By Adedapo Adesanya
In its latest round of seeking accountability, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the World Bank President, Mr David Malpass, to publish details of electricity projects funded by the lender in Nigeria since 1999.
According to an application dated February 6, 2021, and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation called for the release of archival records and documents relating to spending on all approved funds to improve access to electricity in Nigeria between 1999 and 2020.
It demanded to know the bank’s role in the implementation of any funded electricity projects and to identify and name any executed projects, and Nigerian officials, ministries, departments and agencies involved in the execution of such projects.
This is coming after the World Bank board of directors last week approved $500 million to help boost access to electricity in Nigeria and improve the performance of the electricity distribution companies in the country.
SERAP urged the bank to “explain the rationale for the approval of $500 million to implement electricity projects in the country, despite reports of widespread and systemic corruption in the sector, and the failure of the authorities to enforce a court judgment ordering the release of details of payments to allegedly corrupt electricity contractors who failed to execute any projects.”
SERAP said: “This application is brought pursuant to the World Bank’s Access to Information Policy, which aims to maximize access to information and promote the public good.
“There is a public interest in Nigerians knowing about the bank’s supervisory role and specifically its involvement in the implementation of electricity projects, which it has so far funded.”
According to SERAP, the $500 million is part of the over $1 billion available to Nigeria under the project titled Nigeria Distribution Sector Recovery Program.
“We would be grateful for details of any transparency and accountability mechanisms under the agreement for the release of funds, including whether there is any provision that would allow Nigerians and civil society to monitor the spending of the money by the government, its agencies, and electricity distribution companies,” it said.
SERAP noted that should the Bretton Wood Institution fail and/or refuse to release the information and documents as requested, it would file an appeal to the Secretariat of the Bank’s Access to Information Committee to challenge any such decision, and if it becomes necessary, to the Access to Information Appeals Board.
SERAP added that it may also consider other legal options outside the bank’s Access to Information framework.
The letter copied to Mr Shubham Chaudhuri, World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, read in part: “SERAP believes that releasing the information and documents would enable Nigerians and civil society to meaningfully engage in the implementation of electricity projects funded by the Bank, contribute to the greater public good, and enhance the Bank’s oft-stated commitment to transparency and accountability.
“The World Bank has been and continues to be involved in overseeing the transfer, disbursement, spending of funds on electricity projects in Nigeria. The Bank also reportedly approved a $750 million loan for Nigeria’s electricity sector in June 2020 to cut tariff shortfalls, protect the poor from price adjustments, and increase power supply to the grid. As such, the World Bank is not a neutral party in this matter.
“SERAP is seriously concerned that the funds approved by the Bank are vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement. The World Bank has a responsibility to ensure that the Nigerian authorities and their agencies are transparent and accountable to Nigerians in how they spend the approved funds for electricity projects in the country, and to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement.
“SERAP also believes that the release of the requested information and documents is of paramount importance to the public interest in preserving the legitimacy, credibility, and relevance of the Bank as a leading international development institution. The Bank ought to lead by example in issues such as transparency and public disclosure raised in this request.
“It would also demonstrate that the Bank is willing to put people first in the implementation of its development and governance policies and mandates, as well as remove any suspicion of the Bank’s complicity in the alleged mismanagement of electricity projects-related funds.
“The information is also being sought to improve the ongoing fight against corruption in the country and the provision of regular and uninterrupted electricity supply to Nigerians as a fundamental human right.
“The information requested is not affected by the “deliberative” “corporate administrative matters” or “security and safety” exceptions under the Policy. The information requested is crucially required for Nigerians to know how the funds released to the authorities to improve electricity supply in the country have been spent, and monitor how the funds are being used.
It contended that it was necessary to do this as the country had not benefit as it should from the financing, it cited its report titled: From Darkness to Darkness: How Nigerians are paying the price for Corruption in the Electricity Sector which documents widespread and systemic corruption in the electricity sector, and reveals how about N11 trillion electricity fund was squandered by successive administrations in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999.
“This report raises specific questions of public interest, and the World Bank ought to be concerned about how Nigerian authorities are addressing reports of widespread and systemic corruption in the electricity sector, and to seek some answers from the authorities on the problems.
“However, as the report shows, the Bank’s funding of the electricity sector has not resulted in corresponding access of Nigerians to the regular and uninterrupted electricity supply. Successive governments have failed to provide access to regular and reliable electricity supply to millions of the citizens despite budgeting trillions of naira for the power sector.
“Millions of Nigerians still lack access to free pre-paid meters. Authorities continue to use patently illegal and inordinate estimated billing across the country, increasing consumer costs, and marginalizing Nigerians living in extreme poverty, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly.”
It reiterated that the World Bank leadership has to disclose information on agreements and the mechanisms the bank is putting in place to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of all funds on electricity projects in Nigeria.
We’re Yet to Receive Formal Report of Sylvester Oromoni’s Death—Police
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The Lagos State Police Command on Saturday night said it was yet to receive a formal report of the death of one Sylvester Oromoni, a 12-year-old student of Dowen College, Lekki, Lagos.
The death of Master Oromoni has been trending online for the past few days and the video of his painful death sparked reactions after it was reported that he was bullied in school and allegedly forced to swallow substances believed to have eventually killed.
The incident forced the Lagos State government to shut down the school indefinitely for investigation.
On Saturday night, the spokesman for the Lagos Police Command, Mr Adekunle Ajisebutu, a chief superintendent police (CSP), said though none of the parents or the school has formally filed a report on the matter, the command has swung into action to get to the root of the matter.
According to him, “the Commissioner of Police, upon hearing about it instantly, directed the Divisional Police Officer, Maroko Division under whose jurisdiction the place of incident is to immediately visit the school to carry out an initial investigation into the incident.”
“This directive has been carried out as an investigation into the case has since commenced. However, in view of the seriousness of the case, the Homicide Section of the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, has also been directed to take over the investigation of the case immediately,” he added.
“Members of the public, particularly the deceased’s bereaved parents, friends and relatives, are assured that the Lagos State Police Command has deployed all available human and material resources at its disposal to unravel the circumstances surrounding the sad and unfortunate incident,” the police image-maker for the command stated.
“While a diligent investigation is ongoing, members of the public are advised against taking the law into their own hands. They are also enjoined to refrain from comments that could jeopardize the investigation,” he appealed.
Concluding, Mr Ajisebutu said, “The Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Odumosu, while commiserating with the bereaved family, has equally assured that the outcome of police investigation would be made public in due course.”
Adisa Receives Media Friendly State Lawmaker Award
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
For his contributions to the infrastructural development of his constituency and outstanding achievements as a lawmaker, the member representing Afijio constituency in the Oyo State House of Assembly, Mr Seyi Adisa, has been given the Media Friendly State Lawmaker Award.
The award was conferred on the state legislator by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Oyo State Council during its press week at the Press Centre, Iyaganku, Ibadan.
Chairman of the NUJ Oyo chapter, Mr Demola Babalola, disclosed that the award was in recognition of Mr Adisa’s outstanding performance as a lawmaker, who has excelled in his calling as well contributed to the development of society.
He said his contributions to the development of his people, communities in his constituency and his senatorial district of Oyo North are laudable.
“You are given this special award of exemplary performance and also awarded as the Media-Friendly State Lawmaker of the Year in Oyo state because we believe you deserve it,” he said.
While receiving the award, Mr Adisa declared his appreciation of the gesture, saying “big thanks to the Oyo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) for this special recognition and Award of Exemplary Performance that also doubled as an Award for the Media-Friendly State Lawmaker of the Year.
“I do not take this for granted.”
We Will Defend Free Press in Nigeria—US Government Assures
By Adedapo Adesanya
The United States government has promised to do everything possible to defend free press in Nigeria, which it said remains vital to democracy and good governance.
The American government expressed this with a partnership, through its Embassy, with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) for the first of the six media-focused Town Halls and Workshops in Lagos on Thursday.
The event will also take place across the country in the next several months.
The capacity-building programme will provide a forum for over 200 participating Nigerian editors and leaders of the independent press to discuss and share best practices and to also hear from the United States government.
Experts on topics such as journalistic standards, identifying bias, and conducting fact-based investigative reporting to better inform the Nigerian public will be provided.
Delivering keynote remarks at the opening programme in Lagos, the US Ambassador, Mrs Mary Beth Leonard discussed the challenges faced by Nigeria and other democracies across the world and highlighted democracy’s greatest strength: the ability to improve upon and reinvent itself.
She quipped that when belief in democracy, good governance and elections are restored, Nigerians will want to be a part of that system and will defend it.
Ambassador Leonard noted, “Our hope is that in this forum today is that you will lead and serve as catalysts for further discussions on countering disinformation; increasing transparency; solution building; and encouraging media literacy and their contribution to a democracy that is accountable to its people.”
The US government is committed to initiatives that build media capacity in Nigeria, she added.
According to her, for years, the US Mission has funded partnerships that promote Nigeria’s democratic governance, unity and stability by improving government transparency and accountability, the rule of law, free and professional media, as well as civil society capacity and engagement.
On his part, the General Secretary of NGE, Mr Iyobosa Uwugiaren, said, “At the end of the project, we expect to see a pool of Nigerian editors, senior journalists and media managers, who will be galvanised and committed to the highest ethical standard and to take robust actions towards this.
“Editors who will be committed to the promotion and protection of the right to an independent press, freedom of expression and deepening democratic space; and constantly projecting issue-based governance in defence of the mass of the Nigerian people.”
The Town Halls and editor workshops are supported through a grant from the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section in Abuja to the NGE.
In addition to Lagos, the programmes will take place in Kano in January 2022, then Yola, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Enugu will follow in subsequent months.
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