Nigeria to delay electricity tariff hike amid coronavirus lockdowns

LAGOS, March 31 (Reuters) - Nigeria will postpone by at least three months planned electricity tariff increases as its citizens struggle with coronavirus lockdowns, the Minister of Power said on Tuesday.

The first price increase since 2015, which was scheduled to take effect on Wednesday, will take place only when distribution companies “improve quality of supply, meter consumers and agree with consumers on rates,” according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Power.

“This is in relation to the #COVID19 pandemic and current economic reality of the Country,” Power Minister Sale Mamman said on Twitter.

Nigeria’s state-controlled power tariffs are too low to allow distribution companies to recoup costs and pay generating companies - leaving the sector with ballooning debts.

It is one factor behind a creaking system that does not generate enough power for the nation’s 200 million citizens.

However, the Nigerian Labour Congress said tariff increases would be “a deafening expression of insensitivity” amid “income hemorrhage and economic squeeze” as a result of the lockdowns.

Lagos state, neighboring Ogun state and the capital territory of Abuja entered lockdown late on Monday in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus, a move that has forced the millions of poor Nigerians to stay home without pay.

Rivers state in the Niger Delta and Kaduna in the north have also restricted movement.

The ministry said the changes would impact government finances, and that it is working to incorporate them into ongoing discussions with the World Bank over financial support for the section.

The government is also implementing other “emergency measures” to ensure workers are able to monitor and repair the grid during the lockdowns, and is working with the Central Bank to ensure that generating companies and gas suppliers are paid. (Reporting by Libby George in Lagos Additional reporting by Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa Editing by Matthew Lewis)