As electricity supply continues to plummet all over the country, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has issued a seven-day ultimatum to Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, to direct electricity distribution companies (DisCos) to provide Nigerians with free pre-paid meters or face legal action.
The threat followed widespread complaints by Nigerians of rising electricity charges forced on helpless consumers, who experience more darkness than light, even as the services provided by the DisCos dwindle by the day.
SERAP, in an open letter urged the minister to urgently enforce earlier directives to the companies on the provision of free pre-paid meters to Nigerians, and put an end the use of what it termed “illegal and inordinate estimated billing across the country.”
In the letter dated May 22, 2017, signed by Adetokunbo Mumuni, the body’s Executive Director, made available to newsmen on Tuesday, SERAP observed with dismay that while a country like Zambia subsidises electricity payments to enable the socially vulnerable and economically disadvantaged groups have access to power, the Nigerian government, on the contrary, is promoting and increasing consumer costs.
“The use of estimated billing is marginalising Nigerians living in extreme poverty,” SERAP stated, adding that a disproportionately increasing number of women, children and the elderly are being discriminated against.
“Excessive billing of customers is arbitrary, unfair, unjust, unreasonable and exploitative of millions of socially and economically vulnerable groups.
“SERAP is concerned that the apparent failure of your office to exercise due diligence and effective regulatory oversight on DisCos to ensure full compliance with your directives to provide free pre-paid meters to Nigerians has denied millions of their customers regular and uninterrupted access to electricity.”
SERAP maintained that it should be the responsibility of the government and the ministry to ensure that the privatisation of power sector did not impair access of Nigerians to regular and uninterrupted electricity, insisting that Nigerians should not be penalised, disconnection or denied access to electricity because of failure to pay unwarranted estimated bills.
It continued: “It is unlawful for DisCos to disconnect electricity supplies on the basis of unpaid estimated bills. This government and your ministry bear responsibility for the failure and/or refusal of DisCos to provide free pre-paid meters to millions of Nigerians.
“Several years after the country’s power sector was privatised, 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.
“SERAP is concerned that diminished power infrastructure and your ministry’s inability to enforce your directives and regulations on provision of pre-paid meters to Nigerians means that millions of customers continue to be exploited through the use of patently illegal estimated billing by DisCos.
“SERAP continues to receive complaints through our helpline against corruption in the electricity sector that majority of consumers still get estimated bills. While electricity supply is for the most part declining, estimated bills continue to go up.
“In several parts of the country, consumers pay more for electricity than they pay for house rent. The feedbacks we have regularly received suggest that unreliable, inefficient and poor quality of electricity in several parts of the country is majorly responsible for the deplorable living conditions of millions of Nigerians.
“SERAP argues that access to regular electricity supply is a prerequisite for satisfying basic human needs, improving living standards, maintaining good human health, alleviating poverty and facilitating sustainable development.
“SERAP notes that Article 14(2)(h) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to which Nigeria is a state party explicitly recognises electricity as a human right.
“Similarly, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development has argued that sustainable development is attainable through universal access to cost-effective energy sources. Moreover, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has adjudged the failure of States to provide basic services such as electricity as violating the right to health.
“SERAP believes that electricity provides a safe means of cooking (through electric stoves) and food preservation (refrigeration). Electricity is therefore essential to agriculture and a prerequisite for food security. Electricity can also be employed to realise the human right to access clean water.
“Electric power operates pumps and sanitation systems so that drinking water is within the safe physical reach of all individuals and accessible by households, educational institutions and workplaces.”
“SERAP therefore urges you to act diligently and swiftly to enforce your directives, deadlines and regulations on the provision of free pre-paid meters to Nigerians and end the use of patently illegal estimated billing across the country. We also urge to establish independent monitoring teams to regularly monitor the proportion of households across the country with pre-paid meters.
“Should you fail and/or neglect to act as requested within seven days after the receipt and/or publication of this letter, SERAP will be compelled to pursue appropriate legal action against your ministry to ensure strict enforcement of your directives, deadlines and regulations on provision of free pre-paid meters to Nigerians and an end to estimated billing across the country.”