22 August 2017

Nigeria: Time to Take Fight Against Corruption to Power Sector

It is a known secret that there have been monumental corruption in Nigeria's power sector, but no one, including the government seems to be doing enough to tackle the malaise. In fact, the level of malfeasance in the sector is mind-boggling.

Worst still, no one has ever been prosecuted for participating in turning the sector into a drain-pipe, hemorrhaging off about N11 trillion of tax-payers money in a total of 18 years.

Therefore, it was not a totally shocking story when a 65- paged report recently released by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in partnership with Mac Arthur Foundation in Lagos showed a monumental fleece in the sector.

Now the tunes appear to be sounding differently. It might as well be the time to take the fight against corruption to the sector. Legal minds are calling for the prosecution of those indicted by the report.

The report titled: "From Darkness to Darkness: How Nigerians are Paying the Price for Corruption in the Electricity Sector" and presented to the media by Yemi Oke, Associate Professor, Energy/Electricity Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos discloses that "the country has lost more megawatts in the post-privatisation era due to corruption, impunity, among other social challenges."

The report further shows that, "The much-publicised power sector reforms in Nigeria under the Electric Power Sector Reform Act of 2005 is yet to yield desired and/or anticipated fruits largely due to corruption and impunity of perpetrators, regulatory lapses and policy inconsistencies.

According to the report, a total estimated financial loss to Nigeria from corruption in the electricity sector starting from the return to democracy in 1999 to date is over N11 trillion. This represents public funds, private equity and social investment or divestments in the power sector and it is estimated that it may reach N20 trillion in the next decade given the rate of government investment and funding in the power sector amidst dwindling fortune and recurrent revenue shortfalls.

Ordinary Nigerians will continue to pay the price for corruption in the electricity sector - staying in darkness, but still made to pay crazy electricity bills. "Corruption in the Power Sector is causing Nigerians monumental pain and anguish and it is high time that the government of the day looked at this sector with all sincerity so we can make progress in this sector.

"We can't continue to do things the same way and expect different result. It's impossible. We must do things differently to get better results," SERAP Executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni declared.

For Dr. Yemi Oke, Nigerians must begin with a new war against darkness and corruption in the power sector. And to do that, he said, we must first understand the magnitude and the various

multi-dimensional issues involved.

According to him, corruption and impunity in the Power Sector is as a result of the following, among others: lack of effective monitoring and supervision, current structural arrangement, institutional impropriety, state monopoly, state control Electricity Governance Models and lack of decentralized structure.

"One of the challenges in the power sector, he said, is over-centralized governance structure. In the Constitution - Power and Electricity is listed under the concurrent legislative list. State Houses of Assembly have power to legislate in respect of electricity generation, transmission and distribution in respect of areas not covered by the national grid. Which country works on centralized grid structure in the 21st Century? He asked, adding that areas of the national grid have to be interpreted. States, he said, need to decentralize their energy options and generate their own power.

"Government did not make a dime from the sale of the electricity assets, all monies realized were used to settle old electricity staffs. After acquisition of the assets, those who acquired had no money to take it to the next level."

"Because the power sector investors are politically positioned, government came up with N340billion power sector intervention fund to help them. The bailout of the power sector has continued with public funds," Oke said.

According to him, if Nigerians will pay more tariff for more darkness, then they deserve consumer rights - right to use electricity only to the extent they can

pay. "Give me meter and the meter politicking started and continued delay on the meter issue because they know it will be to their loss," he said.

Oke, while giving cases of corruption in the electricity sector noted that Federal Government should allow for decentralized energy sector governance. An entire power sector privitization should be revisited, he said, adding that we should ask questions as 'who bidded what and what are the documents involved?'

He noted that there are weak governance structures, adding that attention should be focused on petty corruption in the power sector. "Nobody is talking about this, bribery in the facilitation of meter, use of electricity without paying and paying for what you have not consumed. We need to, apart from dealing with government, deal with ourselves and do things right.

"Because of corruption and corrupt tendencies, our capacity is just 5,000 watts, but the truth is that we cannot generate 5,000 watts. The national grid infrastructure cannot take much. The only way of having power in Nigeria is to deal with corruption and its allied forces in the power sector, which include among others, wrong procurement structure, wrong licensing structure etc."

"The fight must be collective and participatory. SERAP is ready for the fight, but the question is, are we ready as a people to sustain the

fight?' Oke asked, noting that a regrettable lacuna in the Electricity regime is in the provision of community rights only in relation to

hydro-Electricity.

He continued that power is not only generated by hydro, but also gas and noted that it means that if something happens to those who live close to gas turbines, there is no regulatory framework to protect them.

He further noted that "another lacuna in our Electricity Laws is that the law gives these private entities that bought our assets freely, the right to revoke/compulsorily acquire our lands for electricity purposes." He insisted that the word should not be "compulsory acquisition", but rather it should be "compulsory purchase", so that an individual landowner can in that wise, state the amount he wants for such purchase.

Also human Rights lawyer and senior advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana expressed hope that the report will constitute a special petition by SERAP to the necessary agencies since it is revealing and painful, more so, Nigerians are all in darkness.

According to him, there is a link between darkness and impunity and corruption. He said: "We should use litigation to push for federalism. With respect to places off the national grid, anything not in the so-called national grid belongs to the state. We implore the 35 States to stop running to the central to get license to generate power, so that we

can stop pollution and electrocution.

"This distorted federalism in Abuja has to be challenged because when you concentrate too much power in the central, there will be corruption," he stated. Another senior lawyer, Mr. Babatunde Ogala said corruption in the power sector has indeed affected the totality of our lives, including killing our industries.

President, Energy Consumer Rights and Responsibilities Initiatives, Comrade Suraj Fadairo, said people have the right only to pay for what they consume.

He said the government actually made provisions for supply of meters, but regretted that the people have not seen any meter while the government have not said anything about it. "We must compel government to supply us meters," declared.

For Deputy Director, MacArthur Foundation, Oladayo Olaide, one of the attractions and the reason behind the choice of the Power Sector for the foundation is that on the one part, it impacts everybody. According to him, it is a very important sector in the country.

"We felt it is important for us to design an intervention that directly affects the economy- that is Education and Power," he said. He recommended that with the 2019 elections on the way, 'we should all determine to ensure that all those who have benefited and contributed to putting us in darkness should never return to power,' adding that the platforms, which the CSOs have provided can be used to achieve it.

According to him, corruption will only be dealt with when every Nigerian decides that it is enough. For the purpose of cleansing the power sector of corruption, he urged all to be vigilant and determine to speak out against all forms of corruption in the power sector.

The Director General Consumer Protection Council, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, said the biggest challenge is not even power supply, but metering, billing, holding people accountable to the service standards. "We cannot be losing lives on account of supply of power. Let us sit together and figure out the appropriate legal strategies," he advised.

Pledging his support to the fight, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, who was represented by Mr. Osita Nwajah said the Civil Society Organisations are already putting government agencies on their toes and urged the media, as a formidable weapon against corruption to embrace the challenge.

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