Nigeria: Build a fightback against the electricity tariff hike!

For nation-wide union-led mass actions and a 48-hr general strike

In another major grand onslaught on the working masses, the Jonathan regime is set to put in place a ’new’ tariff by June 1 with an increment from its present rate of N4.00 per kilowatt-hour (pkwh) to N18.00 per kilowatt hour (pwkh). This is just part of the overall agenda of the capitalist ruling elite in Nigeria to privatize the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

As is often the case, the government is trying to hide its real intentions by claiming that the increase in tariff will attract investors into power sector. In other words, Nigerians must pay heavily for electricity that is hardly available in order to gratify the drive for super-profit of the so-called investors.

Similarly, the government is attempting to exploit the completely natural frustration with the failure of PHCN – and its former incarnation, National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) – to win support for privatization. But privatization is not about meeting people’s needs; rather, it is meant to provide a new avenue for capitalists’ profit-making. It should be recalled that about 20 private power companies have been issued licenses since 2005, yet none of them has so far been able to add a single megawatt of electricity to the national grid. This includes Geometric Power Ltd., located in Aba and owned by Professor Barth Nnaji, who is the current Minister of Power! These companies, which cannot build their own independent power outfits, are among those set out to buy the PHCN facilities at give away prices.

The entire agenda of power privatization is a continuation of the grand corruption and primitive accumulation which has gone unabated since the advent of the Structural Adjustment Program in the mid-1980s.

The Olusegun Obasanjo regime spent about $16 billion on the power sector with practically nothing to show for it. The House of Representatives’ Panel on the Power Sector revealed that about $6.2 billion was paid to contractors that have no record of registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

The entirety of the Jonathan regime’s Roadmap on Electricity Power Reform is a mega-fraud meant to hand over the publicly owned enterprise (PHCN) to the looters in government and the private sector vampires. Vice-President Namadi Sambo who owns Manyatta Engineering Services Ltd. has a contract to build 330/132 kV power transmission lines and Umuahia substations; Senator Okon Aribena (owner of Arik) is the contractor handling Aloji Power Station; Roseline Atu nee Osula reportedly fronts for Obasanjo as MD Ziglasses, and Obasanjo himself owns Sun Electric, based in his farmtown, Ota.

Electricity tariff hike: we won’t pay for their greed!

Now, the next item on the agenda of the capitalist ruling and ruining elite is to make Nigerians pay for the greed of the despicable elements in political power with increases in electricity tariffs and privatization of the PHCN.

What all this means really is to handover the existing 3,000 megawatts being generated by PHCN to these looters’ companies to distribute at high cost to consumers. According to Christian Aid, a UK-based non-governmental organization, 60 percent of Nigerians, which is about 80 million people, are denied access to electricity for their basic needs, with most of them living in rural households. 100 million Nigerians who presently live on less than $2(N300) per day will never be connected to electricity again.

No to blackmail of electricity workers!

However, there is an attempt by the government go place the entire blame for the crisis in the power sector on the shoulders of the electricity workers. The Nigerian public is made to believe that it is the incompetence and corruption of electricity workers that cause PHCN to be inefficient.

Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, accused officials (workers) of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria of illegal collection of “processing fees for metering or before application for electricity is processed” (The Guardian, 14/5/2012)

While it is true that some workers engage in illegal activities and extortion, they are an extremely small minority. The general position of the workers in the sector is reflected by the views of NUEE (Nigerian Union of Electricity Employees), the sector’s major union, which is opposed to the electricity tariff and PHCN privatization.

The truth is that it is the elements in the management (appointees of the government) that are responsible for the present rotten state of PHCN in order to prepare it for full take-over.

Strike back at electricity tariff hike!

The NUEE has been keeping up an active campaign against PHCN privatization and mass job layoffs in the power sector, with the rank-and-file playing an active role. The growing mass anger against the electricity tariff hike by the wider public offers NUEE a golden opportunity to clearly link its vigorous opposition to power privatization with the attack on the mass of Nigerians through the tariff hike and win the broad layers of the working masses to its campaign.

However, the struggle must not be left alone to NUEE. The NLC has already condemned the planned electricity tariff increase. But this is not enough. The NLC must issue a two-week ultimatum to the government to reverse the decision, failing which there will be a 48-hour warning strike as the next step of the struggle. The period of the ultimatum should be used to organize and educate the wider Nigerian public on the adverse effect of the electricity tariff hike and prepare them for mass action to defeat it. This must involve building action committees from community to state and national levels, drawing union activists, socialists, civil society groups, consumers’ associations, youth and students into building a mass resistance. Such a movement from below is essential as part of an effort to prevent a repeat of January’s aborted anti-fuel-price struggle when the Labour leaders unnecessarily retreated. The struggle must not be limited to the electricity tariff, but linked to the struggle against the entire anti-poor policy of privatization. This has meant that the Labour leadership must hearken to the growing call for its withdrawal from the National Council on Privatization.

Reject power privatization! Fight for democratic control of PHCN!

Prof. Nnaji claims that for Nigeria to wash off the stigma of power outages like other emerging nations, such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia have done, the only way is to pay cost reflective tariff. This is a pure deception as the tariff hike will only lead to further collapse of the power sector. The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) has claimed that only 10 percent out of 400 privatized firms in Nigeria are functioning at optimal level, showing that privatization is not working and indeed not the solution to the crisis.

Equally, as against the claims of Prof.Barth Nnaji that privatization is working in other countries, an international survey has shown that privatization of electricity has brought more woes than good news. For example, the power generation situation in Iran, an equally developing country which was at the same level with Nigeria about twenty years or so ago, has moved to over 60,000 MW. The electricity system in Iran is publicly owned.

However, in arguing that the PHCN be kept public, it is only on the basis of being democratically run with the involvement of elected representatives of workers and consumers in the management of the power sector. This is necessary for a genuine, democratically managed and supervised plan to electrify the whole of Nigeria. This is why we call for elected committees of workers and consumers to be involved in the running and management of electricity at every stage from generation, transmission to distribution. This will ensure that investment in the power sector with public resources will engender a qualitative improvement in power generation, adequate supply, and affordability.

However, all the pro-establishment political parties are united in their major attack on the working masses. This was sharply reflected when all the governors of all the ruling political parties through the National Economic Council approved the electricity tariff hike.

This underlines the need for a revolutionary working people’s political alternative through which privatization and other IMF/World Bank neo-liberal policies will be overthrown and replaced with a genuine democratic socialist alternative, which will put the commanding heights of the economy into the control of working people themselves. This is one of the reasons why the DSM has taken the initiative to form the Socialist Party of Nigeria. The SPN will put forward a clear independent political programme for the mass of working people and would be in the forefront of building a mass resistance against tariff hikes and other forms of capitalist neo-liberal attacks.

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May 2012