Interview Oil & Gas Politics

Ex-presidential Candidate Slams FG over Electricity Tariff Hike 

…Says Policy Meant to Satisfy Vested Interests 

By INNOCENT THOMAS

Reactions have continued to trail President Muhammadu Buhari approval of electricity tariff increase effective Tuesday, September 1.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) confirmed the Tuesday take-off date for the new electricity tariff regime.

The regulatory agency, however, stated that the Service-Based Tariff (SBT) regime will not affect the poor.

The move runs contrary to the National Assembly’s position that there should be no further action on the increase until the first quarter of next year. 

In this Interview, Our Correspondent spoke with Engr. Martin Onovo, the presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party, NCP, in the 2019 general elections on the issue.
Excerpts:

How do you react to electricity tariff increase effective from September 1st, 2020?

The increase in electricity tariff from the 1st of September, 2020, is another unpleasant reminder of our national rejection of integrity; our promotion of our corrupted public morality and our celebration of mediocrity. This is the natural consequence of our endemic vices that include; deceit, greed, corruption, indolence and shamelessness. The new tariff has been deceptively named ‘Service Based Tariff’ (SBT).

It is a senseless and convoluted tariff structure that allows the DISCOs to charge much higher rates to particular customers that they can supply electric power to for over twelve hours a day. This replaces the fairer ‘load-sharing’ system that was previously practiced. It also complicates electric power supply including billing operations and unfairly discriminates against other customers since available electric power supply is severely constrained.

The limited electric power supplied by DISCOs will apparently be preferentially supplied to particular customers of the DISCOs to the detriment of other customers. This is clearly unfair! It could have been more appropriately named ‘Unfair and Discriminatory Tariff’ (UDT). All adult Nigerians must all note the following; We are a very corrupt country with very many corrupt people presently.

We are so unproductive that even with adequate refining name-plate capacity in our four refineries, we import petroleum products. Incompetence and waste are rampant in all sectors of our national economy. Our value system has been perverted by materialism. With so many citizens subverting our systems, how can anything work?

The privatization of our National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was unprofessional but we had some sections of the media and some charlatan professionals promoting and celebrating it. We senselessly presumed that we could do things improperly and not suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, God that created the universe imposed some laws. One of the principal laws of this universe is that, ‘we sow what we reap’.

A combination of many destructive factors led us to this sad situation. Some of these factors are, hyper-inflation in our economy, poor productivity in Nigeria and our heavy dependence on imports. With the hyper-inflation in the country, the cost of transportation, equipment and other inputs grow thus increasing the operations and maintenance costs of the DISCOs and thereby eroding their profits.

Also, with the mediocrity, indolence and incompetence that we tolerate, efficiency is very low and so, costs are higher. Now that our Naira has crashed from N151/$ in 2011 to N380/$ currently, the Naira equivalent cost of all imported inputs has gone past double. Do not forget that we are import dependent because of our poor productivity.

Consequently, operations and maintenance costs are proportionately increased and thereby eroding profits. When the effect of endemic corruption is cumulatively considered, it becomes clear how we are responsible for our depressing situation. These factors do not affect only DISCOs but actually affect all other sectors of our economy too and so, we presently have the highest level of unemployment ever, the highest level of inflation ever, the highest level of total national debt ever, the highest level of corruption ever; and we have become the global capital of extreme poverty. The impact of all these on security of lives and properties is also obvious as we presently have the highest level of insecurity ever.

Do you think there be light at the end of the tunnel?

Nigeria is dysfunctional. However, we can fix it. These problems will continue to grow and get even more complicated until we get the right political leadership that will lead us to fix it. We must work together to get the right leadership and fix all these problems.

DISCOs have failed to provide electricity meters to all their customers as expected, are you saying there is a deliberate plan to exploit Nigerians?

Clearly, the DISCOs have been terribly exploiting Nigerians for many years using several means, particularly crazy bills. This can be very easily established if we sum up the electric energy (KWH) the DISCOs billed all their customers for and compare that with the electric energy received by the DISCOs from the Transmission Company in the same period. Our estimates based on selected customers on estimated billing shows a factor of five (5). Using a customer that has received 200KWH in a month, the estimated bill will show over 1,000 KWH. So, many reports have been made by customers to DISCOs and NERC but many are ignored. Even when the DISCOs respond, it is an unscrupulous attempt to justify their exploitation.

NERC seems to lack the regulatory capacity to enforce its regulations. We must recognize that even with the privatization, the government of Nigeria is still a major partner in the DISCOs. Electric meters (pre-paid or post-paid) are necessary to promote transparency,integrity and confidence in the billing system and also eliminate ‘crazy bills’. With meters, customers will also make more effort to conserve electric power to minimize their bills. This will mitigate wastes and improve the national power supply situation. Unfortunately, DISCOs are clearly unwilling to meter customers since the lack of meters provides the opportunity for them to profiteer by issuing ‘crazy bills’.

No customer should pay for power not supplied. This is the correct moral and legal position. The ministry of Power and the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) rightly insist on this position but they have been unable to enforce it for many years. The bill passed by the House of Representatives to criminalize ‘crazybills’ may make it easier to enforce metering when the bill becomes law.

Is there any moral justification for tariff increase since government has supported these DISCOs without the expected result?

In our opinion, there is no moral justification for a tariff increase because, ‘those that come to equity must come with clean hands’. The DISCOs have not fully complied with the original privatization agreement. Also, they have not shown good faith. Instead, the DISCOs have continued to exploit our country and our citizens endlessly.

The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria reported that DISCOs have been supported by the Nigerian government with over N1.5 Trillion. These same DISCOs have not invested as expected to improve distribution infrastructure. Instead, the DISCOs have been rejecting power from the Transmission Company and exploiting customers with ‘crazy bills’.

Considering the impact of the COVID 19 lockdown, do you think the timing is right as other counties like Ghana appear to be more doing more to aide her residents out of the post pandemic era?

The timing is wrong. There is no right time to do things wrongly. This is the natural consequence of the series of unpatriotic policies that were made to satisfy vested interests.

The situation has also been complicated by our national economy that has been ruined by the current government. The government of Ghana apparently has the capacity to waive electricity bills for its residents for a while but this Nigerian government is overwhelmed with mediocrity, incompetence, indolence, debt and corruption. All patriots must work together to get the right political leadership now, to start fixing these complications that we suffer due to bad governance. According to the lateProf. Chinua Achebe, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”.

The recent fuel price hike is seen by Nigerians as another anti-people policy. What are your thoughts on that ?

We are not surprised! The decisions and actions of yesterday are the realities of today. The APC government has wasted our resources and mismanaged the economy. The natural consequence of that is the economic crisis we must face now. Nigerians cannot continue to tolerate the excesses of this regime and expect not to face the penalties. We must pay for our indolence.

From 1973, when Gen. Gowon increased the fuel price from 6k to 8k, we have continued to increase the price all the way to N145.00 because as we import instead of refining, the Naira is devalued and the price increases following the “price cyclone”

 

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