Stormy session awaits NASS over electricity tariff hike

The controversial hike in electricity tariff is also gathering storm among members of the National Assembly. Feelers have it that the development has already forced the leadership of both chambers to extend the Sallah recess by a week, to buy time for consultations and douse tension.But for how long would the people’s ‘representatives’ shy away from matters of urgent public importance? AZIMAZI MOMOH JIMOH reports.

In a bid to avert rowdy sessions that may result from growing tension in the National Assembly caused by a sudden 240 per cent hike in electricity tariff, a week extension of the Easter/Sallah holiday was approved for lawmakers, findings revealed.

The two chambers had earlier announced that plenaries and other legislative duties, which were originally meant to resume next Tuesday, April 16, 2024, have been shifted to Tuesday, April 23.

It was learnt that the body of principal officers of the National Assembly led by the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio and Speaker, House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abass, acting on security intelligence, as well as initial reactions of many lawmakers against the electricity tariff hike resorted to extending the recess to provide for sufficient time for consultation among various caucuses in the National Assembly.

Before the April 23, 2024, new resumption date, the leadership of the National Assembly, it was further learnt, would work on groups from where trouble is feared to emerge in the two chambers including the minority party caucus; the northern Senators, as well as the northern Representatives’ caucuses.

Part of the strategy is to reach out to the presidency to do more consultations on the hiked electricity tariff, particularly by carrying members of the National Assembly along in spreading messages of assurances to the people.

To achieve the postponement of sittings, the leadership of both chambers explored the advantage of their standing rule, which granted powers to principal officers to extend recess beyond the previously adjourned date.

The specific provision in the Senate standing rule, which empowers the Senate President to extend lawmakers’ holiday reads: “Whenever the Senate stands adjourned to a fixed date and it is re-presented by leaders of the political parties in the Senate to the President of the Senate that the public interest requires that the senate should meet on an earlier or later date or time than that on which it stands adjourned, the President of the Senate may give notice accordingly, and the senate shall meet on the and at the time stated in the notice.”

Many members of the National Assembly, cutting across political, religious, and regional divides, have announced their opposition to the electricity tariff hike a few days after the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), approved an increase of 240 per cent in electricity tariff for customers under the Band A classification.

A ranking senator from one of the states in the North-eastern part of the country told The Guardian that the holiday extension is a good idea because if serious consultations are not carried out on how to address the apprehensions arising from the frustration nationwide, sittings of the National Assembly are seriously threatened by aggrieved protesters.

He queried: “How would you expect that amidst the anger and frustration being expressed in several quarters against the hike in electricity tariff in addition to the astronomically rising cost of living, lawmakers will enter the chambers and keep quiet? We represent Nigerians from 360 federal constituencies, as well as 109 Senatorial districts. None of us will honestly and sincerely say he is not under immense pressure from constituents at this moment.”

Meanwhile, the Senate, through its spokesman, YemiAdaramodu, had hinted that the matter would attract serious consideration and debate when it reconvenes from the Easter/Sallah holiday.

Adaramodu said: “The relevant Senate Committees on Power are studying the situation. You know we are on recess now. When we resume, they will present their findings to the Senate at plenary. We won’t abandon Nigerians.”

Adaramodu added that the Senate would not show indifference to any policy that would add to the economic burden of Nigerians. This emerged as the Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives has described the hike as insensitive, inhuman, and evil.

Leader of the caucus, Kingsley Chinda, said the abrupt hike, which he noted places an unbearable burden on the already strained populace, exacerbating economic hardships and widening the chasm of inequality, is inhumane and must not be tolerated.

He said such a hike, which is over 200 per cent above the rate of inflation, utterly disregards the plight of ordinary citizens, who are grappling with the adverse effects of the removal of oil subsidy, galloping inflation, unemployment, and inadequate access to basic amenities.

“We note that in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the tariff hike, NERC claimed that the hike affects only 12 per cent of electricity consumers, who enjoy a minimum of 20 hours of electricity a day. The truth is that it is a stark lie. The hike, according to data put out by the DISCOS, affects all electricity consumers. This habitual resort to deceit and outright lies clearly puts the government in a bad light and erodes the trust and confidence of the populace in the government.

“The timing of this tariff hike, amidst prevailing economic challenges, is not only insensitive but also detrimental to the well-being of Nigerians. It further highlights the disconnect between policymakers and the realities faced by the masses of our people.

“Elsewhere in the world, governments are doing all they can to protect citizens against the adverse effects of the pandemic on economies. In the United Kingdom, for example, where anti-subsidy proselytisers preach against subsidies, His Majesty’s government has ‘paid almost £40 billion ($50 billion) in energy subsidies since it began to help households and businesses to cope with the surge in power bills after Russia invades Ukraine.

“According to the global news agency Reuters, between the launch of the schemes in October 2022 and March 2023, nearly £21 billion was spent on the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) programme that supports households with their bills, the government said.

“A further £12 billion was paid under the Energy Bills Support Scheme, which offered homes payments of £400 towards their bills over the winter months. Businesses and other organisations received about £5.5 billion under the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, and almost £1 billion was spent on other programmes.

“Also, in the United States, the government is subsidising (by way of tax credit) 30 percent off the cost of chargers for electric vehicles.

“Not here in Nigeria, where the government spends money on frivolities with no real economic impact on households or the lives of ordinary citizens. Here, the directive principle of state policy is ‘go and die.’

“We urge President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to prevail on the electricity regulator, NERC, to rescind this decision and prioritise the welfare of the people.”

He added that transparent dialogue and inclusive decision-making processes are imperative to address the root causes of the energy sector’s inefficiencies and ensure sustainable solutions that benefit all stakeholders, not a consistent and persistent increase in tariffs.

Chinda called for increased accountability and transparency in the management of resources within the electricity sector, adding that citizens have the right to demand efficient service delivery and fair pricing mechanisms that align with their economic realities.

“In solidarity with the Nigerian people, we stand firm in our condemnation of this unjustifiable increase in electricity tariffs and call for immediate action to alleviate the burdens imposed on the populace,” the Minority Caucus said.

Also rejecting the hike, the Chief Whip of the Senate, Aliu Ndume, described the timing as wrong, maintaining that Nigerians were yet to recover from the removal of fuel subsidy.

Ndume said: “The news of the increment came to me and many of my colleagues as a shock. It also came at a time when the National Assembly was on break. Personally, I think the timing of this hike is very wrong. Nigerians are grappling with many challenges.

“There ought to have been some consultations, especially with the National Assembly as representatives of the people. We were not consulted. We saw the news like every other Nigerian.

“The inflation is still very high. The prices of food commodities, drugs, transportation, school fees, and other daily expenditures are still on the high side. To now add this new burden is unfair.

“The minimum wage has not increased. Many state governments are yet to even pay the current minimum wage of N30,000. How do we expect people to survive? We’ve to be very realistic and feel the pulse of the people we represent as a government.

“For me, I think the Federal Government should first of all provide stable electricity, reduce the inflation, stabilise the naira, and prices of food commodities. Then, the purchasing power of Nigerians must significantly improve before we can place a fresh responsibility on them.

“The federal government needs to give the National Assembly the opportunity to also step in and consult because we represent the people. We feel their pulse, and we know what they’re going through right now.”

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