In what a large part of the Nigerian populace would consider as cause for jubilation, a Federal High Court in Lagos has ruled that the increase in tariff by the National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) is illegal and forthwith ordered a reversal to the status quo.
A lawyer and rights activist, Toluwani Adebiyi, had filed the suit, challenging the hike in electricity tariff before the court which was presided over by Justice Mohammed Idris.
In his judgement, the judge restrained the agency from further increasing the tariff except in strict compliance with provisions of the Electricity Power Sector Reform Act 2004 (EPSRA) even as he also awarded N50,000 cost against the defendants in favour of the plaintiff.
Adebiyi, in the substantive suit had sought an order restraining NERC from implementing any increase in tariff without a significant improvement in power supply.
He also requested for an order restraining NERC from slamming compulsory service levy on pre-paid meters, until they are designed to read charges per second of consumption.
Idris had on May 28, 2015, ordered NERC in an interim injunction to suspend all actions relating to any increment in tariff until the suit had been concluded, NERC however went ahead to effect the review on July 1, 2015.
The judge said, “The upward increment in tariff was hasty and procedurally ultra vires. The review was done in a breach of existing order. This again was hasty, reckless and irresponsible. The court has the inherent jurisdiction to undo what has been done by a party in self-help.
“The increment in tariff by the 1st defendant while parties are before the court and there is a subsisting order for status quo is hereby declared illegal.
“The 1st defendant is hereby directed to reverse to status quo. The 1st defendant is further restrained from increasing the electricity tariff except in strict compliance of the provisions EPSRA and the procedures stipulated in section 76 of the EPSRA. N50,000 cost is awarded against the defendants in favour of the plaintiff. That is the judgment of the court.”
The judge added, “Let me say a word to the investing public. Investors are free to do business in Nigeria but they shall abide by the laws of this country. Nigeria is not a kangaroo state. Nigeria is not a banana country. So long as investments are carried out within the ambits of the laws of this country, the courts have no business to intervene.”
The judge chastised the executive and cautioned against recklessness.
He said, “It is intolerable and extremely dangerous for any branch of the executive to embark on actions indicating that it may choose not to obey the orders of the courts.
“That is tantamount to executive recklessness which may lead to lawlessness. Let me warn that no matter how high or low you may be, the law stands above you. Lawlessness, arbitrariness and executive recklessness in exercise of powers conferred by law will never be condoned.”
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba, in a statement in Abuja, lauded the court judgement describing it as courageous.
He said, “We at the NLC wish to state that this is a courageous and judicial judgment deserving of commendation. We also consider it a victory for the ordinary Nigerian who has been crushed by exploitative bills.
‘‘Similarly, we urge NERC and Discos to obey the judgment and revert to the old rates without further delay.”