COVID-19: Reps maintain stand on 2 months free electricity to Nigerians — SPOKESMAN

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Reps, Fishes, Niger Delta

Reps, Fishes, Niger Delta

BY Levinus Nwabughiogu

House of Representatives has reiterated its position on 2 months free power supply to Nigerians, saying the need was orchestrated by the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Spokesman of the House, Hon. Ben Kalu in a rebuttal to apparent remarks of the minister of power, Alhaji Saleh Mamman who had said that the privatised nature of the electricity sector could not guarantee the free supply said that the lawmakers were conscious of the challenges.

Kalu, however, said that the House cannot abdicate on their promise to the Nigerian people.

In a statement released on Thursday night, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs said that the House maintains its position that Nigerians deserved 2 months free electricity to cushion the effects of the lockdown.

The statement read thus in full: “The House is aware of the statements attributed to the Honourable Minister of Power, Alhaji Saleh Mamman, where in response to calls by the leadership of the House for the government to provide 2 months free electricity for Nigerians during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, he cited high costs as well as the privatized nature of the power sector as challenges to providing free electricity for all Nigerians. While these excuses are debatable, most concerning of all was his argument that the provision of free power would benefit only the rich to the exclusion of the 80 million Nigerians who are not connected to the national power grid.

“It is trite and has even been acknowledged by the World Bank, that at this critical moment, energy access for Nigerian households, health facilities, and other vital public services is fundamental to mitigating the most devastating impacts of COVID-19 and ensuring a rapid economic recovery for the nation. It is not in doubt that the economic conditions occasioned by the pandemic has made it harder for low-income customers and businesses to pay their electricity bills, threatening them with disconnection. Therefore, while acknowledging efforts of the government and the Honourable Minister in ensuring an improvement in the supply of power, it is imperative that the government takes steps to ensure the access and affordability of electricity for Nigerians regardless of class.

“As at April 26, 2020, according to a policy tracker by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on key economic responses which governments are taking to limit the human and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, several economies, including Ghana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo, Gabon Georgia, Togo, Guatemela, Guyana, Indonesia, Ireland, Lao P.D.R., Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Slovania, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Timor-Leste, UAE, Vietnam, Montenegro, Bolivia, Egypt and Bahrain, have included in their stimulus packages, elaborate policies to ensure energy access to their citizens including partial or complete cancellation of electricity tariffs.

“The call by the House for free electricity for Nigerians is borne of a realization that similar measures have become necessary to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians as we try to battle and emerge from this pandemic.

“We, therefore, maintain that it is unconscionable to the over 100 million low- and middle-income earners in Nigeria whose income has been affected by the pandemic, to deprive them of this electricity tariff reprieve for fear that it would benefit the rich who do not constitute up to 10% of Nigeria’s population. It amounts to a disturbing case of punishing the majority for the sake of the few.

“While we remain mindful of the financial cost of this necessary measure as expressed by the Honourable Minister, we maintain that trying times such as these demand creative solutions by a responsive and responsible government. We must, therefore, consider the example of other nations, including Ghana which innovated ways to absorb the electricity tariffs of all lifeline customers (persons who consume zero to 50 kilowatts-hours a month) and provide a 50% relief for higher-income residential and commercial customers.

“Contrary also, to the opinions expressed by the Honourable Minister, we maintain that the privatized nature of our power sector should not pose a hindrance to the provision of free electricity to Nigerians for 2 months as several of the abovementioned nations which have suspended electricity tariffs in these times also operate privatized power sectors.

“We are faced with unprecedented times in the history of Nigeria and it behoves a responsible federal government to innovate ways to alleviate the suffering of people. As we urge Nigerians to maintain social distancing and shun public gatherings, the use of technology to bridge the gap in education, social interaction and business activities becomes more necessary; and as the COVID-19 pandemic adversely impacts the incomes of lower- and middle-class Nigerians, affordable energy becomes critical for the continued education of our youths, the restart of business activities and our slow return to normalcy.

“As the People’s parliament, the 9th House of Representatives remains committed to ensuring the welfare of Nigerians, especially the vulnerable households in these trying times. The House of Representatives stands by its call on the federal government to explore ways of granting Nigerians a reprieve from electricity tariffs for two months during this pandemic.”

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