Senate’s misplaced patriotism on power tariff
I was shocked to read in the papers that the Nigerian Senate has intervened and stopped the 15% (effective) increase in electricity tariffs which came on board on February 1 this year , as widely advertised last year. This is because as a budding Nigerian entrepreneur, I was looking forward to a successful take-off of our electricity distribution companies widely known as discos, so that the country can finally put its power generation and distribution problems behind it. Without power, Nigeria cannot meaningfully compete as a nation in the world market. Right now, the nation is generating its lowest output of power in years and it is that meagre amount that the Discos are trying to distribute and now the nation’s Senate, the most powerful law-making organ in the land has stopped them and I find that unbelievable if not outright insensitive and unthinking.
I have also read that the Senate in stopping the tariff increase also called for a conference of all stakeholders through its Committee on Labour Productivity and Wages which gave the order after it had invited the Minister of Power, Works and Housing Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola who appeared before the Senate to defend the increased tariff as a sine qua non to have stability in power supply and distribution in the nation. The Senate was quoted as saying that Nigerian workers have suffered enough and it thinks that the increase would worsen their lot. In this case the Senate assumes that it is acting patriotically. That, however, is a wrong assumption especially as the electricity tariff increase is cost reflective over a statutory 10-year period as sanctioned by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Council, NERC, the lawful electricity institution in Nigeria.
The Senate’ intervention is unwarranted as it is arbitrary and government should do something about the senatorial powers of Senate that has developed a penchant for bringing back the hand of the clock in terms of economic development. One only prays that the House of Representatives does not follow suit blindly in throwing its weight around in the name of patriotism as that would kill our power industry totally at a time when young businessmen like me are happy that with the take-off of the Discos, Nigeria is carving a discernible path out of the woods and doldrums of persistent blackout and finding its way out of the darkness of poor electricity generation and very poor distribution system under NEPA.
I remember the action and utterances of a former Speaker of our revered House of Representatives who famously asked publicly what the electricity generator suppliers would live on if NEPA , as it was called then, worked efficiently. Obviously, that Speaker was a willing hostage of the generators sellers lobby but Nigerians have never forgotten the Speaker’s misguided concern for generator sellers at the expense of the larger Nigerian society in total darkness until the advent of the Discos. One is not saying that the Discos have brought light pronto but the prospect is there that with the huge investment they have made and with the control of NERC the economic future of our nation seems brighter.
I wonder what lobby the nation’s Senate is pandering to nowadays. It is too early again to rule out the generator sellers for they remain a powerful lobby always , and ever ready to put spanner in the works of efficient power generation and distribution by the designated public utilities. That is what the Senate should be on the look out for. The Senate should create an enabling environment for increased power generation and subsequent efficient distribution so that Nigerian industries can function optimally to produce goods and services and provide employment for our teeming masses of unemployed youths and graduates. That is what the Discos are for and that is why NERC has been put in place as the public watchdog to monitor, regulate and make Discos perform efficiently and in the public interest to make Nigerians see light at the end of the tunnel. That is real and genuine patriotism; not the blind intervention of the Senate on tariff increase that is no more than misguided patriotism very much in the dark on the workings of Discos, electricity generation and distribution.
• Bako, an engineer, writes from Kaduna.
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