NO TO PRIVATISATION OF PHCN: WORKERS SHOULD REMAIN STEADFAST
NO TO PRIVATISATION OF PHCN: WORKERS SHOULD REMAIN STEADFAST
By Peluola Adewale
- For Solidarity Action by Trade Unions and Pro-Labour Organisations
- For PHCN to be Kept Public under the Democratic Control of Workers and Consumers
The Democratic Socialist Movement reaffirms its solidarity and support for the electricity workers who have sustained a spirited struggle against the planned privatization of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). We call on them to remain steadfast in the face of a litany of falsehood, blackmail and intimidation, which the government and its lackeys have fashioned as weapon to weaken their resolve.
We also call on the public not fall into a false hope being invented by the government that the privatization of PHCN will bring about a better service. As the experience with NITEL and a number of the privatized public enterprises has shown, privatization will make the situation worse as the private vampires are only interested in companies’ assets and super profit, and not quality and affordable service. If the PHCN is privatised the vast working masses, artisans, traders, small and medium scale business owners should expect that the tariff would be increased to the level that only a minority of the population will be able to afford it, and there is no guarantee of a fundamentally better performance than what obtains with PHCN. All this is the experience in developing countries where electricity privatization has been experimented.
It is true that the service from the PHCN has been well below satisfactory level. But it is important to stress that the real reason why PHCN and other public enterprises are not performing efficiently is the absence of democracy in the management of these enterprises and the brazen corruption of the top layers of the management who are political appointees of successive regimes in power. Besides, all the allocations on capital projects expected to improve electricity supply are looted by top government functionaries in connivance with the so-called private sector as revealed by power projects and rural electrification probes. We hold strongly that the PHCN can be efficient if it is kept public. This will however require placing it under the democratic control and management of elected committees of workers, consumers and representatives of the government in order to ensure that public resources spent to improve the power sector is not mismanaged or looted as happened to previous government attempt to revamp the power sector.
It is no secret that the elements employed by President Goodluck Jonathan to sell off the PHCN have vested interests in the electricity sector. For instance, Barth Nnaji, the special adviser on power to President Goodluck Jonathan is the owner of Geometric Power Limited, one of the companies that have been issued licenses since 2005 to generate electricity but have not produced a single megawatt. Having failed to build their own power plants, they want to buy off the PHCN assets cheaply in order to make huge profits at the expense of workers and ordinary people. This explains why they have taken the exercise as a “do or die” affair and have not been able to hide their desperation to handover the company to themselves and other private vampires. The PHCN workers have consistently said “No” to this self-serving, anti-poor agenda; this is commendable.
Out of frustration at their utter failure to earn the support of workers for the anti-poor agenda, these elements have become the attack dogs of government denigrating the personality of Joe Ajaero, the General Secretary of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) who has unflinchingly provided quality leadership for the workers in this struggle. This is an attempt to isolate him as the only problem against the privatization of the PHCN. It is an insult to tens of thousands workers of PHCN that they have been led by the nose by just one person to feather his personal nest as the government propaganda machine has suggested.
For instance, Abimbola Agboluaje, Head of Communication Committee of the Presidential Task Force on Power was quoted by the Sun Newspaper to have said, “Ajaero has raised about N470m from the N57billion which the current federal administration has paid to the over 46,000 PHCN workforce as monetized benefits following a letter to the PHCN chief executive, which Ajaero wrote to him on May 18, 2010. This is the huge war chest the NUEE secretary is using to entice the media, civil society organizations and labour unions to fight the power sector reform”(Sun, December 14, 2010)
We hold that if it is true that the NUEE, or Ajaero as the government would like to personalise the union, has raised N470m from the PHCN workforce it only shows the commitment of workers to the struggle and their faith in the leadership of Ajaero. No doubt, prosecuting this struggle requires financial commitment of workers out of their sweat particularly against forces who have huge public resources at their disposal to dip hand in for a self-serving end. We challenge the government to tell the public how much have been spent so far to sell off the PHCN and what are the salaries and allowances of elements like Agboluaje and Nnaji recruited for the exercise. No doubt, the figures will be outrageous.
The Sun newspaper also reported Barth Nnaji questioning Ajaero’s patriotism, wondering how anyone could “be satisfied with the status quo which makes Nigeria, a country of 150million, generate a mere 3,400megawatts while South Africa, a country of 47m, produces 43,000mw and Brazil, another developing nation with 180m people, generates 93,000mw.” (Sun, December 14)
First, Nnaji who wants to sell the nation’s patrimony and owes workers in his company, who are not allowed to join or form a trade union, several month salaries does not have moral authority to question Ajaero’s patriotism. Besides, the argument is fallacious and half-truth which is borne out of sheer ignorance or deliberate lie which has become characteristic of government and its agents.
Nnaji did not tell his audience that in South Africa and Brazil, he cited, the governments, and not private sector, generated the most of those huge megawatt. In Brazil the private sector participation in power generation is just about 30%, while it is less 5% than in South Africa. Indeed, the electricity privatisation model in those countries is not the one that mandates selling of the state-owned companies to private vampires. Rather, it allows private companies to set up their own companies side by side with public companies and thereby add to the total power generated in the countries.
In fact, what obtains in Brazil and South Africa is in tandem with what the electricity workers led have consistently articulated. As a concession, they have argued that government can allow private participation in the electricity sector without selling the state owned companies. This has not gone down well with the parasitic and primitive capitalist ruling elite who cannot make long-term investment but only interested in business which yields quick and huge profit. This is why they want to buy off the 3000 megawatts already generated by the PHCN so they can distribute this at high tariff rates to consumers and thus making easy profit. It is the same elements, who are politicians, contractors and government appointees at different levels of management of PHCN at different times, who have looted the huge public funds that have been sunk into power sector over the years and rendered it unviable.
It is also instructive to state that the telecommunication sector which the government and its lackeys often drop as “a success story” and thereby a justification for the privatisation of PHCN did not come about by selling NITEL to MTN, Glo or Starrcomms but by issuing licences to the private companies to operate side by side with the public telecom company. In deed, the privatisation of NITEL on its own has proved to be a failure and an example of while privatisation does not guarantee efficient provision of utilities and social infrastructure. From Pentascope to Transcorps, who had in different times in the past managed or taken over ownership of NITEL, the successive private operators, mostly the associates or fronts of the elements in government, have been leaving the company in a much worse situation than they met it. Each time government was forced to revoke the deal when the blatant fleecing of the company assets had become open secret. For instance before the revocation of Transcorp licence of ownership of NITEL after just two years , aside burdening the company with billions in debt, properties of NITEL had been stripped off. At the end, the managing director of Transcorp, Tom Iseghohi, along with two others, was charged for looting $110 million in NITEL.
By and large, the experience with privatisation of pubic enterprises has been uncomplimentary. This is confirmed by Christopher Anyanwu, the erstwhile Director General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), when he revealed in September 2009 that only 10% of the 400 privatised firms are functioning! The so-called private investors are only interested in stripping off the assets of companies and leave them as carcass.
The ruthless attack on Ajaero and leadership of electricity workers union and blatant lies which have been brazenly peddled are in inline with “all is fair in war” approach of the government. To Jonathan government and its agents the privatization of PHCN is a war which requires all weapons, both psychological and physical. We recall that a few months ago the PHCN installations were occupied by armed soldiers deployed by President Jonathan. The government also sent EFCC operatives to raid the electricity workers union office and arrest some officers on trumped up charges. All this has been done in order to intimidate the workers and show-off the resolve or capacity of the government to secure the company for the interests of profit-first vampires by all means possible including the use of maximum force.
We call on the NLC, TUC, individual trade unions and pro-labour organizations to express open solidarity with the struggle of electricity workers and stand by their leaders against all machinations of the government. We call on them as well as the electricity workers themselves to support the demand that the PHCN must not only be kept public but also run with democratic management and control of workers and consumers. This will remove the debacle of bureaucratic management and official corruption which account for why the huge resources spent on the power sector over the years have not led to adequate provision of electricity necessary for economic development and domestic needs.
But such a system could not survive for long in isolation from the rest of the country, something which is especially true in Nigeria where the elite’s main aim is to be in a position where they can loot. This is why a social revolution is needed to change the system as a capitalist government will not willingly hand over the running of the economy to workers and the mass of the people. Only a democratic socialist government of workers and poor people can place the running of the commanding heights of the economy in the hands of the people. With a workers and poor peoples’ government, it would be possible to use society’s resources to research, develop and discover new, efficient and more environment-friendly means of generating electricity such as wind, solar and wave power while phasing out gas, coal, fossil fuel, nuclear etc., which are the only source of energy accepted by the capitalist ruling class today without concern for the safety of the environment and energy needs of society.