Nigerians are paying more and more for their energy bills – and getting less and less for their money.
The National Bureau of Statistics last week reported that inflation has reached an eye-watering 15.9% – driven in part by rising energy costs.
The NBS figures suggest that electricity, gas, and fuel costs are now almost 12.5% higher than this time last year.
One recent study has suggested that Nigerians are now paying 68% of their monthly income on utilities.
These price rises come against a backdrop of energy shortages described as “incessant” – even leading to protests in places like Oyero, where one community leader has been quoted as saying:
“They only bring electricity occasionally. We pay these bills, yet we barely get electricity for two hours a day.”
A system collapse of the national electricity grid on April 8th was the third in less than a month and the fifth this year – leaving both Abuja and Lagos, the largest city in all of Africa, without power.
In less than our decade, the grid has failed over 200 times. With our energy system so unreliable many Nigerians and businesses rely instead on diesel-powered –generators. But diesel prices have more than doubled since the start of the year.
The government is to some extent at the mercy of events. A post-Covid-19 surge in energy demand has placed huge pressure on energy systems across the world. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made things worse.
But that does not change the fact that in 2018, the World Bank approved $486m to improve Nigeria’s Electricity Transmission Network and infrastructure.
Can any of us claim that this investment has made much difference?
As always, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that a (literally on this occasion) brighter future for Nigeria has been squandered because of corruption.
That is certainly the view of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, which has called for an investigation into government spending on energy.
Deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare has claimed that N11 trillion ($26bn) intended for investment in our electricity supply has allegedly been squandered by governments since 1999.
Oluwadare has been quoted as saying: “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”.
“The staggering amounts of public funds alleged to have been stolen over the years in the electricity sector have had catastrophic effects on the lives of millions of Nigerians, akin to crimes against humanity and the Nigerian people.”
If just a fraction of that N11 trillion had been spent on improving the resilience of our energy network and increasing domestic energy production with an emphasis on renewable sources like solar power.
And even if that figure is inaccurate, it will feel accurate to most Nigerians who have little faith in our democratic institutions. That needs to change.
SERAP has requested publication of the names of companies and contractors paid by the government since 1999 to carry out electricity projects across the country. This is exactly the kind of transparency our democracy needs, and digital technology makes it easy to achieve.
The digital democracy campaign I lead is attempting to improve democratic transparency with technology.
One of our projects is a free smartphone app called Rate Your Leader, which puts politicians and the people they elect in direct person-to-person contact. Think of it as being friends on Facebook with your local representative – except unlike other social media platforms Rate Your Leader insists both sides can prove they are who they say they are, and makes abusive communication impossible.
Rate Your Leader creates a direct line between electors and elected to help both sides better understand each other, and collaborate to make our communities better. It encourages politicians to do everything out in the open, and rewards them in the form of positive feedback and ratings from the people they serve, improving their reputation amongst their contacts friends, peers, and neighbors – the people whose opinions they trust the most.
Building trust in the political process has to start person-to-person, from politician to the voter. And digital technology can deliver that change at the touch of a button.
Both corruption and energy security must be at the heart of the 2023 presidential election campaign.
Candidates must heed the call of business leader Tony Elumelu who has called for energy to be a central plank of election manifestoes, stating “Elections are coming – security and resources need to be everyone’s agenda – let’s be vocal for our nation’s priority.”
Voters need to be clear that this is their priority. And leaders need to listen.