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