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Minister Fashola, You Can’t Put The Cart Before The Horse

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By Sola Salako
Dear Honourable Minister for Power, You cannot put the Cart before the Horse Sir!

I have dispassionately considered all the facts, figures, arguments and justifications for the implementation of the MYTO 2 Electricity Tariff increase as proposed by the NERC, which you also advocated in your Agenda setting media briefing recently.

I have acted as a mediator between consumers and IKEDC at a few of its consumer engagement events on the imperative of another upward review of tariff as directed by the office of the Vice President.

There is no gain saying the fact that Nigerian consumers are weary of the Federal Government’s unending reforms in the power sector and majority no longer trust government’s sincerity of commitment to provide electricity to every nook and cranny of our plundered nation.

While many of us are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, considering your antecedents as the erstwhile Governor of Lagos State, your appeal to consumers to absorb yet another increase in tariff as a precursor to improved service is faulty sir.

As a consumer rights and protection advocate who believes in a free and equitable market, it is clear to me that the odds are stacked heavily against the consumer in this market.

Government seems to be in the service provider’s corner, contrary to its constitutional duty of protecting its citizens from exploitation while promoting a free and fair market.

The facts and issues that we are faced with are thus
1. Decades of neglect, plundering and lack of investment or a consistent strategic vision for the power sector by multiple governments has resulted in a stunted sector which cannot meet the exploding demand of a leap frogging population.
2. Corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability by successive governments further turned the power sector into a national ‘black hole’ into which mind boggling sums of money have been sunk without commensurate results.
3. A hasty privatization, motivated by political rent seeking, handed our national assets to cronies of the past administration in a manner that did not take long term implications into consideration and had little or no structures to protect Nigerian consumers from exploitation
4. The Pseudo-Privatization Model we are stuck with now feeds on our collective commonwealth in terms of unjustifiable bailout on one hand; and a totally unfair, oppressive and exploitative billing system that generates arbitrary bills termed “Estimated Billing System” which has NEVER been reconciled to determine accurate consumption.

In effect, Honourable Minister, the Nigerian consumer is the unofficial shareholder who is being forced to fund the private businesses of the investors in the power sector without any corresponding service nor return on investment! THAT IS UNFAIR!

To therefore force another upward tariff review on millions of already battered consumers without first mandating the service providers to minimize the inefficiency in their system by providing prepaid metering to ensure fairness and equity in the marketplace, is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse sir!

Unless every electricity consumer is accurately metered to determine what they consume, this impending tariff increase will be tantamount to the Federal Government aiding and abetting Electricity Service Providers to exploit its own citizens!

What we expect from you, our Honorable Minister, is that you will make a tariff increase CONDITIONAL on the nationwide deployment of PREPAID meters so that consumers will only pay for what they consume. By doing this, you would have shown the FG as Consumer Sensitive and the Defender of the Vulnerable…a fair arbiter…a true government of the people, by the people and for the people!

Sir, the deployment of PREPAID meters will restore the control of individual resources back to the consumer. The consumer can then determine how much he is willing to consume and pay for. He becomes King of his own consumption and resources. He is empowered to choose what is best for him. That is the only fair and equitable way to review tariff sir!

Of all the consumer complaints we have handled on the power sector, Estimated Billing was only second to Lack of Power Supply! Nigerian consumers have even found alternative means of easing the pressure of erratic or non existent power supply. But how do they deal with being charged for services they didn’t consume? It’s frustrating, annoying, highly provocative…and grossly UNJUST!

Sir, you have demonstrated an unflinching commitment to a just and equitable society as a governor, Nigerian Consumers expect no less in your new functions now. It is time to prevail on the DISCOs to roll out prepaid metering immediately BEFORE any new tariff can be effected!

Anything else will be a hard sell.

Please do the right thing by the Nigerian consumer who labored to elect your administration.

Salako is the president, Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria CAFON