Planned electricity tariff hike: DisCos boxing hapless citizens to stupor

Nigerians have been crying out over the arbitrary hikes in electricity tariff by the distribution companies (DisCos) who rake in billions of Naira; PAUL OKAH reports.

Being poor is a double jeopardy in Nigeria these days as the cost of living is hitting the roof tops. This is in addition to poor incomes, unemployment, underemployment, non-payment of salaries by employers of labour and other factors that contribute to making life more difficult.

Therefore, whenever there is a hint of electricity tariff hike by DisCos, Nigerians understandably jitter, especially in view of the poor economy and difficult times they are already experiencing.

AEDC’s notices

Earlier in the month, various public notices from some of the DisCos had stated that electricity tariff would be raised by about 30 to 40 per cent for selected categories of consumers on July 1, 2023.

The Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) had said in a notice on June 25, “Effective July 1, 2023” that “there will be an upward review to the electricity tariff influenced by the fluctuating exchange rate. Under the MYTO 2022 guidelines, the previously set exchange rate of N441/1 dollar may now be revised to approximately N750/1 dollar which will have an impact on the tariffs associated with your electricity consumption.”

The company encouraged customers with prepaid meters to consider purchasing bulk energy units before the end of June as this would allow them to take advantage of the current rates and make savings before the new tariffs came into effect.

Interestingly, in an appeal by the same AEDC, in a release on Monday, the firm asked its customers to disregard the planned tariff increase as approval for such an increment had not been received from NERC, saying without an approval from the regulator, it would not be able to carry out the increase.

Tariff adjustment

Former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration had removed subsidies on electricity tariffs and made a policy of reviewing the rates every six months.

Similarly, the chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Engr. Sanusi Garba, recently confirmed the removal of the tariff, saying the electricity subsidies had been reduced in the past four to five years for not being sustainable regarding investors’ return on investments.

Blueprint Weekend’s investigations showed that in January 2021, the electricity tariff was increased by 50 per cent. It was also increased in January 2022. In January, this year, it increased by 18.5 percent.

Nigerians’ angst

“In the last eight years, electricity tariff has been increased by 186 per cent. The fact that the government itself owes N75 billion in unpaid electricity bills is indicative of how burdensome the cost of electricity has become. Therefore, it is highly concerning for manufacturers to witness the electricity tariff skyrocketing beyond the present high prices, starting July 1. A 40 per cent hike at this time is simply outrageous,” the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) lamented in a recent statement.

Expectedly, the proposed 40 per cent increment in electricity tariff has not gone down well with many Nigerians, who cite the rising cost of living, inflation, removal of fuel subsidy and low income as the reason the DisCos should not increase the tariff.

Speaking with this reporter, a civil servant in Wuse, Mrs. Anita Adewale, said it does not make sense DisCos, especially AEDC, would consider tariff hike, especially in the face of excruciating pains being undergone by Nigerians.

She said: “I am disappointed in DisCos across the country. For all intents and purposes, the operators are inhumane; otherwise I don’t see how they can even be considering increasing tariffs in view of the pains Nigerians are going through. Just what is our crime in this country? It seems there is a competition to plunge Nigerians into grief or depression by those who feel they have the powers or are in control.

“We are just coming to terms with the reality of fuel subsidy removal, which has jerked up fuel prices from N197 to N550. Now, the AEDC and other Discos are mulling increasing electricity tariff. What this means is that those unmetered customers, who usually pay N10, 000 or N20, 000 as electricity bill will now be paying N14, 000 or N28, 000. Then those that use prepared meters, the kilowatt will become ridiculously low that you will practically have to dispense with some household items or electrical appliances. Seriously, it is not funny and I will plead with the discos to jettison the idea.”

On his part, an ICT consultant based in Gwarinpa, Mr. Musa Abdullahi, said more difficult times await Nigerians as discos often care about the economic status of consumers before jerking up tariffs.

“In this country, it seems people committed a crime by being poor. I mean, the constant review of electricity tariff, to the detriment of consumers, is something to be worried about. It is not as if the power supply is even steady. Many people still rely on alternative power supply to render services. The removal of fuel subsidy has compounded issues as SMES have jerked up the cost of their services to reflect current realities. For instance, I went to have a haircut the other day and was charged N1, 000, instead of the usual N500. I didn’t blame the barber as we are all aware of the hike in fuel price.

“Nevertheless, I can only advise Nigerians to prepare for the worse. For those using prepaid meters, it’s advisable to buy bulk energy units for your home or office before the end of the month. Regardless of AEDC discountenancing its earlier announcement, one can’t be too proactive. Moreover, buying bulk units will help consumers to make some savings before buying at the new rate. There is no one the rates won’t be increased again, to plunge Nigerians into more misery, so let’s hope for the best,” he said.

Legislative actions needed

Also, speaking with Blueprint Weekend on the matter, the national president, Association for Public Policy Analysis (APPA), Comrade Princewill Okorie, said legislative actions are needed for the protection of electricity customers as many DisCos have proven to be exploitative over the years.

He said: “Legislators at the Senate and House of Representatives are elected by citizens in their various constituencies. These citizens, who are electorates, are the consumers or customers of DisCos, who supply electricity, which they use at different senatorial and federal constituencies. It therefore means that the nature of electricity service delivery is of political relevance to the legislators elected by their constituents.

“Hence, effective implementation and enforcement of the Customer Protection Regulation (CPR) 2023 brought in by NERC requires the attention of legislators at the Senate and House of Representatives. It is on this basis that it becomes imperative that legislative action for enforcement of CPR 2023 should be put in place as a legislative agenda by legislators of the 10th Assembly that wish to enhance the social and economic wellbeing of their constituents.

“Electricity consumers in the country reside at the local government areas/ councils under the states. This means that the 36 states and 774 local government councils of the country have roles to play in enhancing the implementation and enforcement of the CPR 2023. Unfortunately, there is no structure currently existing at the state and local government areas /councils for electricity consumer education, enlightenment, monitoring and enforcement. Absence of this structure has created avenues for licensed DisCos to violate consumer protection regulations at these levels, where monitoring by NERC is absent.

“Considering the level of exploitation and violation of rights that consumers at this level go through in the hands of DisCos, the 10th Assembly will become very popular and acceptable to millions of Nigeria electricity consumers in the local government councils and states if this bill is put in place.”

He added: “Ignorance of electricity consumers on the regulations contributed in no small way in encouraging the violation of the electricity consumer regulations. This is because consumers who would have brought complaints on abuse of their rights in billing, metering, disconnection, complaint resolution etc. have no knowledge or information to enable present complaints, which would have helped in addressing the issues.

“That Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, as the apex should liaise with the Nigerian Governors Forum and Association of Local Governments of Nigeria to encourage state governors and local government areas/council chairmen to set up structures for enlightenment and enforcement of CPR of NERC to ensure that electricity consumers are protected against unfair business practices of electricity service providers.”