By Victor Ahiuma-Young
NO fewer than 20 power stations and Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, installations are currently being occupied by armed soldiers across the country since November 10 in the wake of the suspended three-day general strike called by Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, to compel the government to implement the agreed N18,000 minimum wage.
Investigation by Vanguard revealed growing restiveness among PHCN staff and rights groups across the country, who described the continued deployment of armed solders to power stations and PHCN’s installations across the country as “a bad omen for this current civil rule.”
Reports across the power stations and installations under occupation indicate that workers are finding it difficult to do their normal routine duties, raising fears of a looming show down with workers.
Among the occupied power stations and installations, according to Vanguard’s investigation, are: Ikeja West Transmission, Lagos; Ayede Transmission, Mokola Service Centre and Eleyele Injection Sub-station, all located in Ibadan; Benin Transmission; Ganmo Transmission, Ilorin; Sagamu Transmission; Kumbotso Transmission, Kano; and Mando Transmission, Kaduna.
Others are: Gwiwa and Marina Bus Units, both located in Sokoto; Ikom Business Unit, Cross River; Kainji Power Station; Katsina Business Unit; Metre Testing Station, MTS, Doka; and Barinawa Business Units, Kaduna.
Already rights group under the umbrella of Campaign for Workers’ Democratic Rights, CWDR, has described the army occupation as undue militarisation of civilian environment, saying, “it is anti-labour and a throw-back to the era of military absolutism.”
In a statement by its National Secretary, Victor Osakwe, CWDR said: “It is a bad omen for this current civil rule.” It called on the leadership of NLC and TUC to intervene with solidarity actions with the aim to defending the rights of PHCN workers.
CWDR implored leadership of organised labour not to “treat such attack with levity because the government will use such anti-labour tactics in other sectors to intimidate workers and discourage them from joining subsequent nationwide strikes or actions or use it to break future strikes.”
The statement reads in part: “This occupation has almost turned the PHCN installations to concentration camps as workers work at gunpoint. Jonathan has gone to this anti-democratic level out of desperation to secure the PHCN for profit-first vampires to whom he wants to sell, at give-away price, the nation’s patrimony at the expense of workers and poor.”
It is reminiscent of a military junta desperate to muzzle workers and ordinary people into submitting to anti-poor policies. PHCN workers have been subjected to this harsh and deadly working environment prone to “accidental discharge of bullet” and jackboot harassment as a result of their vehement opposition to the planned privatization of the public power company and their participation in the strike.”
“We hold strongly that workers have democratic rights to oppose anti-poor policies and demand a better deal from the government. Besides, the PHCN workers have not committed any crime for joining a nationwide strike meant to compel an anti-poor government to meet labour’s demand for a better pay in the face of increasingly high cost of living occasioned by the anti-poor, neo-liberal policies of the same government. CDWR hereby demands that President Jonathan-led government should immediately and unconditionally withdraw all soldiers from all PHCN facilities and tender an unreserved apology to the workers.”