By Modu Alkaleri
It is indeed intriguing to observe that the reality of a new electricity tariff, which came into effect in Nigeria last February has been accepted and is being complied with by virtually all electricity consumers in Nigeria yet political and labour leaders (who, no doubt, also comply) continue their vociferous vituperations in rejection of reality. Now even the Senate has joined the bandwagon of “undoing” a done deal. So where were the distinguished legislators when the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) began the process of publishing the proposed changes on the Commission’s website and newspapers, conducting public hearings across the geopolitical zones and consulting with key public institutions with mandate to manage macroeconomic fundamentals of the economy, as required by law?
The Senate’s motion supposedly instructing the regulatory body NERC to stop implementing the tariff was unfortunately not motivated by a genuine interest in intervening meaningfully on an issue of weighty implications on the sustenance of the power sector. It reveals a worrying tendency, already displayed by trade unionists, for “populist” posturing to becloud consideration of national economic issues. The case for some adjustment in the electricity tariff structure became a forgone conclusion as soon as the privatization reform was implemented and private investors took over the distribution business. This was the only option to decades of decadent ownership and management of the power sector during which, millions of generator-powered homes, offices and industries were at the mercy of a comatose NEPA/PHCN, which was reduced to an epileptic stand-by. There was no Senate resolution stopping the privatization.
The power sector privatization programme was positively preceded by the sensational success of the telecoms sector, which transformed our tormented telephony into a haven of mass multi-connectivity literally overnight with the GSM. The labour-instigated “protests” were drowned by ring-tones and lively chats. So it will be with the electricity sector. But the reality of a new business-oriented ownership and management cannot be wished away just as there can be no question of a return to NEPA! For the avoidance of doubt, Subsection 2(a)(b)(c of the Electric Power Sector Reforms (EPSR) Act 2005 categorically endorsed the commercial rights of the DisCos “to recover the full costs of the business activities, including a reasonable return on the capital invested in the business”.There was no Senate resolution against it.
Profit is what motivates private investors to put their money into a venture and also to manage it efficiently so that customer satisfaction will keep the business going smoothly. This is a universally accepted reality that cannot be protested or legislated out of existence. Moreover, the electricity distributors’ commercial interests have been curtailed by the regulatory functions of NERC, which specifically in the EPSR Act 2005 is charged with the power to establish the tariff payable by all classes of customers of the DisCos. By the time NERC approves a new tariff, other significant interests especially the national interest of the consumers had been taken care of. The Senate knows better.
The isolated confines of protest against the new tariff within the elitist circle of political and labour leaders, erupting only on pre-arranged outings, indicates a deliberate downplaying of the established constitutional, legal and economic realities of the new electricity tariff. It will appear as if the Senate, whose leadership has a serious credibility crisis, is trying to latch on to the feeble protest by NLC and TUC to win public confidence for itself. The senators need no telling that under the principle of separation of powers, a fundamental ambit of rule of law in a democracy, one arm of government cannot give directive to an agency (NERC) under another arm of government, and the DisCos can only take directives from NERC. No wonder the Senate’s motion recorded no movement!
Labour leaders should be undergoing a reality check on the validity of their representation relying on strike threats even when the majority of people are not with them and strike action can only do more harm than good to the people who will be enveloped in darkness and to the economy which will grind to a halt. Unless there is an ulterior motive, labour leaders should have a more enlightened and constructive engagement with workers and the regulatory authorities in order to come up with more meaningful interventions. The majority of electricity consumers saw reason to embrace the new tariff from the series of interactive town hall meetings where the rationale for the adjustment, incentives for consumers and DisCos’ commitment to improved services through massive investments were introduced and discussed. Why should labour leaders wail more than the bereaved? They should recall the GSM experience and LET THERE BE LIGHT.
Modu Alkaleri writes from Bauchi.