PRIVATISATION OF PHCN: Labour Must Resist It
PRIVATISATION OF PHCN: Labour Must Resist It
- For PHCN to be Kept Public under the Democratic Control of Workers and Consumers
- For Solidarity Action by Trade Unions and Pro-Labour Organisations
- No to Militarization of PHCN Installations
By Peluola Adewale
President Goodluck Jonathan government recently deployed soldiers to occupy the installations of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) nationwide. 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. The action which is meant to intimidate the workers resisting the planned privatization of the public electricity company is reminiscent of the era of military junta where workers and ordinary people were muzzled at gun point into submitting to anti-poor policies. Besides, this ugly development which is part of the ongoing militarization of civilian environment by the Jonathan government is a bad omen for the current civil rule.
The leadership and workers of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) should refuse to be intimidated by the gunboat measure of the government and remain resolute in the struggle against the anti-poor policy. Besides, this is the time for the labour movement to fight all actions of the government geared towards crippling militarization of the country and whipping workers to submission! Labour should call for immediate withdrawal of the military personnel at PHCN facility and actively support the struggle against privatization of PHCN and other public utilities.
Nigerian workers, artisans, traders and youths must join hands with PHCN workers to defeat government wicked privatisation policy as well as the plan to increase the electricity tariff by 50%. The anti-poor government wants Nigerians to pay exorbitantly for what is not available.
The public must not fall into a false hope being invented by the government that the privatization of PHCN will bring about 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 these are the experience in developing countries where electricity privatization has been experimented.
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. The ruling elite were responsible for the collapse of NITEL having run it bureaucratically and corruptly while also giving the private telecommunication companies free hand to massively exploit Nigerians through expensive tariff and poor services; these companies also enjoyed tax holiday.
Indeed, the privatisation of NITEL, which has proved to be a failure, is a good example of how privatisation does not guarantee efficient provision of utilities and social infrastructure. From Pentascope to Transcorps, which 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 the 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, the properties of NITEL had been stripped off. This was aside burdening the company with billions in debt. At the end, the managing director of Transcorp, Tom Iseghohi, along with two others, was charged for looting $110 million in NITEL.
Besides, the recent probe of the privatization by the senate has revealed that the exercise is not only a brazen pillage of the country’s patrimony but also an unmitigated fiasco. The probe itself was prompted by the lamentation of Vice-President Nemadi Sambo that more than 80 percent of public enterprises that have been privatized now do not function or have been grounded. This is a clear warning to the public that they must not invest illusion in the prospect that the privatization of the PHCN can turn around the power sector and provide adequate electricity for Nigerians and the economy.
Indeed, as a concession, the electricity workers have argued that government can allow private participation in the electricity sector without selling the state owned companies. This is what obtains in countries like Brazil where private sector contributes 30% of the total power generated. But 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 to consumers and thereby making easy profit. It is the same elements, who are politicians, contractors and government appointees at the management level of PHCN and Ministry of Power at different times, who have looted the huge public funds that have been sunk into power sector over the years and rendered it unviable.
Yes, it is true that PHCN has not been able to generate enough megawatts to cater for domestic and industrial needs. True, PHCN electricity supply is now on the contrary a backup while many homes, offices, shops, factories and even government buildings now depend on generators with huge amount being spent on fuel. Those who cannot afford generators and their fuelling are forced to cope with darkness and the associated stifling heat and other associated inconveniences.
But who is to be blamed for this horrendous situation of the public electricity? It is not the ordinary workers of the PHCN. 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 and Ministry of Power 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 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, relevant professionals and representatives of the government in order to ensure that public resources spent to improve the power sector are not mismanaged or looted as happened to previous government attempt to revamp the power sector. In a situation where absolute power rests only with some bureaucrats at the top on decisions as to how to run public enterprises, there is no way mismanagement and corruption will not occur.
However, a capitalist government cannot 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 people’s 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.
Unfortunately there is no political party today in Nigeria that stands for a programme like this. This is why the DSM, alongside supporting struggles like that of the PHCN workers, canvasses building of a fighting working peoples’ party that can remove the thieving capitalist elite wrecking the country and itself begin to rule in the interests of working peoples’ needs and not the profits of the ruling class.
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 the trade union leaders as well as the electricity workers 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.
It is, however, unfortunate that as far as many trade unions leaders are concerned, there is nothing wrong with the privatization as a policy but the process which is fraudulent. The impression is created that once the culprits of previous privatization exercises are brought to book and the exercise is conducted with due process, then all would be well with privatization.
As we have consistently stated privatization is inherently fraudulent because it is driven by greed and profit-first agenda that is characteristic of capitalism. Therefore, it is not just the process but the entire policy of privatisation that must be condemned and resisted by the trade unions.
The leadership of NLC and TUC should withdraw from the National Council of Privatisation and drop illusion in privatization. Instead they should strongly oppose privatisation and seriously support the electricity workers by calling for a one-day warning nationwide strike and mass protest as a warning to government to stop the privatization of PHCN, reverse all privatization and to desist from the deregulation of the oil sector. This one-day strike action and mass rally should be used as a means to educate Nigerians on the dangers of privatisation. Therefore, leaflets and fliers must be produced and circulated in all nooks and crannies of the country. However, if the NLC and TUC leaders are not prepared to do this then it is the responsibility of activists to work with NUEE to build a popular movement that can begin to mobilise resistance.
The electricity workers unions must resume public activities they have abandoned to mobilize the public in support of the unions’ position and demands. Side by side with negotiation with the government, the leadership of NUEE should build on the achievement of previous mass actions by calling for bigger demonstrations and rallies across the country. For this to be possible and much more successful than previous actions, struggle committees must be built among the rank and file of electricity workers at workplaces, and in communities with activists, to daily discuss and take initiatives on what to do next to move the struggle forward. These struggle committees can devise programs including leafleteering and rallies in communities to explain to the people why PHCN is not working as expected, the evils of privatisation and the alternative. This kind of activity can provide the right impetus to defeat the privatization agenda.