THE PRIVATISATION OF PHCN AND THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
THE PRIVATISATION OF PHCN AND THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
Segun Sango, Protem Chairman, Socialist Party of Nigeria
For over one decade now, Nigeria’s capitalist ruling elite acting under the dictates of global capitalist corporations/sharks, have been making efforts to sell the PHCN to profiteers, the so-called private sector. For most part of this period, the electricity workers unions, particularly NUEE have vociferously campaigned against this pro-rich, anti-poor agenda. Sadly, the central trade union organizations remained indifferent to government’s pro-rich plans in this respect.. And now that the capitalist government has almost concluded the deal to handover the PHCN to profit-merchants, the NLC has come out to issue what may be seen as militant ultimatum in defense of workers interests.
THE NLC ULTIMATUM
At its National Executive Council meeting held on August 8, 2012, the NLC issued a one-week ultimatum on the on-going face off between the government and electricity workers unions. Relevant part of the communiquÃ© states: “NEC calls on the Federal Government to within the next one week, withdraw the army from PHCN installations and commence negotiations with the union on the outstanding labour issues. If by the end of one week, government and management of PHCN refuse to commence negotiations with the unions, congress and its allies may be forced to commence a nationwide industrial action in support of the unions. To prosecute this action, NEC directs that strike committees be set up immediately across the country.”
Few days after, Promise Adewusi, NLC deputy president, elaborated more on this ultimatum. He told the media: “What we are demanding is in line with the ACTS on privatization which is clear; that labour issues should be resolved before privatization and not at gun point.”
Speaking in the same vein, the Secretary-General of the TUC, the second trade union centre, equally told the media: “We have nothing against the programme. The issue is clear to us, the issue is the severance package for our members.”- Chief John Kolawole, Secretary-General of TUC (Punch, August 13, 2012).
A zonal organizing secretary of NUEE, Temple Iworima also speaking to the press had equally stated: “We are not against privatization. Our grouse is against the unjust way we are being severed.”Unfortunately this is not a slip of the tongue, some Labour leaders sit on the government’s National Council on Privatisation.
SOCIALISTS AND THE NLC ULTIMATUM
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) welcomes the NLC ultimatum over the face-off between electricity workers and government. However, the ultimatum as it is and as being propagated by leading trade union officials contained a wrong disposition which in our view would from the beginning limit the response of the generality of the working masses towards the NLC’s clarion call for industrial action.
By refusing to join issue with the PDP government on the central issue of privatization, the trade unions leadership are indirectly making the ordinary masses to believe the capitalist false propaganda that there is no viable way to make affordable electricity available to Nigerians unless the PHCN, over which the country has spent tens of billions of dollars, is handed over to capitalist fortune hunters.
After a recent weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council, the Minister of information, Labaran Maku, elaborated to the media the current state of the PHCN privatization. At the close of bidding for power generation and distribution, 79 companies showed interest. 25 firms bid for generation and management of existing power plants, while 54 firms bid for distribution and transmission.
On the basis of this patently “asset stripping” agenda, Maku reported that the FEC “believe that if these reforms go on and given the kind of interest that they showed in London, people seeking to come here, people already investing in this sectors, it is very clear that Nigerian economy is heading in the right direction and that our macro economic policies are applauded” (Guardian, August 2, 2012).
The SPN vehemently reject this kind of second slavery prognosis. The SPN notes with distaste, that over 18 so-called private electricity companies have been licensed to generate and transmit electricity on a commercial basis to the public since the PDP governance of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Regrettably, none of these companies including Geometric Power Limited, a company owned by Minister of Power, Professor Bath Naji, has been able to add new megawatts to those being generated by the PHCN. Thus bluntly put, the essence of the current privatization policy of the government is no more than a barefaced design to hand over the PHCN assets to capitalist profiteers and their local and international collaborators.
To expect London based capitalist corporations and other international sharks to come to develop electricity that would be sufficient and affordable to ordinary Nigerians is to be living in the world of illusion. The socialists stress the point that British colonialists ruled Nigeria for almost a hundred years, but left it in a state of stupendous backwardness, when in 1960 Nigeria gained her independence. Despite Nigeria’s stupendous human and natural resources, the British colonialists only created the University College of Ibadan, an appendage of University of London, with a student population numbering about 1,000 for all its four West African colonies-Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia.
Consequently, on the basis of government neo-colonial agenda, the vast majority of Nigerians should not expect to have access to affordable and uninterrupted electricity for the next foreseeable decades. At the best, a tiny proportion that can pay the heavy tariffs that will be charged may enjoy electricity in the post privatization era.
To deceive the masses to buy the proposal to sell the PHCN to capitalist profiteers, government spokespersons have been claiming that electricity would become more constant and affordable after the privatization of the PHCN just like mobile phones became more widespread after the privatization of telecommunication industry. Yes, we concede that more Nigerians now have access to telephones after the liquidation of NITEL, the public telecommunication company. Over 80% of those that own mobile phones do not have the necessary incomes to productively make use of their phone sets. Consequently, the telephone sector in Nigeria today is currently engulfed in murderous competitions by the various private operators spending billions on adverts to undermine their competitors and attract customers.
The SPN strongly warns that electricity generation and distribution cannot be placed on the same pedestal with telephone business. Consequently, the masses should only expect similar disappointing outcome in the wake of PHCN privatization. Between 1999 and now, several public companies have been privatized with monumental failure as their aftermath. The SPN therefore urge the working masses and youth to fight the on-going privatization of the PHCN.
HOW TO FIGHT AND WIN
At its Benin, Edo state, NEC meeting, the NLC had issued a clear struggle ultimatum “If by the end of one week, government and management of PHCN refuse to commence negotiations with the unions, congress and its allies may be forced to commence a nationwide industrial action in support of the unions. To prosecute this action, NEC directs that strike committees be set up immediately across the country.”
This is a bold declaration of mass action. However viewed from a socialist and working masses’ stand point, the NLC’s bold declaration becomes inadequate to guarantee a substantial and durable victory, either for the PHCN workers or the general masses in the on-going struggle.
In sharp contrast to anti-poor, capitalist politicians and their backers, the SPN and members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), boldly urge that the NLC leadership take a concrete, pro-workers’ stance in addressing the matter on hand. At the same time, socialists stress the point that there are other equally important issues, which are begging for an immediate mass action and which the SPN argue should be included amongst principal demands in the present struggle. But this must not be a token struggle, as has happened too many times in the past. This time the NLC and TUC leaders should be prepared to wage a determined struggle. Trade unionists and pro-labour platforms like the Joint Action Front should take up the NLC’s call for the formation of “strike committees” to involve the widest layers in struggle and to help build a movement from below that can hold the Labour leaders to account.
Topping the list in this regard is the issue of none or satisfactory implementation of the new minimum wage of N18,000 per month that has been passed into a law for over one year now. The SPN strongly argue that the Labour movement at the NLC should make the full implementation of the new minimum wage across the country a key demand of the pending nationwide industrial action. Instead of arguing that the impending struggle is only aimed to counsel the government to fully implement labour related issues before the privatization of the PHCN, the SPN urge Labour and NLC to counter pose public ownership and workers democratic control and management of the electricity sector and the other key sectors of the economy as the overall workers class strategy to ensure maximum and beneficial development of the sector and the economy.
The SPN notes that the PHCN workers occupy an important space in the proper functioning of a civilized society. Numbering about 50,000, they are, however, a tiny fraction of the working masses. Over the years, due to large scale looting by capitalist politicians and bureaucratic mismanagement, the PHCN and its predecessors have not been able to discharge its statutory functions effectively and satisfactorily. Presently, the overwhelming majority of Nigerians have no access to public electricity. Also, over 80% of companies and people connected with publicly run electricity do not most of the time enjoy it. Consequently, most Nigerians that can afford it and companies run on expensive and air polluting generators. Giving the crucial role which electricity plays in living and economic development of society and faced with utter frustration with the PHCN services over the years, many Nigerians may incorrectly buy into the government propaganda that privatisation of the PHCN is the way out.
This is why the SPN believe that only a democratic socialist solution can make it sharply clear to the working masses that the PHCN failed to perform because of the capitalist greed and corruption and handing it over completely to them will only worsen the situation. Approaching the matter from this dimension is the only way by which the vast majority of Nigerians can be effectively drawn into the on-going battle. Otherwise, the impression will be wrongly created that the impending struggle is merely about naira and kobo of the PHCN staffs. Also pursuing that struggle as a mere “industrial relation” issue would not enable the vast majority of Nigerians to see the struggle to win functional and affordable electricity as their own struggle which need to be energetically waged. At the beginning of the on-going conflict with the government, the minister of power, Bath Nnaji was mis-informing the public about a key element of the electricity workers demand. Now the same Nnaji appears to be saying something different: “the trust deed clearly indicated that contribution was to be made by the authority to the fund. The PHCN management continues to make provisions in the financial books to meet up with up with this requirement without the funds to back it up.”(Nation, August 20, 2012)
To defeat all capitalist propaganda and falsehood, the SPN urge the strike committees ordered by the NLC’s NEC to come out more vigorously to give the true working class side of the issues involved. We urge the strike committees to organize public mass meetings and circulate leaflets massively in work places and the communities to properly educate the public. The Deputy President of the NLC, Promise Adewusi, addressed a press conference on 17 August clearly 10 days after the NEC had given one week ultimatum without saying anything on its pending ultimatum. This, the SPN holds does not help in sustaining struggle mood which the ultimatum has raised. The SPN holds that only a vigorous political campaign and actions can win the best possible conditions for the electricity workers and the working masses in general; both immediately and in the long run.