24 May 2017, Sweetcrude, Abuja – The human rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has sent an open letter to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, requesting him to urgently the Federal government’s directives to electricity distribution companies (Discos) to provide free pre-paid meters to Nigerians, and end the use of patently illegal and inordinate estimated billing across the country.
The organization asked Mr Fashola to “take this step within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute appropriate legal proceedings to compel the discharge of your ministerial and statutory duty in this matter in order to ensure completion of metering of unmetered customers and total abolition of estimated billing in the country.”
In the letter dated 22 May 2017 and signed by SERAP executive director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization expressed “concern that while countries like Zambia are subsidising electricity payments to enable consumption by socially and economically vulnerable groups, this government is implicitly promoting the use of unjustifiable estimated billing, and increasing consumer costs.
“The use of estimated billing is marginalizing Nigerians living in extreme poverty, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly, and increasing their vulnerability to discrimination.”
According to the organization, “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 customers regular and uninterrupted access to electricity.”
The letter read in part: “It’s the responsibility of this government and your ministry to ensure that the privatisation of the power sector does not impair in any way, shape, or form access of Nigerians to regular and uninterrupted electricity supply by among others actively promoting the provision of pre-paid meters to all Nigerians particularly the socially and economically vulnerable groups.
“Nigerians should not be penalized by disconnection or denial of access to electricity because they cannot pay unwarranted estimated bills.”
It added that, “It’s 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 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.
“Despite several directives and deadlines by both your office and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission for Discos to provide free pre-paid meters to customers, our information reveals that millions of electricity users across the country remain unmetered.”
SERAP further noted that it 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,” the letter added.
According to the group, 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.”
It added that, “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.”