As electricity supply drops, rights group queries huge expenditure in the sector

June 18th, 2018

SAMUEL OGIDAN, examines the state of the country’s power sector, and writes that a rights group has dragged the federal government to court to explain what it did with the stupendous allocations to the sector over the years.

Nigeria is a country that has the potentials to be a great nation, with both natural and human resources spread across the length and breadth of the country.

But unfortunately, with all the attendant resources and indices that make a country a great nation, Nigeria is among the poorest in the world with income per capital abysmally poor; living condition and life expectancy at a sorry state.

While infrastructure is celebrated on the pages of newspapers, the reality on ground speaks volume on the decay and corruption in the country.

The power sector, which, otherwise, would have rescued the nation from economic drift, and propel it to a greater height, has not only helped Nigeria to become a puppet nation, but has made it dependant on the crumbs from the table of world powerful economies.

For the past 40 years, power generation in the country has been hovering around 3000 megawatts, a development believed to have contributed to the nation’s poor economy. While other nations with strong economy are boasting of terrawatts or 50,000 to 500,000 megawatts and above, Nigeria’s power sector had become an avenue to drain the nation’s commonwealth.

In the last days of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, about $16 billion was allegedly spent on the power sector without any tangible result. And during Musa Ya’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan’s administrations, monies were also spent in the power sector and like a leaking pipe, the sector remains as it is.

The sorry state of the power sector has led to the close down of some factories, companies, industries, small and big establishments in the country, while others found their ways to neighbouring countries like Ghana, South Africa and others to do their businesses. Today, individuals and small scale businesses are suffering in the hand of the sector that distributes exorbitant and crazy bills without commensurate light.

The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, has also not been exonerated from the failure of the power sector. Many political analysts have taken the former governor of Lagos State and Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, to the cleaner over his alleged comment that a serious government would fix power within six months.

Fashola, for the past three years has been the minister in charge of the power sector and the song coming from the sector has not changed. While some reports in the past months said that power has increased to 7000 megawatts, but the reality on ground stated otherwise. It was even reported that power supply had collapsed; a development that questioned the report that power has supply has improved.

Apparently angered by the whooping sum spent on power without commensurate result, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked court to compel Fashola to account for spending in the sector.

SERAP had last week sued Fashola over “failure to account for the spending on the privatisation of the electricity sector and the exact amount of post-privatisation spending on generation companies (GENCOS), distribution companies (DISCOS) and Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) till date, and to explain if such spending came from budgetary allocations or other sources.”

In the suit number FHC/L/CS/972/18 filed last week at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, SERAP is seeking “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling Mr. Fashola to provide specific details on the privatization of the electricity sector, the names of all the companies and individuals involved; and to publish widely including on a dedicated website any such information.”

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information request dated 7 May 2018 to Mr. Fashola giving him 14 days to provide “information on the status of implementation of the 25-year national energy development plan, and whether the Code of Ethics of the privatization process which bars staff of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and members of the National Council on Privatization (NCP) from buying shares in companies being privatized were deliberately flouted.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its counsel, Ms. Bamisope Adeyanju, reads in part: “Publishing the information requested and making it widely available to the public would serve the public interest and provide insights relevant to the public debate on the ongoing efforts to prevent and combat a culture of mismanagement of public funds, corruption and impunity of perpetrators.

“Most of the companies that won the bids had no prior experience in the power sector and little or no capacity at all to manage the sector. The privatization of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) has yielded the country total darkness. The gains of privatization have been lost through alleged corruption, manipulation of rules and disregard to extant laws and lack of transparency in the exercise.

“To further highlight the seriousness of the situation, several years after the country’s power sector was privatized, millions of Nigerian households particularly the socially and economically vulnerable sectors of the population continue to complain about outrageous bills for electricity not consumed, and poor power supply from distribution firms.

“Millions of Nigerians continue to be exploited through the use of patently illegal estimated billing by DISCOs. One wonders the essence of the privatization if there has been no corresponding improvement in power for Nigerians.

“Enforcing the right to truth would allow Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption and provide a form of reparation to victims of grand corruption in the power sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its General Comment 3 has implied that privatization process should not be detrimental to the effective realization of all human rights, including access to regular electricity supply.

“SERAP has the right to request the information under contention on the basis of several provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011. By Section (1) of the FoI Act, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on post-privatization spending by the Federal Government and accounts of spending on the private entities such as GENCOS and DISCOS.”

In a statement made available to newsmen by its Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, SERAP in its suit is seeking the following reliefs: –

“A DECLARATION that the failure of the Respondent to furnish the Applicant with information on specific details on the spending on the privatization of the electricity sector, the exact amount of post-privatization spending to date and the names of all the companies and individuals involved; as well as explain if such spending came from budgetary allocations or other sources is unlawful as it contradicts and in conflict with the obligations of the Respondent under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.

“A DECLARATION that the failure of the Respondent to furnish the Applicant with information on the details of spending on and status of implementation of the twenty-five (25) year national energy development plan is unlawful as it contradicts and in conflict with the obligations of the Respondent under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.

“A DECLARATION that the failure of the Respondent to clarify to the Applicant the degree of compliance with the Code of Ethics of the privatization process which bars staff of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and members of the National Council on Privatization (NCP) from buying shares in companies being privatized is unlawful as it contradicts and in conflict with the obligations of the Respondent under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.

“AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS directing and/or compelling the Respondent to furnish the Applicant with information on specific details of spending on the privatization of the electricity sector, the exact amount of post-privatization spending to date and the names of all the companies and individuals involved; as well as to explain if such spending came from budgetary allocations or other sources, and to publish widely including on a dedicated website any such information.

“AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS directing and/or compelling the Respondent to furnish the Applicant with information on the details of spending and status of implementation of the twenty-five (25) year national energy development plan, and to publish widely including on a dedicated website any such information.

“AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS directing and/or compelling the Respondent to clarify the degree of compliance with the Code of Ethics of the privatization process which bars staff of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and members of the National Council on Privatization (NCP) from buying shares in companies being privatized.

“The privatization of power assets has already caused major crises, ranging from illiquidity, load rejection, metering problems, corrupt practices, lack of gas to power the stations, disinterestedness of investors, lack of injection of fresh capital after acquisition of financing, tariff interest, consumer apathy, foreign exchange hostilities, and a host of other sundry issues associated with it.

SERAP, has, however, said that no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit yet.

Now that the situation in the power sector has degenerated to this level, would the court case against the Minister of Power by SERAP help to address the problem in the sector at the end of the day? Only time will tell.

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