Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has rejected a prayer sought by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, for the court to sanction its proposed increase in electricity tariff.
The NERC Chairman, Dr. Sam Amadi, had, at a press briefing in May, announced the commission’s resolve to embark on an upward review of electricity tariff across the country effective from June 1.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Toluwani Adebiyi, had on the basis of the announcement filed an ex parte application on May 28 before Justice Mohammed Idris, leading him to restrain NERC from going ahead with the proposed hike.
The commission went on to file an application seeking to discharge the restraining order, as it claimed that Adebiyi misrepresented facts before the court and misled the court to grant same. Counsel to NERC, Mr. George Uwechue (SAN), further argued that the applicant failed to explore and exhaust all available remedies before rushing to court.
But in a ruling on the matter on Thursday, Idris discountenanced Uwechue’s arguments and dismissed the application on the grounds that the application was not filed within seven days as stipulated by Order 26 Rule 11 and the applicant did not seek extension of time.
The judge noted that this failure had rendered the defendant’s application, which sought to discharge the restraining order, incompetent and insisted that “The ex-parte order of this court restraining hike in electricity tariff is valid and still subsisting”.
The judge had earlier struck out the preliminary objection filed by NERC, challenging the applicant’s locus standi to institute the action.
He held that the defendant breached the provisions of Order 29, Rule 4 of the court’s Civil Procedure Rules by failing to file its preliminary objection within 21 days of being served with the applicant’s originating summons.
According to Idris, “The learned Senior Advocate for the defendant holds the view that the provision is discretionary. I honestly and sincerely disagree with that view.
“In the circumstances, I hold that the preliminary objection was filed in breach of the rules of the court.
“The objection filed is therefore, in my view, incompetent and is hereby struck out.”
The matter was thereafter adjourned till September 23, 2015 for the hearing of the substantive suit.
Adebiyi is contending that the move by NERC to increase electricity tariff in the country would “foist further hardship on Nigerians.”
According to the lawyer, any such increment in electricity tariff was unjustifiable in the face of poor or erratic supply of electricity by the distributing companies.
He prayed the court to stop any hike in electricity tariff until there has been a meaningful and significant improvement in power supply to at least 18 hours in a day in most Nigerian communities.
Among other things, Adebiyi is also asking the court to mandate the NERC to make available to all Nigerians, prepaid meters within a maximum time frame of two years.
This, he said, would curb “the throat-cutting, indiscriminate estimated bill, which must be devoid of the arbitrary service charge, but only chargeable on power consumers.”
In his affidavit supporting the suit, Adebiyi lamented, “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.
“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 the Nigerian populace.
“It is totally absurd and not for the good of the people, and therefore must be stopped,” he stated.