NIGERIANS MOVED FROM DESPONDENCY, likely to hope, as they usher in the year 2021, but met early dashing of the hope, rekindled in President Buhari’s new year broadcast on January 1, 2021, to the nation. Barely five days after the president’s broadcast, Tuesday, January 5, 2021, Nigerian government, through it agency, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, again, approved increase in electricity tariff across the country, effective January 1, 2021.
NERC’s statement, described the increase as “adjustment”, and blamed the N2 to N4 increase – seen as 50 percent tariff increase, on inflation and movement in foreign exchange rates. Nigerian Trade Union Congress, TUC, and Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, have issued stern statements asking government to revert the increase, or face the consequences. Other condemnations have trailed the January 1, 2021, increase in electricity tariff.
President Buhari, had in his new year speech, recounted the achievements of his administration in the previous year. He made promises and gave assurances of improvement in 2021. The president’s message, according to some analysts, appeared reasonable – devoid of the usual blame games and acrimonious tone. But a fair attempt to assuage the battered and traumatized citizens, and a nation at boiling point, due to the government’s policies that have inflicted economic hardship, insecurity associated with Boko Haram insurgency, banditry and kidnapping on the citizens. And Nigeria was heading towards failed state.
NERC, quickly, in response to public outrage on the increase of electricity tariff, explained that the hike was for some selected classes of consumers. It stated: “The tariff for customers on service bands D and E (customers being served less than an average of 12hours of supply per day over a period of one month) remains frozen and subsidised in line with the policy direction of the Federal Government”.
And added that NERC’s action was “In compliance with the provisions of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act and the nation’s tariff methodology for biannual minor review, the rates for service bands A, B, C, D and E have been adjusted by N2 to N4 per kWhr to reflect the partial impact of inflation and movement in foreign exchange rates.”
TRADE UNION CONGRESS, TUC, in its reaction, described the increase, as “wicked” and “another betrayal of trust”, in the middle of ongoing negotiations between government and organised labour, on the hike that took place in November 1, 2020. Quadri Olaleye, TUC President, and Musa Lawal, Secretary-General, in a jointly signed statement titled “Electricity Hike – Another Betrayal Of Trust”, requested government to revert to old price or face the consequences.
TUC wondered “why this government espouses unfriendly policies that are capable of crippling the economy”, when many companies that could not pay the previous increases in tariff have closed business or relocated to neighbouring countries.
“Does it mean there is no other way this government can creatively generate revenue? It has become obvious that the outrages from the organised labour and the masses and the series of negotiations we had with the government were just cosmetic and hypocritical.
“There is so much deceit and laziness in the system; there is hardly any promise made that they have followed through. Only yesterday (Monday), we read again that the Academic Staff Union of Universities is withdrawing its members because this same government has reneged on its promises reached a few days ago.
“How can the government go-ahead with increase in tariffs again when we have not resolved the one done earlier? This is preposterous, ridiculous and sheer wickedness,” TUC queried in its statement.
TUC said the union has become the butte of jokes among Nigerians, because it was reluctant to launch offensive on government, on account of the poor state of the economy. It stated that: “The economy was struggling before the outbreak of the pandemic and we thought it wise not to worsen our situation. The sacrifice means nothing to these people, who forced us to tighten our belt while they loosened theirs.”
TUC further stated that: “Darkness enhances criminal activities and now they have chosen to keep us in the darkness thinking their high fences will save them. We call on the government to be responsible for once. Nigerians will like to know what we gained from border closures. Insecurity did not stop, neither did it stop the smuggling of rice and others.”
“You don’t just churn out policies without weighing the pros and cons. How many people can afford to pay the last bill talk less of this recent one? The organised labour should not be pushed to the wall because it will actually do all no good. The government must revert to the old price or be willing to accept the outcome of this decision. This is a betrayal of trust and it is unfortunate”, TUC said, and warned that government should not push organised labour to the wall with harsh policies”
NIGERIAN LABOUR CONGRESS, NLC, reacted through its Deputy President, Joe Ajaero, on Channel Television, programme, Sunrise Daily, on Wednesday. Ajaero is a member of the Committee, headed by Festus Keyamo, Minister of State, Labour and Employment, set up by government to work on new electricity tariff regime for electricity consumer in the country. The committee was set up after November 1, 2020, electricity tariff increase, with the objective to actualise, the appropriate electricity tariff for consumers.
Ajaero said NERC disregarded the committee, that was yet to submit its report before going ahead to announce new tariff increase on Tuesday. And threatened industrial resistance by Nigerian workers, until government withdraws what he described as “uncanny new year gift”.
He said: “There was a tariff increase by November which is being contested. A committee was set up headed by Keyamo and some of us are serving in that committee. We have not even finished addressing that issue and that adjustment was unjust and wasn’t necessary. Now, somebody is issuing a statement that there was an adjustment and it was not an increase. No matter how they play with semantics, Nigerians are noticing a lot of differences in what they are doing.
“Ninety per cent of Nigerians receive less than 12-hour electricity per day. All those issues of banding, band A, B, C, D, are all lies. Nigerians know more than this. There is an agreement with the labour on all these issues, the committee has not even submitted their report and NERC behaves as if it is from the moon and insensitive to Nigerians. This is not acceptable”.
ELECTRICITY, eleven letters word, in the perception of Nigerians, has become a monster, that rules the country for decades. It does not serve the country. Electricity is the life wire of nations and societies. It lights up economies, industries and commence. It lights up private and public lives – traffic on our roads, enhances security. But not in Nigeria.
When electricity blinks in some countries, the people are disturbed, lives become uneasy because of the hollowness of darkness. And in few moments, electricity is restored. Not in Nigeria. Nigeria has been in quest for light for decades; but has been in long tunnel of darkness, with unquantifiable hardship inflicted on the citizens.