Indications are that from December 1, 2015, electricity consumers all over the country may have to pay more for the product following an increase in the price of gas. This was the decision reached at a recent meeting between the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and other stakeholders to review the Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYT02). According to NERC, the current price of gas is $3.30 per mmbtu as against the regulatory authorities’ assumption of $2.30. The Commission’s vice chairman, Mr. Mohammed Bello, said the price of gas, inflation, falling foreign exchange rate and power generation capacity were some of the factors considered before proposing the tariff review.
But the announcement, coming at this time of serious economic upheavals in the nation, is highly disappointing. Incidentally, for the various electricity distribution firms and the NERC, tariff increase has become an obsession, regardless of whether consumers are getting value for money or not. More than a year after power sector privatization by the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration, very little has been done to improve the scandalously poor quality of power supply by the new investors. With the active connivance of NERC, however, an upward review of tariff is being contemplated again after the one effected last year. Even before the privatisation exercise, the electricity regulatory body had always been in the habit of frequently canvassing tariff increase. The introduction of the MYTO was also partly a consequence of the agency’s pressure for continued tariff review. It is a very disheartening scenario! The justification then was that the prices paid by consumers for electricity were either not fair enough or did not reflect the actual cost, and would not attract investors and encourage improvement in the quality of service.
Fraudulently, however, the NERC is having a ball with incessant tariff increment while the aspect of improved quality of service has been completely ignored. The timing for the current increase could not have been worse; coming at a time when the quality of service delivery has been at its nadir. Even though the economy and the nation’s population have increased geometrically over the years, the power generation capacity of only 3,000 megawatts 20 years ago has barely improved. Besides, due to poor facilities’ maintenance arising mainly from the lack of investment and inadequate gas supply, there is hardly up to 4,000MW available for distribution through the national grid on a regular basis. Again, amid all the tariff increases is electricity distribution companies’ (DISCOs) inconsiderate habit of foisting arbitrary bills on customers, under the so-called estimated or coded billing system, based on the estimate of power earmarked for a certain area, whether it translates to electricity supply or not. Worse still, the DISCOs are making scant effort to provide customers with prepaid meters, which could have ensured that only power consumed is paid for.
The question, therefore, is: why should consumers pay for electricity they never consumed? The DISCOs have also jettisoned NERC’s Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation, a metering scheme introduced in 2013. That is why Nigerian power consumers should rise and kick against the proposed tariff hike. We implore the Federal Government and private power suppliers to first of all address the fundamental issues of infrastructure, generation capacity and transmission. It is wrong for NERC to have concluded plans to increase electricity tariff without first addressing the problem of epileptic power supply in the country; as well as exploitative and extortionist metering and billing frauds. Prepaid meters should never be discountenanced or compromised under any proposal of fresh tariff increase.
Poor electricity power supply situation in the country is the key factor responsible for the closing down of most manufacturing firms that found it impossible to finance the exorbitant cost of providing electricity through independent power sources; with attendant huge job losses. It is high time NERC and DISCOs stopped cheating innocent consumers and making scapegoat of Nigerians for their scandalous inefficiency. Rather than acting arbitrarily in liaison with the present crop of inept electricity firms, NERC should sit up and act like a true regulator by ensuring that long suffering and persevering power consumers are given their money’s worth. The regulatory agency must set a deadline for the DISCOs to make prepaid meters available to consumers and compel them to improve their services. It is heartless, dishonest and exploitative to continue to hike electricity tariff at every turn at the expense of hapless consumers.