Court Re-affirms Existing Order Against Electricity Tariff Increase
While delivering a ruling on Monday on the objections of the NERC to a contempt charge against them, Justice Mohammed Idris asked the NERC to abide by the court order pending the hearing and final determination of a suit filed by a lawyer and rights activist, Toluwani Adebiyi, over the issue.
The plaintiff, Mr Adebiyi had sought to commit the NERC Chairman and the CEOs of the Distribution Companies (Discos) to prison for announcing the implementation of the new electricity tariff despite a subsisting court order barring same.
In his ruling, Justice Idris said: “Let me warn that when the disciplinary jurisdiction of this court is properly invoked, anyone who is found to have ignored the order of the court will be dealt with severely. The order of this court that parties in this suit should maintain the status quo remains valid and binding until it is set aside by a court of competent jurisdiction”.
“The issue of disobedience to court’s order is one that affects the integrity of the court. There is a need for the court to assert its authority and deal with any issue that is capable of bringing it to disrepute. Those who intend to take the judicial system for a ride should think twice and those who have done so should retrace their steps, the long arm of the law will catch up with them no matter how long it takes,” he further stressed.
Justice Idris had earlier in his ruling set aside the Form 49 and the motion for committal to prison filed against the defendants by the plaintiff.
The judge held that the issuance of form 49 on the defendants by the plaintiff without prior and proper service of form 48 was premature.
“In the circumstance, I hold that the defendant’s objection has merit. The court has set aside the contempt application due to fundamental and procedural irregularities,” the judge said.
The court has since adjourned till March 15 for hearing of all pending applications.
Adebiyi’s Substantive Suit
Mr Adebiyi, in the substantive suit, is seeking an order restraining NERC from implementing any upward review of electricity tariff without a meaningful and significant improvement in power supply at least for 18 hours in a day in most communities in Nigeria.
He also wants an order restraining NERC from foisting compulsory service charge on pre-paid meters not until “the meters are designed to read charges per second of consumption and not a flat rate of service not rendered or power not used”.
He also wants the service charge on pre-paid meters not to be enforced until there is visible efficient and reliable power supply like those of foreign countries where the idea of service charge was borrowed.
Adebiyi is further asking for an order of court mandating the NERC to do the needful and generate more power to meet the electricity use of Nigerians, adding that the needful should include and not limited to a multiple long-term financing approach, sourced from the banks, capital market, insurance and other sectors of finance to power the sector.
Finally, the lawyer is asking the court to mandate the NERC to make available to all Nigerians within a reasonable time of maximum of two years, prepaid meters as a way to stop the throat-cutting indiscriminate estimated bill and which must be devoid of the arbitrary service charge, but only chargeable on power consumed.
In an affidavit in support of the suit personally deposed to by the applicant, the lawyer lamented that despite the motto and mission of NERC which were expressly stated as “keeping the light on and to meet the needs of Nigeria for safe, adequate, reliable and affordable electricity,” most communities in Nigeria do not get more than 30 minutes if electricity supply, while the remaining 23 hours and 30 minutes were always without light and in total darkness.
“Nigeria poor masses are paying an estimated and indiscriminate residential bills ranging from 5, 000 Naira to 18, 000 Naira, spending an average of 15, 000 Naira to 20, 000 Naira for fuel to maintain generating set.
“Businesses have collapsed, industries have closed down, and residents cannot sleep comfortably at night due to inefficiency of our power industry”.
“Companies and commercial Houses are groaning under throat-cutting power bill which they are paying for, yet not getting the benefit for such payment,” Adebiyi stated.
He stressed that the proposed increase in electricity tariff was coming amidst the tangled web of poor power supply with no reasonable proof of improvement.
“The situation is self-evident, it readily speaks for itself because everyone is suffering from poor power outrage.
“Bringing further increase amidst this tangled web of hardship and without any improvement in power supply, will be highly unjustifiable and will be an economic burden on Nigeria populace. It is totally absurd and not for the good of the people, and therefore must be stopped,” Adebiyi submitted.