A Federal High Court in Lagos wednesday annulled the hike in electricity tariffs announced by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) last year.
The presiding judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, while delivering judgment in a suit filed by a human rights lawyer, Mr. Toluwani Yemi Adebiyi, described NERC’s action as procedurally ultra vires, irrational, irregular and illegal.
Adebiyi had gone to challenge the hike in electricity tariffs as announced by NERC last year, arguing that there was no point increasing prices when there was no commensurate increase in power supply.
The judge while relying on Sections 31, 32 and 76 of the Electricity Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA), in deciding the substantive suit held: “NERC acted outside the powers conferred on it by the Act and failed to follow the prescribed procedure.”
The court was also of the view that NERC did not show that it acted in due obedience to the prescribed procedures and that there was no evidence that NERC complied with Section 76(6)(7) and (9) of EPSRA.
The court further held that of all the legal requirements, it appeared the only one complied with by NERC was that it announced the new tariffs in the newspapers.
The judge consequently ordered NERC to immediately revert to status quo.
He also restrained the commission from further increasing electricity tariffs except it complies strictly with the relevant provisions of the EPSRA.
The court further held: “It is clear from the affidavit evidence that the increase in tariffs was done by NERC in defiance of the order of this court made on May 28, 2015 which directed parties in the case to maintain the status quo.”
On this issue, the court said: “The law is that every person upon whom an order is made by a court of competent jurisdiction must obey it, unless and until the order is discharged and set aside at the appeal.”
Consequently, the court held that the tariff increase from July 1, 2015 was done in breach of the “status quo” order, saying that NERC’s action was hasty, reckless and irresponsible.
Speaking further, Justice Idris said: “This country is in a democracy where the rule of law shall prevail over impunity or whimsical desires. Anything to the contrary will be an invitation to anarchy.
“It is the law that what is done officially must be done in accordance to the law. Investors are free to do business in Nigeria but they shall abide by the law of this country.
“Nigeria is not a kangaroo state. Nigeria is not a banana republic. It is intolerance and extremely dangerous for any branch of the executive to create a posture that it may not obey certain orders of the court. That is tantamount to executive recklessness which will lead to lawlessness.”
In view of these, the court while invoking its disciplinary jurisdiction, made the following orders: “The increment in electricity tariffs which took effect after the institution of this action and while a restraining order is subsisting is hereby declared illegal and same is hereby set aside.
“NERC is hereby directed to revert to the status quo and the commission is hereby restrained from further increasing electricity tariffs except it complies strictly with the relevant provisions of the EPSRA.”
The sum of N50,000 was awarded in favour of the plaintiff.
Adebiyi, in the substantive suit, had sought an order restraining NERC from implementing any upward review of electricity tariffs without a meaningful and significant improvement in power supply at least for 18 hours a day in most communities in Nigeria.