•Timing is wrong, say National Assembly leaders
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday met with President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to make them halt a new tariff regime in the electricity market billed to take off today.
The two leaders of the National Assembly who held separate meetings with the president and the vice president at the State House in Abuja, described the timing of the new tariffs as wrong and ill-conceived.
Lawan told State House reporters after the meetings that the joint leadership of the National Assembly met with the electricity distribution companies (Discos) on Monday, and convinced them that the timing for the increased tariff was wrong.
He said Nigeria was currently battling a myriad of challenges caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hence adding more to the burdens of Nigerians through a higher electricity tariff regime would amount to insensitivity.
Lawan said both the Discos and consumers should have a middle level ground on electricity tariffs, adding that rushing to increase electricity tariffs, while majority of citizens are not metered amounts to putting the cart before the horse.
According to him, a situation where the billing of consumers is not predicated on any scientific proof, but on mere assumptions of the Discos, is wrong.
He explained that efforts need to be intensified by the Discos to correct the anomalies in the billing system before considering increase in tariffs, adding that the vice president reasoned with them.
Lawan said: “We have come to visit our vice president, one of our leaders, in connection with the impending electricity tariff in the country. The joint leadership of the National Assembly sat yesterday with Discos and the 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 that the consumers are properly metered. Otherwise, you will still go back to guessing what consumers are consuming.
“That is to say that 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 on the increase of electricity tariff in Nigeria is untimely. We believe that 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. This is a welcome idea to the vice president as well.”
Lawan added that the Discos have the responsibility to abide by the share purchase agreement they signed with the federal government during the privatisation process.
According to him, the Discos are saddled with the mandate to provide services and could only make huge profits after they have lived up to their own responsibilities by providing effective services for consumers.
The senate president explained that the federal government also has the responsibility to play its own roles as spelt out in the share purchase agreement, noting that when both parties play their parts as required, power supply would reasonably improve.
He stated that as long as the government has the responsibility to play its own roles as contained in the share purchase agreement, it could not continue to divert funds meant to build hospitals, for instance, to fund Discos and the generation companies (Gencos).
Gbajabiamila also said they had earlier met with the president before the meeting with the vice president, adding that the meeting was informed by the necessity to ensure that both the executive and the National Assembly share the same position on a major policy like the hike in electricity tariffs.
He said whereas they had all initially agreed that the current situations in the power sector demanded increase in electricity tariffs, its implementation, however, was coming at a wrong time.
The speaker said good timing was more important than even the policy itself, adding that it had earlier been resolved that the hike in electricity tariffs should be suspended until consumers are carried along.
He stated that both the president and the vice president listened attentively to them yesterday and consequently, they expected a prompt move from the presidency, which, however, he said was too late to happen yesterday.
He said: “Let me just say that we saw the president earlier this morning and we have seen the vice president today. 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 that we don’t sing different tunes.
“I will like to say that I think we have all agreed on an increase in cost-reflective tariff but the issue is that the timing is also important. Sometimes, timing is more important than even the policy decision that you make. There is a saying that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.
“So, the intention is good but what about the timing. We have all agreed to suspend this for a while, tarry awhile 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 the electricity to get stable.
“They are businessmen and cannot be undercutting themselves. I think so far, so good, the president listened attentively. 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.”