President Tinubu can’t change the tariff on electricity now, by Rotimi Fasan

Date:

THAT the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission, NERC, has rolled out a new regime of tariff is no longer news. It’s been seven days since the announcement was made, rather strangely, by the Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu and not NERC’s Rikiji Sanusi Garba. NERC may pretend it’s in charge of such responsibilities but it knows its place in the overall scheme of things or it would be told who is actually in charge as has now happened when it was Adelabu and not Garba that took on the unenviable task of explaining the unexplainable to the angry army of Nigerian electricity consumers. NERC is only the face or, if you will, agency government has saddled with the task of electricity matters and it has been playing that role for nearly two decades. When it comes to issues of revenue generation through tariff regulation, however, Aso Villa has the last word.

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It makes no difference to Nigerians which between the Ministry and NERC chose to break the cheerless news of tariff increment to a financially beleaguered people. What counts is that it is coming at a time when everything that could go wrong about the economy and the purchasing power of Nigerians has gone wrong- now typically from bad to worse. And just when the government seems to be pulling out of the doldrums of an inflation that most business owners blame on the ever-rising value of the United States dollar to the naira- just then did the government decide to self-sabotage by slicing away what it calls subsidy from the price of energy by kilowatt per hour to be used by Nigerians.

From N68/per kilowatt hour for those consumers labelled Band A, the price of energy rose to N225 per kilowatt hour. That’s more than 200% increment! But this is an equal opportunity ‘’largesse’’ that is coming to everyone sooner than later, Adebayo Adelabu has made clear. Which may partly explain why many have decided to fight the battle from now on instead of waiting until the new price regime is imposed on everyone and by which time it would be too late to act at all, not to say collectively.

The remarkable thing about the new tariff regime is not the announcement at this time but the distribution of the consuming public into groups, so-called bands, in terms of how long power is made available or not in a day. The categorisation is nothing but a bare-faced manifestation of a localised apartheid system. That’s the only way to account for the logics of the discriminatory access to a social utility that has been at the foundation of modernity in Nigeria since about the last decade of the 19th century.

While it might not have been the intention of the officials of the Ministry of Power and their NERC counterparts to give access to something as important as electricity through an apartheid system of social distribution, while they may not be accused of thinking less of Nigerians as human beings given the gross provocation of this exclusionary tariff(although many Nigerians may dispute this, after all it was in this country that a former military governor turned president of the Senate infamously said that telephone was not meant for every Nigerian) but that is how it has played out.

Even if those who are expected to enjoy more hours of power consumption are to pay more than others and are the only ones supposedly affected by the price increment, the entire operation still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. This, for the simple assumption it made that some people are more deserving of something as important to our everyday existence as electricity power, than others just on account of their location. The categorisation in turn looks arbitrary, unduly neat and ultimately bizarre for those who have a sense of power supply in Nigeria. It’s never the case that people enjoy it for the precise hours NERC’s band taxonomy will suggest. Certainly not in my part of Nigeria, under the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company from where I’m writing this now. It has had less than ten hours of electricity in about five days. Many more neighbourhoods have suffered worse fate.

What’s wrong with every one enjoying power on equal terms for the hours it’s available? Why is this not the goal of government rather than this easy resort to winding back the hand of the clock by throwing the majority of the nearly 13 million electricity consumers around the country into the “outer darkness” of life without electricity, while the lucky minority of less than two million consumers, the over-pampered breed of a misused national population, are ushered into their paradise of 20 hours of electricity? Again, the authorities expect Nigerians to take it for granted that electricity will be available on an uninterrupted basis for the number of hours NERC claims for the DISCOs? But we are all Nigerians who have been schooled by the pain of broken promises not to expect services from public utilities providers even when payments have been made three times over.

It is probable that Nigerians in the Band A category may enjoy less than ten hours of electricity despite paying for 20 hours without any serious means of seeking redress. It’s possible but it would be interesting to know of any such place where electricity is available nonstop for 20 hours in Nigeria at this present time. What is clear to anyone looking at the NERC bands of power consumers is that it’s largely utopian. It’s too neat to be taken seriously in the messy world of Nigeria’s power supply where parts of a city could be without power supply for years even when all the power distribution companies do is to ‘’maintain’’ the transformers, poles and cables bought by the consumers with their own money. Head or tail, electricity consumers lose with the DisCOs.

In view of this and the poor state of power infrastructure and supply, without forgetting what Nigerians have had to endure since Bola Tinubu decreed oil subsidy out of existence at the inauguration of his administration- going by all of this, the idea of removing the so-called subsidy on power tariff is ill-conceived and comes across as kicking a people that are down already. Must the bitter pills of economic recovery be administered in overdose? Where is the place of government in the life of a people if all it appears to do is pummel the economically weak? At what point can Nigerians truly begin to enjoy all the trillions that are supposedly being saved from the removal of the subsidy on basic utilities? The handshake from Abuja is going beyond the elbow and may well break the arms of Nigerians.


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