The Managing Director of Schneider Electric for Anglophone West Africa, Mr. Christophe Begat, was recently reported to have said that about 90 per cent of Nigerians lack access to safe and efficient electricity.
Begat’s disclosure which was made at his firm’s 2019 Digital Innovation Day in Lagos, raises serious concern as it came from an expatriate who expectedly spoke from a professional standpoint rather than a politician whose argument is wont to be laced with unnecessary propaganda.
To be sure, Nigerians had previously bandied figures to illustrate the prostate state of the nation’s power sector but none has been as frightening as the latest rating from a firm that is deeply engaged in the development and management of minigrid power supply systems, especially in Nigeria’s rural areas.
It is sad to observe that Nigerians would find themselves in this near hopeless situation six years after the nation’s power supply structure was unbundled and privatised. As at the time of the September 30, 2013 privatisation, the country had six electricity generating companies (Gencos), 11 distribution companies (Discos), the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) as the regulatory authority. Unfortunately, these efforts have only yielded a marginal improvement in the power situation.
Prior to 2015, the maximum daily power output across the country was said to be between 1,500 and 2,750 MW. This saw an initial push to 4,000 MW after a genuine attempt was made by the Federal Government to upgrade the existing power infrastructure. But it did not take long before electricity output and supply relapsed to about 3,125 MW, principally on account of a drop in water level, gas supply shortfall and weak transmission lines.
According to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while commissioning a power project in his native Ogun State, recently, Nigeria currently has an installed capacity of 13,427 MW of which about 8,340 MW is available whereas the grid has the capacity to transmit only 7,000 MW. But some power sector analysts have quickly countered by saying that the nation currently struggles to produce an average of 5,000 MW out of which about 7.5 per cent is lost in transmission and 30 per cent rejected by the DISCOs.
The epileptic supply of electricity in Nigeria has led to many foreign industrial players relocating their activities to countries where power supply is more predictable. And this means loss of employment, taxes, rents, technology transfer, corporate social responsibility benefits and high cost of goods hitherto produced within. Those who chose to stay back are forced to rely mostly on private electricity generators for their power needs while having to cough out estimated monthly bills for whatever little supply (if any) that may come from the public power source.
The Federal Government was said to have realised $2.5 billion from the power sector privatisation, virtually all of which sum went into the payment of disengaged staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN); but we are also aware that there have been several government financial interventions in this industry. The latest being the Finance Minister’s announcement of the approval of a $3 billion loan by the World Bank at the just-concluded Bretton Woods institutions meeting in Washington, DC.
Of course, this is outside similar interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and foreign development agencies like USAID, JICA of Japan, GIZ of Germany, among others. In fact, the CBN recently revealed that it had advanced a total credit of N1.695 trillion to the nation’s electricity industry since the privatisation exercise. Where all this has gone into still beats the imagination us as there is hardly any evidence on the ground to explain such humongous outlay.
The Tide is also not unmindful of the fact that the nation’s power investors are operating under very difficult circumstances. These are businessmen who borrowed hugely at the prevailing foreign exchange rate of N155/US Dollar to pay for the acquisition of power facilities in 2013 only for the Federal Government to devalue the Naira to the level of N360/US Dollar in 2016. However, we think that embarking on a sustained metering process alongside the aforementioned government interventions would have enhanced their capacities to repay such loans than the option of estimated billing. Even their resistance to attempts at eliminating this billing method via the maximum demand customers’ option and the ongoing meter asset providers (MAP) has proved futile.
On its part, the Federal Government should endeavour to reduce its overbearing influence in the power sector. NERC is already a government agency, TCN is wholly owned by the government and NBET Plc is equally a state outfit despite its nomenclature. Let whatever tariff that is approved for the sector reflect the prevailing market situation in so far as every electricity user is metered as to pay for exactly what they consume.
Finally, government and, indeed, the private sector should sustain efforts at diversifying the nation’s energy mix from hydro and gas-powered systems to include solar, wind, coal, biomass/biofuels and nuclear. Off-grid clusters should continue to be developed for Micro, Small and Medium Entreprises (MSMEs). In fact, government needs to declare an emergency in the power sector if Nigeria must take full advantage of the recently signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
#EndSARS Panel: Genuine Path To Justice
At last, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Rivers State Government to look into the
alleged acts of violence, torture, brutality, murder and violation of the fundamental rights of citizens committed by officers, men and operatives of the Nigerian police, especially members of the once dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the state, has submitted its report to the Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike.
Receiving the report from the commission’s Chairman, Justice Chukwunenye Uriri (rtd), Wike said the state government had done its bit by setting up the commission, and would also produce the white paper at the next meeting of the State Executive Council. He, however, challenged the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, and the new Rivers State Police Commissioner, Eboka Friday, to implement the white paper as proof that the Federal Government was serious about ending such police brutality in the country.
“The truth of the matter is I am not sure the present Inspector-General is out to fight insecurity. Now, he has appointed a new police commissioner for political patronage. If at the end of the day, we come out with the white paper, and the Attorney General sends it to the police to implement or to prosecute as the case may be, will it be implemented? That is why I am challenging the IG and the new CP to make sure that they justify that the Federal Government is serious about telling states to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the brutality of the police and the security agencies,” Wike stated.
Briefing the governor during the presentation of the document, Justice Uriri claimed that the commission received 190 petitions, struck out 82 for lack of due diligence or jurisdiction, and considered 108 of them. He observed that the figure depicted the highest level of recklessness, abuse of law and order in the country. According to him, the policemen, who committed the crime against Rivers people, especially Mr Akin Fakorede and his other cohorts, did not have any affinity with the state.
According to the chairman of the panel, among the petitions struck out by the commission were cases that were either pending in the courts or are out of the scope of the commission’s terms of reference. An example of such petitions was one from the Oyigbo Indigenous Lawyers Association.
Recall that the commission was initially given two months to conclude its assignment and turn in its reports and recommendations to the state government for consideration and implementation. However, on Friday, January 22, 2021, the panel applied for an extension of time, and the state government graciously approved additional 14 days.
In the immediate aftermath of last October’s #EndSARS protests nationwide, state governments were directed by the Federal Government to establish state-based judicial panels of inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings to deliver justice to all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units.
We feel exhilarated that despite receiving one of the highest numbers of petitions in the entire federation, the commission was able to conclude its assignment without hitches and wrangling among its members contrary to what is widely reported in other states. And the fact that all the petitions were fairly treated and put in their proper classifications, is a remarkable testimony of the diligence and painstaking efforts that went into the work.
Uriri and his team are likewise acclaimed for listening to everyone that filed complaints at the commission without fear or discrimination. Also, their ability to peruse every single supporting document is quite challenging but laudable. That is why the panel can hold its head very high because it has been able to conclude both the first and second phases of the onerous task. It is heartwarming that the Rivers’ panel is among the first to conclude its assignment, even when in about 15 states the commission is yet to commence work.
After putting so much effort in human and capital resources into the investigative hearing, it is hoped that the report and the white paper to be submitted to the Federal Government will not go the way of others. This fear and concern are well shared by Wike and we agree no less with the governor. For the last 25 years, the government’s response to the calls for police reform has been a running joke on the continent.
For instance, in 2006, former President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Danmadami Police Reform Committee. Then, in 2008, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s Presidential Committee on the Nigerian Police was set up to investigate the execution of previous recommendations. In 2012, after reports that Boko Haram had infiltrated the police force, former President Goodluck Jonathan fired the IGP. He then proceeded to set up yet another committee to reorganise the police force. Curiously enough, recommendations by all the committees were not enforced.
Again, the obstinate refusal of the Nigerian Army to subject to the Lagos panel, officers culpable in the Lekki killings is a sufficient indication of several hurdles that many of the panels across the country will have to traverse, because of the faulty nature of our federalism, poor applications of our laws and lack of confidence in the composition of the panel members.
So, Nigerians should not be that positive about the #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Enquiry nationwide because history has shown that the Federal Government hardly implements the outcomes of any panel, and this one is not expected to be different. However, the people cannot settle for anything less as the only thing that can assuage Nigerians is nothing but justice. Consequently, we strongly advise the government to muster the required political will and ensure that this time around every petitioner gets justice.
The police should be eager to learn from the happenstances trailing it since October last year and turn a new leaf to avert the day of reckoning. The government says it has yielded to the demands of the #EndSARS protesters by promising to reform the police. Nonetheless, if the promise of police reform is not significantly pursued, the sustained online protests with trending hashtags might eventually trigger yet another wave of street protests in the days to come.
Ex-Service Chiefs As Envoys?
The appointment of immediate past Nigeria’s service chiefs as non-career ambassadors is generating long-standing controversy in the country. Despite the discomposure, President Muhammadu Buhari has forwarded their names to the Senate for screening and confirmation. And as expected, the All Progressives Congress (APC) dominated Senate is very unlikely to upturn the President’s decision to make the retired military chiefs representatives of Nigeria. Their appointments, in the first place, indicate that Buhari did not want them out of office.
The former service chiefs are General Gabriel Olonisakin, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, Air Marshal Siddique Abubakar and Vice Admiral Ibok-Ette Ibas. During their time in office, Nigerians ridiculed and derided them and asked that they be thrown out of the office for gross incompetence. The campaign had lasted more than two years since the service chiefs, appointed in 2015, were expected to have statutorily ended their military career.
When former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power, the insurgency was outstanding even when he handed over to the present administration. Nigeria was literally on fire as killings, bombings and maimings were the order of the day. The situation exacerbated under this government. The North East, North Central, North West, and of recent South West have all been undergoing unbearable circumstances.
As many Nigerians were slaughtered senselessly, and sometimes before their relatives, the military failed spectacularly to guarantee peace under their command. Kidnapping became the order of the day in all parts of the country, while highway robbery orchestrated a return. It was for that reason Nigerians wanted them out by all means. Federal lawmakers, governors, civil society groups, faith-based organisations, all pointed to the need for their sack. Officers serving under them sadly became demoralised as some had to quit the force altogether under different guises.
When eventually the service chiefs disengaged and were replaced by other experienced officers, the least expected of the Commander-in-Chief was to show aristocratic disdain for the public by appointing them ambassadors. We indeed seem confused by their appointments and urge Nigerians to request further details on the development. The reason is, there may be more to the nomination than meets the eye. It appears to us that Buhari sees them as absolutely indispensable?
These people just left office as a result of the bitter outcry by Nigerians. It is, therefore, expected that they would take a deserved rest and truly reflect on why Nigerians insisted they should exit the office. Rather than do that, the President decided to give them supplementary glory. There is nothing wrong with bestowing such appointments on people that are retired but not tired; however, these officers have retired and are tired. Assuming that they were not tired, it would have been a different ball game.
The Nigerian Senate that has the constitutional mandate to screen and declare them fit for the position or otherwise and even countries where they are likely to be posted to should reject them as ambassadors even though that may look like a tall order, particularly for the upper legislative chamber. Besides the fact that the appointments are incredibly awkward, hence, the need to be debriefed before being considered for such designation to office, our position is further hinged on the allegations of rights abuses and crimes against humanity levelled against them while they held sway as commanders of the country’s military.
We also hold the view that President Buhari’s administration has flagrantly flouted the recommendation of the erstwhile Presidential Advisory Council on International Relations (PACIR) which pegged the percentage of non-career ambassadors to 25 as against career ambassadors of 75. But as it stands now, the number of non-career ambassadors has surpassed that of the career ambassadors. Non-career diplomats are almost 60 per cent while the career is 40 per cent.
This development has been trailed by widespread condemnation, with many Nigerians suggesting that the President’s decision was aimed at shielding the former military officials from possible prosecution, especially by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in line with Article 29 of the Vienna Convention which protects diplomats from arrest and grants them immunity against civil and criminal prosecution.
The allegations against the military chiefs include the 2015 massacre of more than 350 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a Shiites sect, violent attacks on members of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), last October’s shooting of innocent Nigerians who took part in the #EndSARS protest at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, and the extra-judicial killings in Oyigbo, an Igbo settlement in Rivers State, among others.
It should be noted that the diplomatic world is the turf of some professionals, hence the need to have several career ambassadors. The addition of the erstwhile service chiefs shows disdain for professional advice. The government has no reason to frustrate diplomats who had been waiting patiently to ascend the ladder to the last rung by bringing in men who failed in their last tour of duty. If cleared by the Senate, we hope they are not posted to countries that are vital to the interests and development of Nigeria since they are extremely inexperienced.
The military chiefs should be asked to go home and tend to their duties and not prevent others who are deserving of the appointments. Though they were not the first officers to be appointed ambassadors after retirement, having been preceded in such role by the likes of Brig-Gen. George Kurubo, the first Chief of Air Staff, Brig-Gen. Babafemi Ogundipe, a former deputy to General Aguiyi Ironsi and Brig-Gen Oluwole Rotimi, past governor of the old Western State, the officers are completely unfit for the job.
Holding Shell Accountable
On January 29, 2021, 13 years after four Nigerian farmers and fisherfolks, Chief Fidelis Oguru, Mr
Alali Efanga, Chief Barizaa Dooh and Elder Friday Alfred Akpan, instituted lawsuits in the Netherlands with the support of Milleudefensie, the Hague Court of Appeals found Royal Dutch Shell’s subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), liable for oil spills in the Niger Delta villages of Oruma and Goi.
The plaintiffs, who depended on farming and fishing for their livelihoods, made three demands from Shell. First, to stop and prevent future oil spills from its pipelines. Second, to clean up the widespread environmental pollution resulting from the oil spills. Third, to take responsibility for the actions of its subsidiary in Nigeria and pay damages as appropriate. It is the first time a Western court has ordered a multinational company to pay damages for environmental harm caused in a non-Western country.
Although Shell disclaimed liability for the actions of its subsidiary, arguing that the oil spills in Goi and Oruma between 2004 and 2005 were caused by third party sabotage, the Court of Appeals held Shell liable for the spills according to Nigerian laws, following Shell’s inability to prove the sabotage beyond any reasonable doubt. The farmers sought the intervention of the Dutch court after several failed attempts to bring Shell to justice in Nigerian courts.
Conversely, the court established that the oil spills in Ikot Ada Udo were outcomes of sabotage but concluded that it needed additional time to decide due to insufficient answers to pertinent questions such as “the extent to which the contamination has spread” and “whether the contamination is still of such a nature that remediation is required.” After a damage assessment procedure, the court would determine and disclose the damages to be paid to the three successful plaintiffs. In the meantime, the court ordered Shell and Shell Nigeria to install adequate leak detection systems in its pipelines at Oruma.
These judgements are very significant and having a strong influence on improving the accountability of transnationally operating businesses for violations of human and environmental rights. This is because it is the first appeals case in Europe that resulted not only in a victory on the merits for the victims but also the first case to hold that a parent company was under a duty of care concerning foreign claimants.
While the lawsuits are illustrative of the plethora of cases on oil spills against multinational companies and their subsidiaries instituted within and outside Nigeria, one of their ground-breaking implications is establishing a “duty of care” on parent companies. Put differently, parties can sue parent companies, located or headquartered in foreign jurisdictions for the actions of their subsidiaries.
Expectedly, the judgement will engender more environmental pollution-related lawsuits both in the countries where the pollution occurs and in relevant foreign headquarters. In the past, farmers and farming communities from the Niger Delta had instituted similar environmental pollution lawsuits against Shell in foreign jurisdictions. For example, the highly publicised Okpabi and Others v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and another (2018) EWCA Civ 191 filed by 42,500 representatives of Ogale and Bille communities in the United Kingdom in 2015, has since progressed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court heard the case on June 23, 2020. Only recently it ruled in favour of the two Niger Delta communities which were seeking justice for environmental damage caused by Shell. The court found that the Ogale and Bille communities could bring their legal claims for clean-up and compensation against Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDS) and its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC. Unlike its Dutch counterpart, the United Kingdom’s Court of Appeal maintained that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case against the United Kingdom Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary.
This is a most welcome landmark ruling. It is the most severe embarrassment that communities have to shop for environmental justice abroad because they cannot find it in Nigeria. There is nothing more depressing than the fact that for over 60 years to date, environmental justice has eluded communities, whose existence is endangered by the continually worsening scourge of oil and gas pollution.
The judgement has not come as an astoundment. The evidence was overwhelming and had refused to dissipate even after 13 years. Some crimes are hard to cloak. Environmental crimes, in particular, are of that sort. It takes witting blindness to pretend not to see, smell or feel. We are happy that Shell has been told the truth, so they must defray the extreme harm they have inflicted on the people and the environment.
It is anticipated that the court’s decision will compel transnational companies to respond swiftly and positively when environmental complaints are made from their host countries. The judgement has set a new standard that will give optimism to ordinary citizens that no matter how powerful a company is, there will always be a day of reckoning. If the judgement has not achieved anything, it will, at least, compel Dutch companies to be held accountable for their comportment abroad.
For Niger Delta inhabitants, they must give their land a lick and a promise and ensure that lost crops and livelihoods are indemnified by the guilty party — Shell. This victory has heralded the advent of a new era in which large multinationals such as Shell can no longer go about their business lawlessly but are accountable for their entire operations, including overseas.
Like the landmark judgement by the Dutch Appeals Court, the UK Supreme Court’s ruling sets an esteemed precedent for holding other multinationals to account and has conveyed a voice to oil-producing communities to speak out and act against injustice. The Supreme Court’s judgment might put an end to a long chapter of nonliability by Shell and other multinationals who commit human rights desecration against host communities.
As the determination and disclosure of damages for the three successful plaintiffs as well as the decision for the pending Dutch cases are awaited, it must be emphasised that no amount awarded can reimburse the plaintiffs and communities for the irreparable intergenerational loss of dignity, lives, livelihoods alongside the obliteration of biodiversity, flora, fauna and piscifauna. Indeed, the cases are poignant reminders of the continuing challenges confronted by the over 30 million victims of environmental injustice in the resource-rich Niger Delta.
With both judgements in the kitty, no corporate body, private or public, should ever think it can commit ecocide in the Niger Delta and not be held accountable. It may take longer, but judgement day will surely come. As late Ken Saro-Wiwa said, perhaps we are witnessing a time when Niger Delta communities may finally get to see Shell in the dock.
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