Labour Draws Battle Line With NERC, DISCOs
• Holds Stakeholders’ Meeting This Week • DISCOs Defy Senate, Court • Leave Me Out Of It, Says President Buhari
A final showdown between labour and the duo of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and Distribution Companies (DISCOs) appears imminent, following decision by the bodies to continue implementation of the new electricity tariff.
Findings by The Guardian revealed that despite an order by the Senate to “forthwith suspend implementation of the new tariff” and a court injunction requiring the same, the DISCOs have already begun actualisation.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), civil society groups and electricity consumers had last month taken to the streets to protest the 45 per cent increment, the fifth of its kind since 2012.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, told The Guardian yesterday, in Abuja that a meeting would be scheduled with all stakeholders and consumers, to review actions that have been taken so far and adopt a change of approach.
He said: “Yes, it is true that the National Assembly promised to conduct a public hearing on the matter but we cannot wait perpetually, and that is why we are calling an all stakeholders’ meeting slated for Abuja this coming week, to take stock of what we have been doing. We will take a fresh perspective on the matter, so that Nigerians won’t suffer unnecessarily.”
Wabba said there is anxiety among Nigerian workers, as most of them find the new tariff prohibitive. According to him, “government people said there were no crowds when we had rallies the last time. But now, people are not happy about the tariff because reality has dawned on them. Many workers are complaining that they cannot pay because you cannot give what you don’t have. We will bring consumer right groups to be a part of the meeting.”
But told that it appears only President Buhari might be able to call NERC and the DISCOs to order, Presidential spokesman, Femi Adeshina, said: “That is your conclusion. You said it appears, but it is not true. This is not a matter for the Presidency at all. There is a regulatory agency; the Senate has also passed a resolution on this; so it has nothing to do with the Presidency.
“The Senate is empowered to do something. So, let the Senate do it. It is not the Presidency at all. You should even go back to the Senate and ask, ‘There was a directive that the new tariff should not come into place and the DISCOs are flouting it. What does the Senate do next?’ It’s not the Presidency at all.
“NERC is there. It introduced a new tariff and the Senate said, ‘suspend it’. And I think, there is even a court ruling. So, what is the issue with the Presidency? Rather, go back to the Senate, or let the people go and fight for contempt of court. I don’t think it is proper to ask the Presidency to react to this.”
Reminded that many Nigerians see Buhari as the people’s president, and that it is only natural that they should appeal to him, he answered: “No, no, no. There is still order. Even if he is the President, quite all right, and he is pro people, pro poor, pro Nigeria, there is order. And the order should be followed. The President should be left out of this.”
In a chat with The Guardian, yesterday, General Secretary of the NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo Eson, berated NERC and the DISCOs over the hike despite a stay of action by a Federal High Court.
“Though the matter was taken to court by lawyers in our civil society allies, the court pronouncement has been largely ignored by NERC and the power firms. We are amazed that a government agency would ignore an order from a court of competent jurisdiction on a matter that concerns every Nigerian and businesses,” said Eson.
Officials of the Abuja Electricity Regulatory Commission (AEDC), meanwhile, have stated categorically that they have commenced implementation of the tariff, as no new order has been issued by NERC to the contrary.
Asked if there has been any directive stopping the new tariff, Head of Public Relations at AEDC, Ahmed Shekerau, said: “No!”
He added: “The current state of things is that the new tariff approved by NERC is being implemented, as there is no contrary directive from the Commission, which is statutorily mandated to review tariffs. AEDC’s customers have been settling their bills and buying electricity tokens for their meters.”
The Public Relations Officer of Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO), Muhammad Kandi, also noted: “We can only revisit any issue when there is an order from the regulatory agency. Issues are channeled to us through NERC. Since we have not received any directive contrary to the new tariff arrangement, the new tariff still stands.”
Abdallah Abba, a resident of Rijiyar Zaki in Kano, said before the hike, he received 120 units for N3,000, but now he has only 80 units for the same amount.
Another consumer, Zakari Yau Wudil, vented his annoyance, saying: “The Senate should act as quickly as possible and call for the arrest of those who remain adamant at obeying its legislative order. We elected President Buhari with the sole hope that the change we are yearning for would come. But this is not happening.”
Frustrated, Dr. Idu Mba, a lecturer at the University of Calabar, asked: “Why Should Buhari, as President, not give the DISCOs or whatever a final order because I’m sure they are waiting to hear from him. That was why they have disregarded what the Senate said and what the court ruled. They have total disregard for the rule of law. I only hope that the NLC would rise up on the matter because we are being enslaved. We are being taken for a ride. I’m not supposed to be paying more than N2,000, but I’m paying N12,000 every month!
“Besides, the supply is very epileptic. I don’t know what kind of country we have. If this is the change the APC promised us, then they have failed. Tell them that that is what we are saying because we are suffering. We thought privatisation would bring relief to us; rather it’s killing us. You pay house rent, you pay children’s school fees and now electricity is so expensive. The burden is too much. I thought APC’s coming would bring relief but they have added so much pain.”