Two United Nations special rapporteurs have queried the government of President Goodluck Jonathan “over the impact of the Multi-Year Tariff Order II (MYTO II) and its potential detrimental impact on the realization of human rights of people living in extreme poverty in Nigeria.”
The rapporteurs are: Ms. Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and Ms. Raquel Rolnik Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination.
Their intervention followed a petition lodged last year by a coalition of human rights activists, labour, journalists and lawyers led by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
In the joint letter with reference number NGA 5/2013, and dated 26 November 2013, Ms. Carmona and Ms. Rolnik asked the Nigerian government to explain why “there is no functioning metering system in the country”, and expressed “grave concerns that the absence of functioning metering system limits the ability to accurately set prices for electricity and leaves electricity bills vulnerable to mismanagement and arbitrary decisions, disproportionately affecting people living in poverty.”
The two special rapporteurs also stated that, “Certain groups already vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion, including women heads of households and persons living in informal settlements and in rural areas, may be especially affected by the rise in tariffs under MYTO II enacted by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) on 1 June 2012.”
Last week SERAP received information from the offices of the special rapporteurs that “the government has chosen not to respond or engage with the concerns raised by them.”
Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP executive director said: “We applaud the positive steps taken by the special rapporteurs to respond to the deplorable effects of the privatisation of electricity and the poor service delivery in this sector on millions of Nigerians living in poverty. Their action shows the important role these institutions can play to improve the conditions of those who live in extreme poverty.”
“But it is unfortunate the government can’t even be bothered to send a response to the query by the special rapporteurs. This shows this government’s contempt not just for the UN institutions, but for the rights of Nigerians. It also calls into question the government’s international human rights obligations and commitments, and its role as a member of the UN.”
“There is a huge gap between the government’s human rights commitments and the real needs of people facing human rights violations caused by the privatisation of electricity and poor regulation and mismanagement. If the government is to be taken seriously in the comity of nations, President Goodluck Jonathan needs to move swiftly to respond to the query by the special rapporteurs.”
“The National Assembly should condemn the government’s action and insist the government engage with the special rapporteurs on the matter to reduce the increasing negative effects of the policy on electricity on millions of poor and disadvantaged Nigerians. We also call on UN member countries to put the government on notice that it will not tolerate continued backsliding,” Mumuni said.
Other signatories to the petition sent to the special rapporteurs in September last year include: the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ); Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center (WARDC); Women Empowerment and Legal Aid Initiative (WELA); Partnership for Justice (PJ); Education Rights Campaign (ERC); Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Lagos State Council; Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Lagos; Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja branch; National Union of Food Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), and Joint Action Front (JAF).
It would be recalled that the coalition in the petition dated 6 September 2013 requested the special rapporteurs to send “an urgent appeal to the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to delay the increased fixed rate electricity tariffs until the government is able to put in place mechanisms to ensure regular and uninterrupted electricity supply, and to carry out the impact assessment of the increase on people living in extreme poverty.”
According to the coalition, “By introducing fixed rate electricity tariffs, 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.”
“We believe that the increased fixed rate electricity tariffs by over a hundred 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.
According to the coalition, “The increased fixed rate electricity supply also disproportionately impact those living in extreme poverty, which according to the African Development Bank have increased over the years. We believe that to allow the increased fixed rate electricity tariffs to stand would have detrimental impacts on the human rights of millions of Nigerians, many of whom are currently living in extreme poverty.”
The coalition expressed “serious concerns that increasing electricity tariffs by over 100% 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 also argued.
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,” the coalition further argued