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[The Concourse] NATIONAL ELECTRICITY REGULATORY COMMISSION: The latest national nemesis

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The centrepoint of our colloquy on The Concourse today is the senseless increase of electricity tariff nationwide by the Distribution companies of Nigeria (DisCos) under the gleeful permission of the National Electricity Regulatory commission (NERC).

But it will amount to wanton apathy for us to take on any topic this week, (irrespective of its urgency) without a brief stop over at the victims of abduction in Government Secondary School Jangebe, Marafa LGA of Zamfara state and Government College Kagara in Niger State. We commensurate with the victims and bemoan the government of the day for their failure in addressing security challenges bedevilling us as a country.

A cursory peep into some classified, documents from federal Ministry of Finance, Budgets and National Planning, revealed a curious truth that security votes in the tune of 1.3 billion naira accrue to states like Niger monthly, but they could not safeguard as little as school children in the states. It begs the question: What exactly do our state Chief Executives do with all those monies? Only the future will tell.

Now back to our talking point.

For well over six months now, Nigerians have been groaning aloud in hushed voices over irrational hike in electricity tariff across boards above 50%. From the city centres to remote areas, the gnashing of teeth is louder than words.

The sadism of the current regime, has not been felt the way it had been, in the last six months and counting.

When government announced increase in electricity tariff, Nigeria did not know it was going to be skyrocketed the way it did. Many took to their social media timelines to lament the inhuman extortion in guise of electric utility bills the Power distribution companies (DisCos) serve them.

The new tariff increase effectively mean the Federal Government has removed an estimated 80% of its subsidy on electricity, giving the Discos the cost-reflective tariffs that they have requested for since 2016 when the tariff was last increased. DisCos maintain that the extra amount being paid by electricity customers will be passed on to government agencies; Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trader and the Market Operator who will then pay gas providers, the Transmission company and generating companies.

Vendetta regime!

This is one of the ugly souvenirs President Buhari bequeathed Nigerians albeit comatose economy which he has successfully run aground.

Today such short write-ups like: “PHCN bill is now more than house rent” trends virally across our cyberspace. Although federal government under Buhari is allergic to social media opinions, such cries from Nigerians in that environment had continued to paint our image negatively in the global scene.

NERC was created by, and operate based on, the guidelines stipulated in the Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2005. Its mission is to “promote and ensure an investor-friendly industry and efficient market structure to meet the needs of Nigeria for safe, adequate, reliable, and affordable electricity.

The key point is “affordable.”

In Nigeria, privatization of government properties has helped in making lives better except in the Power Sector. The cracking of government monopoly in telecommunication industry for example, was a landmark achievement. But since the ‘partial’ selling off of NEPA to PHCN, ordinary Nigerians have been having hard times coming to terms with conflicting interests in the market that are burdening on them as the final consumers.

Hence, the term “affordable” is alien to the current NERC regime.

And to worsen the situation, the unmeaning hike is affecting all customers, both prepaid and estimated meter users. During the yuletide, Enugu DisCo (EEDC) cut off Akparata village in Ada Obollo Etiti, Enugu State. What was their offence? They were served an estimated bill of over N400,000:00 for the month ending November 2020. In shock, the villagers were perplexed as to what to do. The bill knocked sense off their brains.

And since inaminate strictness is the baptism name of EEDC, they cut them off. The people were in blackout during Christmas. It took the intervention of their sons who came home for the season to offset the asymmetrical bill and restore power to their village. The story was not different from the rest of Nigeria remote settings.

On Wednesday, 2021, Igwe Remigius Ogbuishi, the Ekpo II of Ibenda in the same Obollo, convoked an extraordinary meeting of community leaders in all the villages connected to the Isi Uzo power line of national grid. This was to discuss on the disproportionate bill of over N1.2billion that EEDC served them for the month ending January 2021.

After the #EndSARS protest, many expected a reversal of the tariff hike regime, but NERC has refused to allow reason prevail. On his swearing-in ceremony as the Chairman/CEO of the regulatory body, Prof. James Momoh, the Edo-born professor of Electrical engineering and computer science, said:

“My appointment is a trusted position and I will put in my best.”

“As a Commission there will be enforcement of our regulations. I pledge my allegiance and dedication to the motherland and especially the power sector where I have come as an example of Nigerians in the diaspora,” he said.

“We are going to be asking the big question- If I don’t do it, who will do it? If I fail a lot of people will feel sad that I made the wrong choice for coming. I am committed to this,” Momoh said as he concluded that failure was not an option in his new assignment.”

Someone should wake him up and tell him that his “best” is not good enough and that the failure he dreaded is sneering at him. The market is seemingly overwhelming him. The investors in DisCos are having fields day while ordinary Nigerians are daily molested with unbearable tariffs.

Before his assumption of office, we paid N4 per KWhr. But today we pay inconsiderate sums above the border of N16 per KWAhr.

Prof. Momoh has more to tell Nigerians. Is he still in charge, or are the investors in the sector in charge, or is he a mere figure head?

Buhari was quick to assume the minister of petroleum after his election. It mattered to him to dearly that every other thing counts for nothing. But he has looked the other way as rots greet the power sector. Like Legendary Marley would say: “there is fire on the mountain and no one is running.”

The 30% heft in fuel price we were told was caused by subsidy removal to facilitate building of phantom refineries; to what do we justify the uprise in electric tariff?

After his election in 2015, Buhari supporters called those who complain against his austerity-ridden regime as “wailers.” Today, the irrationality of NEPA bills has turned the entire nation into emergency wailers.
And worse still, the Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress is seemingly enjoying the hard times.

The unasked question is; who will save Nigerians from Nigeria?

✍Eze Jude O.


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