Justice Mohammed Idris of a Lagos Federal High Court has fixed the hearing of an application filed by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, seeking a stay of proceedings in a suit filed by a lawyer, Mr. Toluwani Yemi Adebiyi, over the recent hike in electricity tariff for Friday.
Justice Idris fixed the date on Monday after heated arguments by lawyers representing parties in the matter, over the order in which pending applications should be taken by the court.
The lawyer had earlier informed the court of his application seeking to commit the NERC chairman and CEOs of the Distribution Companies to prison, for allegedly disobeying an order of the court which stopped any hike in electricity tariff until the final determination of the suit.
The judge had on May 28, 2015, directed NERC to suspend all actions relating to increment in electricity tariff pending the hearing and final determination of a suit filed by the lawyer on the issue.
However, despite the subsisting court order, NERC in conjunction with the Electricity Distribution Companies commenced the implementation of the new electricity tariff on February 1, 2016.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Monday, Adebiyi who informed the court about the contempt charge, disclosed that it was highly compelling for the court to hear it as the defendants had by implementing the new tariff indicated that the substantive suit does not mean anything to them.
Adebiyi said: “My Lord, even though the matter was adjourned till today for the hearing of the substantive suit, the defendants have decided to take the bull by the horn by increasing the electricity tariff contrary to the order of the court.
Consequently, Forms 48 and 49 have been filed so as to allow the defendants to purge themselves of contempt.”
He therefore urged the court to commence proceedings in the contempt charge.
However, NERC’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN, in his submissions urged the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s charge.
“We have an appeal against the order and there is a motion for stay before the court. The plaintiff has not effect personal service of Form 48 on the alleged contemnors and he has gone ahead to file Form 49. I think the proper thing for the court to do is to commence the hearing of the substantive suit,” he said.
Also, lawyer representing the Discos, Dr. K.U.K Ekwueme aligned himself with Idigbe’s submissions.
In a short ruling on the issue, Justice Idris disclosed that in the midst of many applications pending before the court, contempt proceedings, being criminal in nature, should be the first to be dealt with by the court.
However, “It is in the interest of justice to first hear the defendant’s application for a stay of proceedings pending the determination of their appeal against the court’s order,” the judge said.
At this juncture, Idigbe sought to move the application but was cut short by the plaintiff’s insistence that the application was not ripe for hearing.
The plaintiff later asked for a short adjournment to enable him file his response to the application.
Justice Idris subsequently adjourned till Friday for the hearing of the application for a stay of proceedings.
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 metres not until “the metres 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 metres 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 also 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 metres 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.
“Nigerian poor masses are paying an estimated and indiscriminate residential bills ranging from N5, 000 to N18, 000, spending an average of N15, 000 to N20, 000 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.

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