By Victor Ahiuma-Young
AS the nation begins to come to terms with the private-driven power sector following the recent 45 percent hike in electricity tariff, workers in the sector have warned that for allowing privatization of power sector, Nigerians may have unwittingly played into the hands of private sector shylocks and collaborators in government whose stock in trade is to maximize profit at all costs.
However, organized labour and its civil society allies are perfecting plans to make good their threat to lay siege to the office of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, if the hike is not reversed.
NERC had imposed the increase in spite of the opposition from consumers and a court order against it.
The two labour centres in the country, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, alongside civil society allies had, on Monday, during a nationwide mass protest against the tariff hike, picketed Electricity Distribution Companies, DISCOs, Generation Companies, GENCOs, and NERC, issuing a 14-day ultimatum to the commission to reverse the hike or its office would be taken over by workers.
Recall that after a stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos, labour and its allies, including the Electricity Consumer Protection Forum, ECPF, on Friday January 29, rejected the new electricity tariff expected to begin on February 1, and had, vowed to fight it.
Reading the text of the communiqué by the stakeholders, factional NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said: “We collectively regard as illegal, unfair, unjustifiable, a further exploitation of the already exploited Nigerians the intention to increase electricity tariff com February 1, 2016.”
According to him, the increment was rejected because due process in the extant laws for such increment was not followed in consonance with Section 76 of the Power Sector Reform Act, 2005. “There have been no significant improvement in service delivery, upon the fact that most consumers are not metered in accordance with the signed privatization Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, of November 1, 2013 which stipulated that within 18 months gestation period, all consumers are to be metered. There is a subsisting court order dated 28 May, 2015 by Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, in the case of Toluwani Yemi-Adebiyi versus NERC & others, that no increment until the determination of the substantive suit.”
But electricity workers did not take the threat to picket DISCOs and GENCOs lightly, as part of the anti-tariff hike protest, insisting the anger should be directed at the Federal Government and its agencies such as the Ministry of Power and NERC.
The workers, on the platform of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, through their General Secretary, Mr. Joe Ajaero, contended that Nigerians had just seen a tip of the iceberg of what the private sector driven-power sector portended.
He lamented that when the union was fighting against the privatisation of the sector, many Nigerians misunderstood the union, claiming it was just interested in the jobs of its members and not stable power supply in the country.
Ajaero stressed: “There was nothing we did not do to stop the privatization because we knew what would happen. But we were called names. Newspapers kept front and back pages to demonise us. There was no security agency in Nigeria that I was not a guest to. PHCN was the only company in the whole world that was privatised with soldiers, by force. In fact, they took over the headquarters. The Customs were used to intimidate us, the Department of State Service, DSS, was used, the Police, Civil Defence were after us everywhere.
So, we went to court and we are still in court, we were in the streets protesting everywhere. We even dragged the government to the international community. We held a workshop in the Villa. There we challenged the issue and they saw they were hollow and they said it must go ahead, not based on any logic, but because of vested interest.”
‘Power no longer for public good’
Meanwhile, while kicking against the picketing of DISCOs and GENCOs, Ajaero said: “The prevalent global socio-economic order, created by neo-liberal philosophy with the principles and structures of the Bretton – wood institutions at its cutting edge, has indeed deeply polarised the world being anchored on the wicked and heartless pursuit of the expropriation, alienation and impoverishment of the majority of the peoples of the world for the benefit of a shrinking minority of the globe’s population. We led the resistance against the privatisation of the power sector and other sectors of the Nigerian economy. The trenches, picket lines and the streets including the various public podiums bear testimony to the struggle by our union to resist the destructive and conquering march of imperial forces of global capital on Nigeria’s economic plane.
“Unfortunately, our outcry was misunderstood and we were mischievously accused of trying to protect inefficiency and some other self-seeking allegations but we did our best to educate Nigerians on the impending evil. The privatisation exercise eventually was consummated according to the design and conception of those who were its chief apostles and the outcomes went as we had predicted – in the hands of Nigerian politicians and their cronies. It is better that as Nigerians that we deepen our understanding of the objective realities and the context under which we now operate within the electricity sector. The acquisition of controlling shares in the unbundled companies in the power sector meant that today, the GENCOs and DISCOs are largely in the hands of private entities.
“The consequences and pains of that privatisation exercise as we had predicted are beginning to manifest and Nigerians are groaning expectedly. The increase in electricity tariff as we had also predicted without noticeable improvement in power supplies may be viewed as inhuman and insensitive. Nigerians should know that the power companies cannot on their own increase tariff without NERC which is the regulatory agency under the supervision of the Federal Government.”
NERC defends increase
But defending the tariff hike, the NERC claimed the increase was arrived at after wide consultations.
The regulatory body, in a statement by its Head, Public Affairs Department , Dr. Usman Abba Arabi ,insisted it acted in the best interest of electricity customers and all stakeholders in the development of the electricity industry, saying : “The existing electricity tariff order, which became operational on February 1, 2016 (MYTO 2015), was carried out after wide consultations with different shades of opinion, and in strict compliance with extant rules and judicial pronouncements. The clarification is coming on the heels of a media statement credited to the Nigeria Labour Congress alleging certain infractions against the Commission.
“While the Commission will restrain itself from delving into a matter already before the court, NERC, however, has taken note of the ongoing protest by NLC. In this regard, the Commission hereby states that it is committed to act in the best interest of electricity customers and all stakeholders in the development of the electricity industry. The tariff regulation process entails wide consultation with stakeholders.
In addition, the Electric Power Sector Reform, EPSR, Act 2005 empowers any party aggrieved or dissatisfied by the decision of the Commission to appeal to it within 60 days from the date of the decision. Therefore, the Commission is still open to further consultation.” On the issue of the court injunction, the NERC said, “We wish to state that the Commission is a law abiding government body with respect and regard for the judiciary and the rule of law. The Commission will not contravene any court order. However, we wish to state that we must all exercise restraint to allow the court to do its duty of determining the matter before it.
“NERC has since filed all necessary papers before the court in response to all the court cases. In the mean time, we wish to state that the Commission is dedicated to ensuring that regulation of the sector is fair and balanced for consumers, investors and all stakeholders in the delivery of a safe, adequate and reliable electricity supply.”