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Social Media: The White House release full details of Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship

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White House

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy.  Our Founding Fathers protected this sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people.

In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet.  This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic.  When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.  They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.

The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology.  Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms.  As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.

As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our town halls, and our homes.  It is essential to sustaining our democracy.

Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse.  Tens of thousands of Americans have reported, among other troubling behaviors, online platforms “flagging” content as inappropriate, even though it does not violate any stated terms of service; making unannounced and unexplained changes to company policies that have the effect of disfavoring certain viewpoints; and deleting content and entire accounts with no warning, no rationale, and no recourse.

Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias.  As has been reported, Twitter seems never to have placed such a label on another politician’s tweet.  As recently as last week, Representative Adam Schiff was continuing to mislead his followers by peddling the long-disproved Russian Collusion Hoax, and Twitter did not flag those tweets.  Unsurprisingly, its officer in charge of so-called ‘Site Integrity’ has flaunted his political bias in his own tweets.

At the same time online platforms are invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise restrict Americans’ speech here at home, several online platforms are profiting from and promoting the aggression and disinformation spread by foreign governments like China.  One United States company, for example, created a search engine for the Chinese Communist Party that would have blacklisted searches for “human rights,” hid data unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party, and tracked users determined appropriate for surveillance.  It also established research partnerships in China that provide direct benefits to the Chinese military.  Other companies have accepted advertisements paid for by the Chinese government that spread false information about China’s mass imprisonment of religious minorities, thereby enabling these abuses of human rights.  They have also amplified China’s propaganda abroad, including by allowing Chinese government officials to use their platforms to spread misinformation regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to undermine pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

As a Nation, we must foster and protect diverse viewpoints in today’s digital communications environment where all Americans can and should have a voice.  We must seek transparency and accountability from online platforms, and encourage standards and tools to protect and preserve the integrity and openness of American discourse and freedom of expression.

Sec. 2.  Protections Against Online Censorship.  (a)  It is the policy of the United States to foster clear ground rules promoting free and open debate on the internet.  Prominent among the ground rules governing that debate is the immunity from liability created by section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (section 230(c)).  47 U.S.C. 230(c).  It is the policy of the United States that the scope of that immunity should be clarified: the immunity should not extend beyond its text and purpose to provide protection for those who purport to provide users a forum for free and open speech, but in reality use their power over a vital means of communication to engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints.

Section 230(c) was designed to address early court decisions holding that, if an online platform restricted access to some content posted by others, it would thereby become a “publisher” of all the content posted on its site for purposes of torts such as defamation.  As the title of section 230(c) makes clear, the provision provides limited liability “protection” to a provider of an interactive computer service (such as an online platform) that engages in “‘Good Samaritan’ blocking” of harmful content.  In particular, the Congress sought to provide protections for online platforms that attempted to protect minors from harmful content and intended to ensure that such providers would not be discouraged from taking down harmful material.  The provision was also intended to further the express vision of the Congress that the internet is a “forum for a true diversity of political discourse.”  47 U.S.C. 230(a)(3).  The limited protections provided by the statute should be construed with these purposes in mind.

In particular, subparagraph (c)(2) expressly addresses protections from “civil liability” and specifies that an interactive computer service provider may not be made liable “on account of” its decision in “good faith” to restrict access to content that it considers to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable.”  It is the policy of the United States to ensure that, to the maximum extent permissible under the law, this provision is not distorted to provide liability protection for online platforms that — far from acting in “good faith” to remove objectionable content — instead engage in deceptive or pretextual actions (often contrary to their stated terms of service) to stifle viewpoints with which they disagree.  Section 230 was not intended to allow a handful of companies to grow into titans controlling vital avenues for our national discourse under the guise of promoting open forums for debate, and then to provide those behemoths blanket immunity when they use their power to censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike.  When an interactive computer service provider removes or restricts access to content and its actions do not meet the criteria of subparagraph (c)(2)(A), it is engaged in editorial conduct.  It is the policy of the United States that such a provider should properly lose the limited liability shield of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) and be exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider.

(b)  To advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section, all executive departments and agencies should ensure that their application of section 230(c) properly reflects the narrow purpose of the section and take all appropriate actions in this regard.  In addition, within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), in consultation with the Attorney General, and acting through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), shall file a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting that the FCC expeditiously propose regulations to clarify:

(i) the interaction between subparagraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2) of section 230, in particular to clarify and determine the circumstances under which a provider of an interactive computer service that restricts access to content in a manner not specifically protected by subparagraph (c)(2)(A) may also not be able to claim protection under subparagraph (c)(1), which merely states that a provider shall not be treated as a publisher or speaker for making third-party content available and does not address the provider’s responsibility for its own editorial decisions;

(ii)  the conditions under which an action restricting access to or availability of material is not “taken in good faith” within the meaning of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) of section 230, particularly whether actions can be “taken in good faith” if they are:

(A)  deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service; or

(B)  taken after failing to provide adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard; and

(iii)  any other proposed regulations that the NTIA concludes may be appropriate to advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section.

Sec. 3.  Protecting Federal Taxpayer Dollars from Financing Online Platforms That Restrict Free Speech.  (a)  The head of each executive department and agency (agency) shall review its agency’s Federal spending on advertising and marketing paid to online platforms.  Such review shall include the amount of money spent, the online platforms that receive Federal dollars, and the statutory authorities available to restrict their receipt of advertising dollars.

(b)  Within 30 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency shall report its findings to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

(c)  The Department of Justice shall review the viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform identified in the report described in subsection (b) of this section and assess whether any online platforms are problematic vehicles for government speech due to viewpoint discrimination, deception to consumers, or other bad practices.

Sec. 4.  Federal Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices.  (a)  It is the policy of the United States that large online platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, as the critical means of promoting the free flow of speech and ideas today, should not restrict protected speech.  The Supreme Court has noted that social media sites, as the modern public square, “can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”  Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730, 1737 (2017).  Communication through these channels has become important for meaningful participation in American democracy, including to petition elected leaders.  These sites are providing an important forum to the public for others to engage in free expression and debate.  Cf. PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 85-89 (1980).

(b)  In May of 2019, the White House launched a Tech Bias Reporting tool to allow Americans to report incidents of online censorship.  In just weeks, the White House received over 16,000 complaints of online platforms censoring or otherwise taking action against users based on their political viewpoints.  The White House will submit such complaints received to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

(c)  The FTC shall consider taking action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, pursuant to section 45 of title 15, United States Code.  Such unfair or deceptive acts or practice may include practices by entities covered by section 230 that restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.

(d)  For large online platforms that are vast arenas for public debate, including the social media platform Twitter, the FTC shall also, consistent with its legal authority, consider whether complaints allege violations of law that implicate the policies set forth in section 4(a) of this order.  The FTC shall consider developing a report describing such complaints and making the report publicly available, consistent with applicable law.

Sec. 5.  State Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices and Anti-Discrimination Laws.  (a)  The Attorney General shall establish a working group regarding the potential enforcement of State statutes that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices.  The working group shall also develop model legislation for consideration by legislatures in States where existing statutes do not protect Americans from such unfair and deceptive acts and practices. The working group shall invite State Attorneys General for discussion and consultation, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.

(b) Complaints described in section 4(b) of this order will be shared with the working group, consistent with applicable law. The working group shall also collect publicly available information regarding the following:

(i) increased scrutiny of users based on the other users they choose to follow, or their interactions with other users;

(ii) algorithms to suppress content or users based on indications of political alignment or viewpoint;

(iii) differential policies allowing for otherwise impermissible behavior, when committed by accounts associated with the Chinese Communist Party or other anti-democratic associations or governments;

(iv) reliance on third-party entities, including contractors, media organizations, and individuals, with indicia of bias to review content; and

(v) acts that limit the ability of users with particular viewpoints to earn money on the platform compared with other users similarly situated.

Sec. 6.  Legislation.  The Attorney General shall develop a proposal for Federal legislation that would be useful to promote the policy objectives of this order.

Sec. 7.  Definition.  For purposes of this order, the term “online platform” means any website or application that allows users to create and share content or engage in social networking, or any general search engine.

Sec. 8.  General Provisions. (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)    the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)   the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

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Special Report

Special Report: How Jonathan, Buhari spent N1.164 trillion on power in 8 years, yet Nigeria remains in darkness

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Olugbenga Adanikin

The Nigerian government, between 1999 and 2010, reportedly spent over N4.7 trillion on power, but the country remained in darkness. Eight years later, Jonathan and Buhari administrations invested another N1.164 trillion into the sinkhole through capital releases, yet homes and factories in Nigeria are yet to be provided with constant electricity supply.

Nigeria
Special Report

Olugbenga ADANIKIN, in this investigation, reports about the investments and wastages in the sector.

Beatrice Ogbor, a six-year-old basic one girl with her two-year-old sibling was born into darkness and has never shared in the joy of the popular exclamation “Up NEPA” that follows power restoration in Nigeria.

Beatrice Ogbor and her sibling Eliesar
Beatrice Ogbor and her sibling Eliesar have lived in darkness since they were born

“We gave birth to her here in 2014,” her father, John Ogbor (45) says. “You will be surprised; they have never seen electricity since birth”.

Ogbor is originally from Igede in Obi Local Government of Benue State. For the past 14 years, he has been living in Moro, a community along Shagamu – Ikorodu Expressway in Ogun State, after he left his original birthplace. But for almost seven years, his adopted community has been without electricity.

“We tried the little we can. As individual landlords, we contributed N40, 000 to try to make this electricity of a thing a reality. They said we should pay the money to process this and that to give us a transformer, and we paid to Itesiwaju Area Community Council but at the end, nothing positive came out of it.”

For Ogbor, it has become almost hopeless waiting to access electricity in Moro, a community situated near the Nigerian Pipelines and Storage Company, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in Mosimi. Aside from its energy need, the community lacks access to healthcare, potable water, road and schools, an indication of total neglect by the government.

“God can still send help though, we believe,” says John. He paused for a moment, took a deep breath while gazing at his two young children. “During campaign periods, we told them we don’t need rice, we don’t need money but electricity. That has been our only request.”

Rashidid-Alimi
Rasheed Alimi Iraye Community Head who had waited for 25 years to be connected to the national grid

Similarly, Alasia, Iraye, Oremuti, Oponua, Likorodu, Imede and five other communities in Ogun State visited by The ICIR, shared the same fate or worse. For eight years, Oremuti community struggled to access power. Oponua has never been connected to the national grid for 10 years. These conditions are not peculiar to Ogun State but also other states across the country.

Erected poles since 1994 still stands but never connected to grid

In Iraye community, Sagamu Local Government Area, the first set of electricity poles, according to Rasheed Alimi, the community head were erected in 1994. Till date, residents still live in darkness. A huge concrete platform constructed for the electrification project still lies adjacent the residence of Alimi when this reporter visited. It has neither transformer nor electricity cables except for about three electricity concrete poles sighted in the area

Nearby is a multimillion Naira 10-bed health care facility built by the NNPC, but it is off-the-grid. Neglected and taken over by bush eight months after commissioning, the oil firm had installed a giant Mikano generator to service the clinic whenever it becomes operational but weeds also already have covered the generator.

Findings, however, revealed that the State Assembly under the administration of Senator Ibikunle Amosun approved in the 2013 budget the electrification of 32 communities, including Iraye. Closer look shows that the State Ministry of Rural Development and Rural Electrification in Annexure-II (B) listed the proposed benefitting communities but no such project exists today in Iraye.

Over N1 trillion invested in power in eight years

Nigeria generates its power via four main sources – hydro, gas, coal and natural gas. But for almost 20 years, huge unverified money has been expended into the sector. Specifically, The ICIR can authoritatively report that N1.164 trillion has been released to the power sector as capital budgets from 2011 to 2018, yet the power sector has not measured up – darkness still prevails. This figure was obtained from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.

Infograph of Capital Releases to Power Sector 2011 to 2018 Source The ICIR

Electrical power often generated is literally not commensurate with the huge investments. And returns on investments have largely been discouraging as the Federal Government continued to pump in more resources in terms of budgetary allocations, loans among other interventions to ensure the nation meet its energy need.

The Energy Business report (April 2016 vol. 15 no 160), shows that N6.52 trillion has been spent on Nigeria’s power sector in 16 years with no significant improvement.

For example, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, the report says, allegedly spent N3.52 trillion ($16 billion) during his tenure, though this figure has been contested. Also, late President Umar Yar’adua was said to have spent N1.183 trillion, while the former President Goodluck Jonathan during his administration reportedly expended N1.817 trillion and President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly spent N1.5 trillion in two years, as at September.

Meanwhile, findings by The ICIR revealed that between 2011 and 2018, the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation had released capital sum of N1, 164,278,006,846 for power projects in the country.

This huge sum, however, excludes capital releases to six agencies between 2016 and 2018 namely, Office of the Surveyor-General of the Federation, Federal School of Survey, Oyo, Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Surveyor Council of Nigeria and Regional Centre for Training in Aerospace Survey when Buhari-led administration merged the power ministry with works and housing.

World Bank, AfDB, other loans/ grants to boost transmission capacity

In 2018, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) secured a total grant of $1.6billion from international donors-World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA),among others for its Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Program(TREP).Likewise, the French Development Agency committed $170 million for the Abuja Transmission Ring Scheme.

Mrs Apansile Ade in her sachet water factory pleads for help to restore her business after spending fortunes on power generating sets including its maintenance and fuelling
Mrs Apansile Ade in her sachet water factory pleads for help to restore her business after spending fortunes on power generating sets including its maintenance and fuelling

The World Bank gave $486 million to upgrade most of the transmission substations through its Nigeria Electricity Transmission Access Project (NETAP), Ogun-Lagos Transmission Project supported by JICA with $238 million, AfDB $300 million and 25 million Euros for the Northern Corridor Transmission Project, another $410 million AfDB Nigeria Transmission Expansion Project among other non-lending supports. Most of these projects are either being implemented or at the procurement stage, thus, not fully completed. For instance, the contract for the screening of 132KV lines NETAP project has been signed while the consultant is billed for mobilisation before end of the year. The $170m Abuja transmission ring project is being implemented.

In terms of grants, TCN got 25 million Euro non-lending supports from the EU as part of funds to realise Northern Corridor Solar project, $13 million grant from the Japanese government through JICA for capacitor bank installation in Apo and Keffi, while the other $21 million grant also from JICA is to rehabilitate and upgrade Apapa road 132KV substation and 330KV Akungba substation. “TCN is in discussion with JICA on more grant support from Japan,” the document from TCN read. It cannot, however, be established if these funds are part of the N1.5 trillion the current administration claimed it has spent on power in two years.

Shut-welding-shop
Shut welding shop of Engr Abayomi Olusada a resident of Oponua community along Ikorodu Shagamu Expressway Photo Credit Olugenga Adanikin

But reports also have it that while Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole was Speaker of the House of Representatives, 2,500 containers laden with imported power equipment allegedly worth $5 billion were left to rot at the Lagos Port with demurrage of N4 billion. “The containers were abandoned by incompetent contractors that were awarded projects beyond their capacities…some of the equipment were in demurrage for over 10 years,” TCN TREP document as at 31st August affirmed this but put the figure of the containers at 800.

In a 2017 report by The Guardian, the Senate disclosed a plan to probe alleged $1.35 billion power sector fraud in the country. The same report claimed $1 billion Eurobond was raised in 2013 to fund key power projects nationwide.

Comrade Princewill Okorie, APPA National President, in his speech delivered in July, in Abuja and obtained by The ICIR, further disclosed that about $35 million was set aside for the Afam East Power Projects and the sum was allegedly spent by Federal Ministry of Power officials without any undertaking any feasibility study.

“Out of the $1 billion Eurobond, $350 million was given to Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company in 2014. $29 million was purportedly paid to General Electric for turbines while $6 million was paid to others.”

However, in June, the EFCC announced the possibility of probing the power projects, especially those awarded during Obasanjo administration. This ultimately is to unravel the complexity and alleged corruption that has enmeshed the sector.

Despite the estimated sums so far invested in the sector, stable, uninterrupted power supply to Nigerians remains difficult to realise. Experts as well as other stakeholders have blamed this on poor investments, capacity and regulatory issues among others. While Nigeria can conveniently generate up to 20,000 Mega Watts (MWs), transmission has the capacity for about 8,000MW and distribution is still struggling between 2,000 and 4,000MW.

Epileptic power crippling rural economies, small businesses

The importance of stable power as the driver of any country’s economy cannot be overemphasised as it is capable of transiting Nigeria from an under-developed to the much desired developed status, especially when industries, Small and Medium Business Enterprises (SMEs) are supported. But, as at date, 90 million Nigerians still lack access to power, a situation that has crippled SMEs and industrie

Mrs Apansile Ade, for instance, is an entrepreneur who operates water and paint factories. She had run the business for over five years but at a loss. She is currently operating the water factory because the paint business has gone under.

“We just stopped producing because the generator developed a fault,” she told The ICIR. “Last week I spent almost N75, 000 repairing generator. I had to stop my son from resuming school on Monday because the little money I would have given to buy books, beverages was no longer there”.

Unfortunately, the community she resides since 2010 has never been connected to the grid. As a result, she bought six generators to power her house and the water factory. The last power generating set just collapsed when The ICIR visited.

“Let me say we have been struggling. As I’m speaking, we have generators that have packed up. We bought another generator recently since there is no electricity to run the business”.

She barely could account for profits made from the business, as the effort was solely to satisfy her customers who, already, were tired of her inconsistent supply. “There is really nothing I can do since there is no electricity to boost the businesses,” she said.

“…just that we don’t want to lose customers. One was telling me yesterday that we don’t know how to run a business.”

The entrepreneur had bought four generators in five years of business. She listed unit costs of each as N500, 000, N300, 000, N400, 000 and N250, 000 summed to N1.450 million. She also spends N95, 000 monthly on fuel and N80, 000 on maintenance. This, however, implies that in five years, she had spent N10.5 million getting fuel for the generator as well as its maintenance.

Two streets from her house is a POS business point and computer business centre, both under lock in the normal business hours. Opposite the shop is another beauty salon opened but appeared less operational.

At the main street to Apansile’s residence is Engr. Abayomi Olusada’s welding workshop, situated opposite a tailor’s shop and divided by erosion threatened road. Apparently, the 56-years-old man was home when the reporter visited – there was no sign to show he had been in the workshop for days. He started welding business 35 years ago in Lagos, but since 2009 when he moved to Oponua community, it has been sad tales.

“Electricity has been a serious challenge for us in this community. Unfortunately, there is no one to finance us to get connected,” says Olusada. Apparently, the community resolved to facilitate and procure whatever material needed to get connected to the grid after years of waiting on government and power officials.

“A lot of people have left this community; even landlords had to relocate leaving their homes. So, it’s really a big problem affecting my business. Though I may make use of generator when there is power outage, but electricity is vital,” Olusada added hitting his right fist at his left palm to drive home his point. “Even when I get contracts, I spend 50 per cent of the money on fuel. In the process, the generator develops fault and I had to start looking for money to fix it.”

Regrettably, beyond travails of small businesses, Nigeria is said to spend an estimated $13 billion to purchase generators annually, all to fix industrial, commercial and domestic energy need. As of 2016, Energy Business say over N796.4 billion is spent on fuel to power those generators.

One of the foremost telecommunications companies in the country, MTN also claimed it spends N660 billion monthly to fuel 6,000 power generating sets which run daily for 19 hours. Likewise, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) revealed in 2017 that its members spent N213.77 billion on alternative power sources just in two years – 2014 and 2016.

Government hoards information

In order to ascertain the exact amount sunk into the power sector, FOI request was sent to the Federal Ministry of Power. The ministry acknowledged the receipt of the request and promised to respond. Weeks after, the ministry is yet to send a reply.

Efforts, through FOI requests from The ICIR to access a copy of the power sector shared agreement, which the federal government signed with the unbundled companies, failed. The power ministry acknowledged the same letter but referred to the National Electricity Regulatory Agency (NERC) and the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE). But, up till date, the document was not provided. BPE claimed one of the power agreements is being investigated by the EFCC. However, the EFCC has remained numb on the claim after several attempts of verify.

Failed, abandoned power projects limit Nigeria’s power ambition

In 2000, the Federal Government initiated the process of unbundling the electricity sector. National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) becomes partly privatised with the appellation – Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). The National Council on Privatisation (NCP) under the chairmanship of Atiku Abubakar eventually led a 23-member Electric Power Sector Reform Implementation Committee (EPIC) that developed the National Electric Power Policy direction for a private-sector driven power development in the country.

“By our choice of privatisation, the framework for resolving the crisis that constituted a serious bottleneck in the past is being put in place,” says Olusegun Agagu, former Minister of Power and Steel in October 2000. “We are, through this policy document extending invitations to investors and other stakeholders in the power sector, the world over, to avail themselves of the abundant opportunities that the reform, restructuring and privatisation of Nigeria’s electricity industry offer”.

However, in 2013, the privatisation takes effect with the federal government having 40 per cent stake in power distribution companies. NEPA unbundling led to Generation Companies (GenCos), 11 Distribution Companies (DisCos), Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) National Independent Power Projects (NIPP) – owned by the Federal, State and Local Government, Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Nigerian Bulk Electricity Company (NBET) and the recent metering companies.

It is believed that upon privatisation, power generation, transmission and distribution would significantly improve, but that has not happened. Rather, findings showed that the majority of the power infrastructure inherited by investors are obsolete. More so, they are either partially operational or left in ruins. For instance, Omoku and second unit of Gbarain NIPP, as well as Egbema, have not been fully completed since 2005.

A source at the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited (NDPHC) who pleaded anonymity, however, said Olorunsogo II, Geregu II, Calabar and Alaoji have been completed and functional. But noted how four others – Omotosho, Benin, Ogorode and Egbema were mostly shut down due to power rejection to the national grid. This, he said, puts the NDPHC at huge losses considering the cost of generating those powers including gas to power the NIPPs plants.

“Since NERC and TCN had issues a couple of years back on load transmission, the National Control Centre, at times does not pick the power generated because they want to avoid the blame game,” says the source. “Some of the DisCos also have their shortcomings which largely depend on their distribution capacities. For instance, if a substation is 33 KVA, the DisCos cannot definitely take anything above the 33KVA”.

Major hydropower project such as the Mambilla and Kashimbilla remain uncompleted years after commencement.

Ironically, while the federal government strives to achieve significant fete on the outstanding power contracts, it is considering nuclear technology as a new power source.

Site visit: Armed soldiers guarding derelict project

During the investigation, The ICIR visited Omoku Generation Company Limited 264.7MW and 225MW power project awarded to Rockson Engineering Company Limited, which is located in Omoku community, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Cross River State.

The military and private security officials guarded the uncompleted facility, which was awarded 14 years ago. In November 2017, the NDPHC promised Omoku and three other plants – 750MW Alaoji, 338MW Egbema and 225MW in Bayelsa would be completed before the third quarter of 2018 but that’s not entirely the case.

The ICIR’s visit to Omoku project site which also accommodates a the state-owned power project revealed that the facility had since 2018 been taken over by the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON).

Apparently, there are two power projects on the site. While one is operational, the other is not. At the main entrance is a giant blue gate manned by military personnel and private security. Opposite the gate, is green scenery beautifying the well-planned layout. But this reporter was not allowed access into the facility by the security men on duty. However, few workers retained by AMCON, who spoke anonymously, said the power project was taken over due to inability of the contractor to deliver. “It’s been long they have been on the project and AMCON has taken it over,” a source said.

Meanwhile, earlier findings by the reporter revealed there is Omoku I and II gas-powered project. While the first 150 MW plant was listed as completed and ‘operational’, 225MW Omoku II power project is non-operational and uncompleted. But, the source insists, “This one is state, and the other which is on-going, is federal” stressing that the active project does not belong to the FG.

“As far as I’m concerned and what I know, it is only this one,” pointing at the state-owned project, “that is operational. The one of federal – nothing has been done there. Look, you will only see that building and some installations”.

“Nothing has been done,” expressing surprise at the reporter’s unawareness. “Except there is another but if it is this one, all they are saying is fallacy.”

The reporter made another attempt to persuade the source to allow him to gain entrance into the premises but to no avail. “…The people in the camp are old Rockson staff like mechanics, drivers and their internal security,” the source said. “Most times, they only visit and go back. AMCON officials too just come for inspection and go back…they took over early this year because of the lackadaisical work of the company. It appears they have not awarded it to a new company.” The source added and drove off.

“I must say that the ones that have not been completed have been under one contractor, Rockson Engineering due to contractor delay. But we have found a way around the contractor issue now,” Chiedu Ugbo, NDPHC Managing Director had said in 2018.

According to him, NDPHC is working with AMCON, which has taken over the contractor under a receivership, to complete the projects.

“I cannot tell you details about the place but all I know is work has not started. The work is not yet completed. I cannot take you inside. I don’t have that mandate because I have my limit,” a retired police officer told The ICIR.

However, a look at the facility from the fence behind revealed rusty giant iron pipes and equipment. The NIPP project cannot be seen from the main entrance, except for the state-owned which Wisdom; a private security guard said was sold to First Independent Power Limited (FIPL).

Sustainable solutions to right the wrongs

In the face of these challenges, various experts have argued the need for the government to embrace renewable energy. Some also called for the rehabilitation of obsolete power equipment. “To address the problems, stakeholders including the Federal Government must try and invest in key infrastructure such as gas pipelines, equipment used in the distribution, generation and transmission of electricity, and other facilities,” says Marcel Hochet, President Green Elect in an interview with The Nation newspaper.

“Of note is the use of obsolete equipment such as transformers, feeders, sub-stations and others that need to be replaced with new ones by power distribution companies (DisCos) to adequately supply power to the consumers. Since the operators are not having enough money to play around with, they need to bring in more investors into the industry to provide the fund needed to move the sector forward.”

The ICIR visited NDPHC headquarters to verify why some of the NIPP projects are not fully operational and others uncompleted but Yakubu Lawal, the firm’s General Manager Communication and Public Relations, was absent. Calls to his phone rang but were later put on voice mail. Text messages sent to him also was not returned.

However, two top sources in the NDPHC acknowledged the failed status of the Omoku Power project. One of them told The ICIR that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are currently investigating the contractor – Rockson Engineering Company Limited for its inability to successfully complete the project, years after it was awarded. He noted that the legal department of the company had filed a suit against the contractor, saying all projects handled by Rockson, the only local contractor, are poorly executed.

“AMCON is only trying to rescue the plant for us,” the source said, adding, “So far, NDPHC is working with AMCON. We are also following the case instituted by the EFCC against the contractor”.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on September, instructed the anti-graft agency to probe and prosecute those involved in the failed project. As such, the EFCC officials picked two officers of the NDPHC while the alleged $16 billion is being probed. But several probes conducted by the National Assembly or the anti-graft agency have not produced any sanction. As a result, Civil Society Organisations challenged the EFCC to expedite action on the prosecution process.

However, as at 4th October, the source put the combined electricity generated from the eight NIPPS at 468.7MW but noted that only 200 to 300MW finally gets to the consumers.

At the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria office in Abuja, a top staff who preferred not to be mentioned said members of the association currently spends N93.1 billion annually on alternative power generation.

This, he said, discourages investors from venturing into businesses in the country. In a sane clime, manufacturers have no business generating power except to import machines and start production, he said.

“When you are on power, equipment must not stop otherwise, it could damage the raw materials and the equipment itself,” the source said. “That is why most manufacturing companies run on alternative power source which cost them N93.1 billion annually.” Despite, all the concerns, MAN insists genuine privatisation remains the answer to addressing the nation’s power problem. “Foreigners with financial strength and good expertise should be allowed to manage the sector, not like the previous privatisation we had.”

In conclusion, there is a need to have a paradigm change in approaches to the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in the country.

This report is part of a collaborative investigative series by Daily Trust, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Premium Times and TheCable, facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Regulators Monitoring Programme (REMOP) for the Electricity Sector, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

A Premium Times report.

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