CHUKWU DAVID reports that the Senate has failed to be on the same page with the executive arm of government on the current increases in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff in the country
There are two popular slogans for which the President of the Ninth Senate, Ahmad Lawan, is known for. The first is that the Senate is on the same page with the executive, while the second is that the Senate is not a rubber stamp of the executive.
Since Lawan was saddled with the mantle of leadership in the Senate on June 11, 2019, it is rare for him to conclude his speech in any public function, without mentioning either or both of these slogans. However, Nigerians, particularly public affairs analysts have observed that the apex legislative chamber has failed to make these claims a reality in the recent arbitrary increases in the pump price of fuel and the electricity tariff.
The leadership of the National Assembly had on Monday June 29, intervened in the controversy on the planned hike in electricity tariffs from July 1, 2020, and purportedly succeeded in convincing the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) to defer the plan till the first quarter of 2021.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and other principal officers of the two chambers met at the National Assembly with the chief executives of the electricity regulatory body and DISCOs across the country. Also in attendance were the chairmen of the Committees on Power in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The National Assembly leaders told the team from the executive arm that the timing of the planned hike was wrong even though they had not much issue with the need to introduce a cost reflective tariff for the power sector to attract the much needed investment. In the course of the meeting, the DISCOs too admitted that they were not well prepared for the planned hike in tariff even though they so much desired the increase.
The meeting agreed to defer the planned hike till the first quarter of next year, while the leadership of the National Assembly promised to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari on the issue. In his comment at the end of the meeting, Lawan said: “The agreement here is that there is not going to be any increase in the tariff on July 1.
The speaker and I are going to take appropriate action and meet with the President.” He added: “We are in agreement here that there is no question on the justification of the increase but the time is simply not right and appropriate measures need to be put in place.
So, between now and the first quarter of next year, our task will be to work together with you to ensure that we put those blocks in place to support the eventual increase in tariffs.” Similarly, Gbajabiamila said that the National Assembly was on the same page with the DISCOs on the issue of cost reflective tariffs, saying: “There is time for everything. A well-intended programme or policy of government can fall flat on the face and never recover if you do it at a wrong time. I think we all agree to that.
There cannot be a time as bad as this for us to increase anything. “Forget about electricity, anything. Whereas even in time of decreasing revenue, we are even reducing the pump price, I don’t know how we can justify an increase in the cost of electricity at this time in Nigeria.
The good thing is that we have agreed that we need to do something about the cost.” However, two months after the socalled agreement was reached between the National Assembly and major stakeholders in the power sector, President Muhammadu gave approval to the much-anticipated electricity tariff increase effective from September 1. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had approved service reflected tariffs for the electricity sector and was due to commence July 1 after it was initially postponed from April 1.
Surprisingly, the leadership of the Senate has not made any official statement either in support of or against the new price regimes in the power and oil sectors of the economy. These sharp increases have already caused a lot shaking in the economy as prices of goods and services have skyrocketed. Nigerians are also worried that only a handful of senators have agreed to make comments on these increases, which have automatically subjected their constituents to more suffering, following the multiplier effects of the increments on goods, particularly food stuff.
One of the lawmakers, Senators Obinna Ogba (PDP Ebonyi Central and Chairman, Senate Committee on Sports), said the increases in electricity tariff and pump price of petrol at a time the economy is yet to recover from effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is a clear indication that government is highly insensitive to the plight of the citizens. His words: “The country and indeed the whole world is facing serious problem right now because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, these increases are not good at all. It is adding salt to injury.”
His words: “The government is just showing insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians because the suffering of the people will become worse as a result of the increase in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff.” On who is to be blamed for the arbitrary increases, Ogba said: “You cannot put the blame on the agencies because there is no way any of the agencies can increase the price of its commodity or service without first getting directive from the leadership of the country.” Also speaking on the issue, Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf (APC Taraba Central), noted that the decision came at a time the country is passing serious challenges occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and it had become a necessary evil that government should raise funds to run its affairs. He said: “My view is personal, it is not official. What has happened to the price is long anticipated.
We all know that in an economy, we have the product side, the financial side and the labour side. We started this long ago but it is now the economy that is restructuring itself. “We tried to manipulate the restructuring of the economy over a period of time since the time of Structural Adjustment Programme. One way or the other, we manipulate, we put a lot of sentiment into it.
The real effect is now staring us on our face. So, what do we do? What is the reality on the ground? “Government has no money to subsidize the pump price of the petroleum products because of the value of the naira. The dollar price of our imported products has not changed much. What has changed much is the value of the naira vis-a-vis the dollar. Until we get the realistic value of our currency, we may not be able to sort out this problem. We must also change our attitudes; every Nigerian has to accept the fact that things much change for better.” On the hike in electricity tariff, Senator Yusuf said: “It is a challenging period we are facing. Electricity is a product that must be sold at a realistic price.
If we continue to put a price that is not realistic vis-a-vis the value of our currency, thinking that at the value of our currency, it is over-valued and therefore, we continue to adjust, the problem will remain.” He added: “For me, it is a challenging period. All of us must accept the fact that this change will come one day.
Officially, we will sit down and look at it probably differently but in my personal opinion, this change has come and we must accept the fact that it has come.” With the National Assembly leadership keeping quiet on this very important issue affecting the wellbeing of majority of the citizens, most Nigerians have expressed disappointment, saying that those elected to protect their interests are betraying the confidence of the people in the parliament.