PRESSURE being mounted on the Federal Government to reverse the recently introduced high electricity tariff is rising as the Nigerian Guild of Editors and other groups in the country have endorsed the petition sent to the United Nations on the matter by a coalition of civil society.
The petition was initially sent to the UN by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP; Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, WSCIJ; Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Lagos State Council; Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Lagos State branch; Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja branch; National Union of Food Beverage and Tobacco Employees, NUFBTE; and Joint Action Front, JAF.
Others are: Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, WARDC; Women Empowerment and Legal Aid Initiative, WELA; Partnership for Justice, PJ; Campaign for Democratic Workers, CDWR; Democratic Socialist Movement, DSM; Civil Society Network Against Corruption, CSNAC, and Education Rights Campaign, ERC.
Other groups that have endorsed the petition are the Gender and Constitution Reform Network, a coalition of over 250 women's groups, GECORN; Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA, and One Voice Nigeria, a coalition of civil society groups.
The petition dated September 6, 2013, called on the UN to send an urgent appeal to the Federal Government to delay the increased fixed rate electricity tariff until the government is able to put in place mechanisms to ensure regular and uninterrupted electricity supply in the country.
The petition is also demanding an impact assessment of the increase on people living in extreme poverty.
The coalition said: "By introducing fixed rate electricity tariff, the government is complicit in violating the human rights of people living in poverty and undermining their personal development and prosperity. We believe that it is premature for the government to increase electricity tariff prior to taking effective measures to guarantee and ensure regular and uninterrupted electricity supply across the country."
The coalition also requested the Special Rapporteur to visit the country to "conduct an in-depth investigation into the effects of the increased electricity tariff on people living in poverty," and to urge the government to "take all reasonable measures to protect, respect and fulfil the rights of people living in poverty and social exclusion across the country."
Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP Executive Director said: "Endorsements to the petition are growing, and the Special Rapporteur is now dealing with the petition. We are very positive that the Special Rapporteur will take concrete action on the matter because it is in the interest of justice and fairness to do so. The petition is still opened for further endorsements by individuals and organisations and can be signed onto by sending an email to: info@serap_nigeria.org. Endorsements received will be forwarded to the UN."
According to the coalition, "the introduction of a new electricity tariff by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, not only risks violation of human rights under the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights but also exacerbates and perpetuates poverty for millions of Nigerians already vulnerable and marginalised and lack access to basic necessities.
"We believe that the increased fixed rate electricity tariffs by over 100 percent without corresponding increase in electricity supply target some of the most marginalised and impoverished members of Nigerian society, many of whom are struggling with basic living costs and without access to regular electricity," the coalition argued.
The coalition expressed "serious concerns that increasing electricity tariffs by over 100 percent at a time power supply has not improved and indeed remains irregular will exacerbate the poverty level in the country and further perpetuate discrimination, inequalities and vulnerabilities thus contributing to violations of the human rights of the citizens. Also, while the government has increased electricity tariff, it has failed and/or neglected to investigate the spending and mismanagement of about $3.5 billion annually on power in the last 10 years.
"The missing $16 billion meant for power projects has not been recovered and perpetrators have not been brought to justice. Yet, electricity infrastructure is epileptic, and lack of maintenance culture precipitated by greed and official corruption at the highest level of government have contributed to the poor electricity services in the country."
The coalition argued that, "the increased tariffs violate the internationally recognized principles of non-discrimination, equal protection under the law, non-retrogression, and directly goes against the requirement of progressive realization of economic and social rights, including consumers' rights. It also has a disparate impact on the ability of people living in poverty to enjoy the rights to equal housing, health and medical care and basic necessities of life, and thus violates the right to an effective remedy."
According to the coalition, "The government has a responsibility to ensure that electricity services are progressively made available, on the basis of equality and non-discrimination, to the whole population, including those most disadvantaged, such as the fringe dwellers and the rural poor. The government cannot use the 'privatization' of the power sector as excuse for this discriminatory, unfair and unjust increase.
"Under international law, both the process and the implementation of privatisation should be consistent with human rights. Therefore, the government is not relieved of its human rights responsibilities by privatising the provision of basic services such as electricity."
It will be recalled that the government recently confirmed that as many as 120 million Nigerians are currently without electricity. But under the Multi-Year Tariff Order, MYTO, regime, there would be increases in electricity tariff every year till 2016. The tariff schedule showed that the fixed cost will go up every year. The energy cost or cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity will also increase. The increase means that electricity consumers would pay between N700 and N800 monthly - up from N500 - regardless of whether they make use of electricity for the period or not. The government has also confirmed that this increase is preparatory to the privatisation of 18 state-run power generation, distribution and transmission companies.