• Friday, June 14, 2024
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A tariff for boiled frogs

Nigeria to meter all unmetered Band A customers by September

The myth goes that if you put a frog in a beaker of water and heat it up ever so gradually, with no sharp rises in temperature, because reptiles adapt to the temperature of their surroundings, the frog would adapt rather than jump out. This will continue even though the temperature rises until the frog is eventually too weak and allows itself to be boiled alive. The essence of the boiled frog syndrome, according to Dr. Prada, is that “when our living conditions deteriorate gradually, we adapt to these conditions instead of getting rid of them, until we are no longer strong enough to escape.” Power outages have crept up on us as Nigerians, and we have consistently adjusted ourselves to the situation and tolerated the condition, but will this price hike now boil us alive?

Read also: FG insists on electricity tariff hike, labour threatens action

The Boiled Frog Syndrome also reminds me of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), who was a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany. At first (1920s and early 1930s), he was not initially against Nazi ideas and right-wing political movements. However, after Hitler came to power in 1933, Niemöller spoke out against the impact of Nazi policies on the Protestant Church. He soon ended up in Nazi prisons and concentration camps from 1937 to 1945. He was the one who said, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

At the start of these outages in the late 1950s and early 1960s and through to the 1970s and 1980s, our forebears said, Thank God, at least we can afford candles and kerosene lanterns. They adapted and did not speak up for those who could not afford even those basic energy sources. Today, Nigerians are high consumers of candles, and according to statista.com, “the candle market in Nigeria is experiencing a surge in demand due to the country’s frequent power outages.” In 2024, we will spend N237.25bn (US$189.8m) in the Candles market segment, which “is projected to experience an annual growth rate of 2.33 percent (CAGR 2024–2028).”

The trend continued and worsened in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, and generators became a status symbol and separated between the haves and have-nots. We said nothing because somehow, we adjusted and bought generators and spent our money on diesel rather than rejecting what was becoming our new normal. Kerosene, petrol, and diesel-fueled generators. A recent report suggests that almost 47% of urban Nigerians and over 27 percent of rural Nigerians rely on generators for their electricity.

These dirty energy sources have left us with severe health and safety hazards. We are reminded of the greenhouse gases emitted and the permanent damage we are doing to the planet. The effects of climate change are no longer deniable, as we have all suffered the sustained heatwave in most parts of Nigeria so far in 2024 and the delays to the onset of the rains. These heavy and weighty matters are for another day, but I must draw our attention to how we have tolerated the gradual deterioration in our living standards for decades, spanning the Electricity Company of Nigeria (ECN), the Nigeria Electric Power Authority (NEPA), and the eventual unbundling of the utility into Gencos, Transysco, and Discos.

Read also: Atiku says electricity hike will increase hardship

When, in 2022, diesel costs rose sharply from about N280/litre to over N890/litre, the cost of switching from fossil fuel-based energy sources to renewable sources like solar with storage in lead-acid batteries started to appear accessible. Quietly, we began to jump out of the beaker to install solar panels and inverters to escape being ‘boiled alive’. Now in the 2020s, we have become sophisticated and use green energy, solar-powered inverters, and a range of energy store-and-release devices that we thank God that we can afford, and we have refused to speak up for the downtrodden, the poor, and the needy. Why? because “I beta-pass my neighbour.”

Having said that, we have still retained electricity from the National Grid and our generators as backup sources to recharge our inverters whenever the energy outage exceeds what we can replace from our stored energy sources. We thought we jumped out of the beaker, but soon realised that we needed to move to lithium battery storage and lots of it to enjoy the same mod cons we could with electricity from the national grid. We were forced to continue paying the high diesel costs and using expensive energy to recharge, but we are adjusting. All we have done is jump “from frying pan to fire,” adapting to the conditions without getting rid of them.

The price hike in the electricity tariff from N68/KWh to N225/KWh, effective immediately, is another sharp rise in the water temperature. Are we no longer strong enough to escape? Will we be boiled alive like the proverbial frogs? As we can see, “I beta pass my neighbour” is not just a name for a certain size of generator favoured by small businesses, but it is also a mantra that describes the mindset of the boiled frog: “so long as I can find a way to adjust and survive, even if just in the short-term, I am fine. At least I am doing better than my neighbour.” Herein lies the insidious and devastating serum that lulls the frogs into a state of coma instead of infusing them with a sharp sense of urgency. This is the time for a new ethos; it is the time for us all to say, “I am my neighbour, and my neighbour is me.” Has anyone conducted a study on how small businesses pay to access energy in Nigeria versus their counterparts in the rest of Africa? Do we know how much outage and downtime they each have to suffer compared with us in Nigeria? It is time our policy advocates took up the challenge to put facts and figures together for a campaign.

Read also: Electricity tariff review necessary to boost sector liquidity-Adelabu

It is time to get rid of this condition, for us and for our neighbours, before we totally lose all strength to act! First, we must agree to a set of standard operating procedures (SoPs) that must be followed by Discos to guarantee the uptime promised against each tariff band imposed. Second, we must agree on a grievance reporting mechanism to be used if and/or when the SoPs are not followed. Third, we are putting the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) on notice that we will expect them to act as our Ombudsman in a timely and effective manner to get us redress from these Discos (including compensation and where necessary consequences for not living by the agreed SoPs). Fourthly, we must gather our independent data and evidence around outages and breaches of the SOPs so that the impact of the high tariffs on our lives and livelihoods is reliably documented. “I am my neighbour, and my neighbour is me,” means we should be willing to share information, work with each other, and report so that we evolve this into an integrity movement to demand accountability from Discos. The fifth and final step is to use the data and evidence collected to promote risk-based interventions in collaboration with the FCCPC and regulators in the power sector to get redress for Nigerians. As a famous area father once put it, “Our mumu don do!”

 

Apampa is Co-Founder/CEO The Integrity Organisation Ltd. Gte.