From Fred Itua, Abuja

The Senate, yesterday, told the Federal Government to halt any plans to increase electricity tariffs in the country.

It said it was ill-timed and must be stopped in view of the economic hardship faced by Nigerians which largely arose from fuel subsidy removal.

The upper legislative chamber, therefore, admonished the Federal Government that rather than increase electricity tariffs, it should focus on electricity generation and distribution.

The Senate also resolved to investigate the over N2 trillion -the Minister of Power, Bayo Adelabu, said was required for electricity tariff to avoid the repeat of fuel subsidy scandal.

It also mandated its committee on Power to investigate the operations of DISCOs to ascertain the current status of metering and their extent of compliance with relevant legal and regulatory frameworks in service delivery, as well as to direct the NERC to furnish the Committee with any relevant documents on metering of electricity consumers, post privatization requirements for the operation of DISCOs and evidence of regulatory actions taken to ensure statutory compliance by DISCOs. Senate’s resolutions were sequel to a motion titled, “Planned Increase in Electricity tariff and arbitrary billing of unmetered customers by distribution companies (DISCOS), sponsored by Aminu Iya Abbas, and co-sponsored by 10 others.

Presenting the motion, Abbas said: “The Senate notes with greatest dismay the plan to increase electricity tariff by the relevant statutory authority in gross disregard of increased economic challenges with attendant widespread poverty and high cost of living. He claimed that the Minister of Power was reported to have said that “The nation must begin to move towards a cost-effective tariff model, as the country was currently indebted with N1.3  trillion naira to Generating Companies (GenCos) and 1.3 billion dollars owed gas companies.

According to Abass, the minister had said that more than N2 trillion was needed for subsidy, but only N450 billion was budgeted in 2024.

“The senate may further note that the same electricity businesses are collecting money from customers for services not rendered.

“When they have not added anything to the equipment, they inherited from Power Holding Company of Nigeria.

“Communities buy transformers to replace damaged ones in addition to over burden bills and arbitrary estimates for unmetered customers.

“This is taking place in a country where the greater number of the population is living below the poverty level, with stagnant wages.

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“Rising inflation and depreciating currency, the prospect of higher electricity bill is unattainable.”

Abbas said arbitrary energy charges on unmetered customers had become worrisome given Feb.2024 report of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) on non-compliance with energy billing caps by DisCos and penalty of N10.5 billion imposed on DisCos that over-billed its unmetered customers.

He said in 2020 the President of Nigeria then, ordered NERC to commence mass pre-paid metering to end estimated billing, saying that funds were released to that effect.

He said it was worrisome that the multiple sanctions declared to be imposed by NERC against DisCos for failing to comply with eradication of estimated billing for unmetered customers which included credit adjustments to over billed unmetered customers for the period Jan– Sept, 2023.

He said March 2024 billing cycle, publication of the list of credit adjustment beneficiaries in two national dailies, indicates a deduction of N10.5 billion from annual allowed revenues of the eleven DisCos during the next tariff review.  This, he said seemed to have been in futility, given the continued violations by DISCOs.

He expressed reservation that in addition to the high cost of living being experienced in the country, the unmetered customers who are owners of small and medium enterprises were adversely impacted by the level of exorbitant electricity charges and by implication have their businesses affected.

On his part, Orji Uzor Kalu, noted that even advanced economies subsidise electricity.

He said the focus of government should be on distribution. “Why should people be paying for what they did not use. Our ficus should be on transmission and distribution,” he said.

President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, who agreed with his colleagues, noted that any increase will further throw Nigerians into untold hardship especially now that they are grappling with hunger and high cost of living.

In his contribution, Aminu Tambuwal, while cautioning the Federal Government, asked it to jettison the idea especially at a time when citizens are still grappling with the economic hardship brought on them by the removal of fuel subsidy.

Also contributing to the motion, the Senate Minority Leader, Abba Moro, said that Nigeria must first be sufficient in generation and distribution of power before considering an increase in tariff.