   NERC  the legal  regulator  for  electricity  in Nigeria  has already  taken the  Senate   to court on  the  matter .  That  is the path  of  honor  and the  only  way  to  make  electricity  work  in Nigeria  as the Power  Minister  has already  shown   both   in  word   and  deed.

Aderibigbe, an engineer, writes from Ilorin