New electricity tariffs

by Gbenga Kayode

Amid apparent, ever pervasive darkness in homes and offices across Nigeria for decades, the latest announcement by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) in conjunction with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), to jack up electricity tariffs in the country is generally regarded by countless electricity consumers as the most insulting, unjustifiable, unmerited and absurd from any government agency in recent times.

It is a universal objective statement of fact that adequate electricity supply remains a major catalyst for any country’s drive towards the attainment of meaningful, sustainable socio-economic growth and development. But, the reverse is currently the case in Nigeria. How so? Realities on the ground with regard to billions of Dollars expended to improve the sector actually point to the fact that inefficiency and corruption and outright wastage of resources have been the bane of the all-important industry. Customer service and customer satisfaction remain perpetually elusive in the electricity management system.

Instead of commendation for the power agency personnel for a job well done, it is obvious to most concerned electricity subscribers in this clime engage in a hail of condemnations, invectives and altercations with them due to apparently shabby service they render every now and again. Customers are never kings in the industry, but treated with reckless disregard and impunity in the country.

That is the fundamental reason why the proposed new electricity levy, which will see the price increase of kilowatt per hour (KWh) from current N8 to about N40 KWh is expected to take effect soon in the so-called second largest economy on the African continent and most populous Black nation on earth, is largely considered in many quarters as “wicked and unfair” by electricity customers against the backdrop of the incessant power failure and unsatisfactory services by the PHCN.

It is of course, lamentable to note that Nigeria with a population estimated at about 167 million people basically runs its entire operations on meagre 3,600 megawatts of very frustrating and disruptive electricity ration. Nonetheless, Ghana, a neighbouring West African country of about 25 million people, is said to be inching closer to achieving power generation of 5000 megawatts by the end of year 2012.

Instead of enjoying stable, reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity supply across the country, it is most of the times sweeping darkness in homes and offices. As an alternative power source thus, many electricity subscribers have equally sought a way out of the electricity quagmire through power generators, solar power system, and inverters. Virtually everyone “generates” his or her own alternative power in the country today via generators. Despite this, PHCN subscribers mandatorily, yet are compelled to pay the increasingly annoying bills to the power holding agency every month for their gross disservice to the nation.

In respect of the generators alone, it is worrisome that Nigeria is derisively being described as the “net importer” of all manner of generator brands with the attendant noise pollution and gaseous fumes with damaging consequences on the people’s health and the environment. In fact, several individuals have lost their precious lives through outright electrocution resulting from PHCN’s erratic power supply and subsequent surges, while others simply have kicked the bucket via inhaling fumes while “enjoying” using generators to power their homes and offices. Research has also shown that scores of others, especially babies are fast becoming deaf in noise-polluted environments these days.

Naturally, as businessmen and women, the generators importation magnates or “cabal”, have also continued to smile to their banks as Nigerians ostensibly, continue to contend with PHCN-induced perpetual darkness. The mindless importation of these power generators has equally impacted negatively the nation’s unbalanced foreign reserves.

Indeed, as the topmost disadvantageous effects of irregular power supply on the nation’s economic advancement over time, many businesses, which could no longer cope with maintenance of alternative power sources have been compelled to either close shop or relocate to other countries, including Ghana, to continue operations.

Even for industrial establishments and many small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) in the real sector of the economy which still dare to continue operations in the system do so at comparatively high costs. Unfortunately, Nigerians are the worst hit in the process, as they often contend with soaring prices of goods and services to continue existing while actually not living in the real sense of it.

In terms of industrialising the economy, legitimate efforts by well-meaning Nigerians to establish businesses and grow the real sector have equally suffered a great setback. Why and how? Shortly after establishing many of such cottage industries, many suddenly, have stopped operations and consequently folded up due to poor electricity supply to augment their operations.

While it is disheartening to recall that Nigeria economically, is certainly not on the same page with South Africa, Kenya, Malaysia, Singapore and other emerging Asian economies in respect of marked growth and development because of entrenched corruption in the power sector as of now, it is therefore safe to submit that endlessly sporadic power has been very responsible for the noticeable lull in the activities of the real sector of the Nigerian economy for decades.

Having unbundled the hitherto deeply inefficient power authority into specialised companies, the current Administration must intensify efforts at boosting power generation, transmission, distribution and supply capacities of these subsidiaries. It would, of course, not be out of place for the Government to earnestly explore the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) option to optimise the fortune of the sector for the needed revitalisation of the nation’s economy. The mass adoption of the comparatively new pre-paid meters promises to be a just option on pay-as-you-use electricity system.

As expressly stated in its inaugural address in Abuja, in May 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan in consonance with credible private investors, should pursue vigorously the key deliverables in his Administration’s blueprint on power sector reform and make it an urgent priority. Doing this will enable Nigeria to revive its prostrate economy, enhance considerable industrialisation, and boost economic activities, and empower most Nigerians to create wealth at home and reduce the current overdependence on foreign goods and services.

It should be noted that it is morally reprehensible for the NERC and PHCN to increase, once more, electricity tariffs arbitrarily, and impose same to inflict more hardship on predominantly impoverished Nigerians without first improving electricity supply substantially to homes and business premises. Many are simply tired of paying pointless PHCN bills.

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