A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ordered electricity Distribution Companies (Discos) not to hike electricity tariffs as announced by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) pending the determination of a motion challenging it.
It was learnton Tuesday that the Senate might summon the DisCos, Minister of Power Saleh Mamman; NERC Chairman James Momoh and other relevant stakeholders in the sector over the planned tariff hike.
The NERC on December 31 directed the DisCos to raise their rates by over 70 per cent to enable them have enough capital to pay for electricity distributed by them.
But following public outcry, NERC back-pedaled, promising that consultations with consumers and other stakeholders would be carried out to determine if or not the new rate would stand.
At the hearing of a suit by the Incorporated Trustees of Human Rights Foundation against 15 respondents in the electricity industry, Justice Muslim Hassan ordered the parties to maintain the status quo.
The respondents are: NERC, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE); the Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company Plc; and the Minister of Power.
Also joined as respondents are Abuja, Benin, Enugu, Ikeja, Kaduna, Kano, Port Harcourt, Yola, Eko, Ibadan and Jos DisCo.
In its suit, the NGOs filed an ex parte motion praying the court to stop the new tariff from coming into effect.
The applicant contended that “the implementation of the purported minor review of the Multi-Year Tariff Order would create “unquantifiable hardship and damages” on electricity consumers.
“Consumers will be made to pay very high tariff, which has been increased by over 40 per cent across the board of which is currently being billed.”
In an affidavit deposed to by Theodora Ubabunike, the human rights group said: “It will amount to a great injustice to impose arbitrary electricity tariff on Nigerian electricity consumers.
“Nigerians will suffer monumental loss as many people will not be able to access power or access same at very high tariff. I know that Nigerians are entitled to access public amenities like electrical power.”
In arguing the application on Monday, the applicant’s counsel, Anaje Chinedu, prayed for “an order of interim injunction restraining NERC from taking any step towards the implementation of the purported Minor Review of the Multi-Year Tariff Order 2015 and the Remittance Order 2019,” pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice .
Justice Hassan declined to grant the ex parte application, but said “the status quo ante bellum shall be maintained by the parties in this suit pending the determination of the motion on notice.”
He adjourned till January 20, 2020 for the hearing of the motion on notice.
However, a member of the Senate Committee on Power said in Abuja yesterday that the upper arm of the National Assembly might invite the stakeholders to know why the increment was unilaterally done by NERC.
The member, who asked not be named added that “it will be insensitive on the part of the Senate to gloss over the increase posted on NERC’s website.”
Arguing that “such far-reaching tariff increase should not be carried out without Senate input,” he noted that “the outburst of Nigerians, organisations and corporate bodies against the proposed increase should not be ignored.”
He said the Committee on Power, with the approval of Senate President Ahmad Lawan would articulate a position through a motion on the tariff increase on resumption of plenary January 28.
The Senator explained that it was necessary to get the backing of Lawan to ensure that the motion sailed through.
He added that “even though it is necessary for the DisCos to break even while providing power to Nigerians, it is also important to ensure due process.”
The lawmaker also noted that the intervention of the Senate in the raging anger over the new tariffs might mitigate legal tussle over the issue.
He said: “Nigerians must not be left with the impression that there is nobody to speak for them. This is a critical moment in the life of our country.
“The Senate has an overarching function to perform to assuage the feelings of our people. Stakeholders in the electricity sector should be carried along for their input.
“Some of us are already working on a draft motion pending the approval of the Senate President.”
He also pointed out that the complaints of corporate bodies and other consumers should not be swept under the carpet.
According to him, the issue of comprehensive metering of consumers and assurance of constant power supply should be looked into.
“It is not just tariff increase. What is there for consumers after a possible increase should be clearly stated,” he insisted.
Also in Abuja, Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe said that Nigerians might be interested in knowing who NERC planned to consult.
Abaribe, who is also the Vice- Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, noted that to the best of his knowledge, the upper chamber of the National Assembly was not consulted in what NERC pushed out to the public.
“I can confirm one thing to you. The Senate Committee has not yet been consulted. I guess the consultation will come after we return. That is number one,” he said. .
He added that he would want to know why consumers in the South-East pay more for electricity in the country in the calculation of NERC.
His words, “ Well, I think they are within their rights. It is the job of NERC to determine electricity tariffs. But for me, I have a question, which when they come for the consultation, I will ask them. And that question is that based on what they have put out as the current tariffs that are already existing, I would like to know the reason why the Southeast is paying more than any other part of the country.
“I need to know who made that calculation and why. I think there is a lot of questions that we would have to ask when we get to that stage.”