By Francis IWUCHUKWU, Lagos
As a result of his failure to probe allegations that over N11 trillion meant to provide regular electricity supply since 1999 may have been stolen, mismanaged or diverted into private pockets, President Muhammadu Buhari has been dragged before a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria.
The President was dragged before the court by a Lagos-based rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP.
Nigerian cities have repeatedly been plunged into darkness as the electricity grid has reportedly collapsed at least three times in 5 months, and 130 times in 7 years. According to the World Bank, epileptic power supply costs businesses in Nigeria about $29 billion yearly.
According to the legal action designated FHC/L/CS/1119/2022 filed last week, SERAP is seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Buhari to investigate how over N11 trillion meant to provide regular electricity supply has been allegedly squandered by governments since 1999.
“An order of mandamus to compel President Buhari to ensure the prosecution of anyone suspected to be responsible for the missing electricity fund, as appropriate, and to ensure the tracing and full recovery of any missing public funds.”
SERAP is arguing that “It is in the public interest to ensure justice and accountability for alleged corruption and mismanagement in the electricity sector, which has resulted in the failure of governments to solve Nigeria’s perennial power problem.”
According to SERAP, “The staggering amounts of public funds alleged to have been stolen over the years in the sector have had catastrophic effects on the lives of millions of Nigerians, akin to crimes against humanity and the Nigerian people.
“The failure to trace, find and recover the missing electricity fund is antithetical to the public interest, the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], and the country’s international obligations.
“Nigerians have for far too long been denied justice and the opportunity to get to the bottom of why they continue to pay the price for corruption in the electricity sector–staying in darkness, but still made to pay crazy electricity bills.
“Investigating the allegations of missing N11 trillion electricity funds, prosecuting suspected perpetrators and recovering any missing public funds would end a culture of impunity. It would also address the persistent collapse of the electricity grid, and improve access to and affordability of electricity in the country.
“Corruption in the electricity sector and the lack of transparency and accountability in the use of public funds to support the operations of DISCOS have resulted in regular blackouts, electricity grid collapse, and unlawful hike in electricity tariffs.”
SERAP is also seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Buhari to refer to the International Criminal Court, all unimplemented reports of corruption in the electricity sector gathering dust on the shelves, and to arrest and surrender those named in the reports to the court for prosecution.”
Joined in the suit as Respondent is Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Adelanke Aremo, read in part: “Nigeria has made legally binding commitments under the UN Convention against Corruption to ensure accountability in the management of public resources. These commitments ought to be fully upheld and respected.
“Corruption in the electricity sector has also continued to disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors of the population who cannot readily afford expensive generators in order to have a reliable power supply.
“The failure of successive governments and high-ranking government officials to prevent corruption in the electricity sector and to bring suspected perpetrators to justice is the primary cause of the persistent crisis in the electricity sector, including the exploitation of electricity consumers, and collapse of the electricity grid.
“The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has adjudged the failure of the States to provide basic services such as electricity as violating the right to health.
“Citizens are frustrated at persistent allegations of corruption in the sector, and the impacts on their human rights. Prosecuting perpetrators would address the grave travesty that has for many years occurred in the power sector.
“Impunity for corruption in the electricity sector has for many years forced ordinary Nigerians to stay in darkness, but still made to pay crazy electricity bills.
“Successive governments have failed to increase power generation and provide Nigerians with regular and uninterrupted electricity supply, with many electricity contracts shrouded in secrecy, and trillions of Naira going down the drain.
“Impunity for corruption in the electricity sector will continue as long as high-ranking public officials go largely unpunished for their alleged crimes.
“The Buhari administration has legal obligations under Section 15(5) of the Nigerian Constitution to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power, and article 26 of the UN Convention against Corruption to ensure effective prosecution of allegations of corruption.
“Alleged corruption and mismanagement in the electricity sector and the repeated collapse of the electricity grid have continued to deprive Nigerians of economic opportunities, subjecting them to cruel and degrading treatment.
“Under Section 16(1) of the Constitution, the government has a responsibility to ‘secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen based on social justice and equality of status and opportunity.’
“Section 16(2) further provides that, ‘the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.’
“The failure by successive governments to tell Nigerians the truth about allegations of corruption in the power sector amounts to a failure to ensure that electricity services are progressively made available, based on equality and non-discrimination.
“The details of the missing N11 trillion electricity funds are contained in a SERAP report titled: From Darkness to Darkness: How Nigerians are Paying the Price for Corruption in the Electricity Sector.
“According to the report, the 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.
“It is estimated that the loss may reach over 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.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
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