Worsening Electricity Supply Sparks Protest In Many Communities
Worsening Electricity Supply Sparks Protest In Many Communities
By Chinedu Bosah
The worsening of electricity supply and monumental exploitation of consumers since the privatization of the power sector has triggered protests in many communities in the last 4 months across the country especially in Lagos. In May the electricity generation went down to an all-time low of 1300MW for a population of over 170 million people. Despite government investment of over $20 billion since 1999, the privatization of the power sector at rock-bottom price of about N530 billion with no liability, and the continuous bailout of the private companies, electricity supply is worse than pre-privatisation period with many communities across the country thrown into darkness for most of the time.
The private companies have not demonstrated the capacity to resolve the power problem since the power sector was privatized in November 2013. The privatization exercise that looked like the solution 3 years ago has now been seriously discredited after it became obvious that the epileptic electricity supply has gotten much worse. Load-shedding has become rampant in many communities. For instance, Akinola-Aboru communities in Lagos have been placed on one-day-on, one-day-off supply but only get 2 hours out of 48 hours. This is the case for many other communities.
Despite the “change” in the air ushered in with the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, the working masses have taken to the streets to protest against poor power supply and exploitation by the distribution companies. From Ago Palace to Ajegunle, from Abule-Egba to Agege, from Aboru to Ifako-Ijaiye, all in Lagos, as well as communities in Edo, Delta, Kaduna, etc, protests have broken out against the widespread darkness and exploitative billing system that forces people to pay for electricity that was never consumed. The demands arising from this protest are almost the same irrespective of the Distribution Company involved. The community people are also demanding stable and affordable electricity supply, end to load-shedding of electricity supply, scraping of N750 fixed charge, an end to estimated billing, issuance of pre-paid meters; repair of power facilities at no cost to the communities etc.
In some Lagos communities like Ago Palace, some parts of Abule-Egba, Ifako-Ijaiye and Agege, residents have collated their bills and dumped them at the offices of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Companies. Some residents have in anger publicly declared that the Distribution Companies should disconnect them since they are made to pay for what they never consumed and indeed thrown into darkness for most period.
Prelude to the mass protest were mobilizations, sensitization rallies and mass meetings. In Ago Palace, the residents had several mass meetings where the May 14 and 30th mass protest was agreed upon and funds raised. The Akinola-Aboru communities had several mass meetings some of which that was mobilized by the Community Development Association’s (CDAs) while a small rally was held by members of the Aboru-Ifesowapo Community Movement (AICOM) on Sunday May 17, 2015 that mobilized the community residents for the May 20, 2015 protest. The Layinka area of Ajegunle had a mass meeting of 200 persons on May 26, 2015 at NUD Primary School at Arumoh Street that agreed for the June 4 protest and N6, 000 was raised. Another rally was held on May 29 after a symposium organized by the members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) that moved round the community to mobilise for the protest.
Over 800 people participated in the Ago Palace/Okota protest march on Thursday May 14, 2015. The protest first moved round the community to mobilise residents before it kicked-off at Ago Palace Way and moved through Roundabout to the Oshodi Business Unit of the Ikeja Electricity DISCO situated at Cele. Over 1,000 leaflets produced by the DSM were circulated and copies of Socialist Democracy, its bi-monthly newspaper, were sold. Dagga Tolar, a NEC member of the DSM and other community activists led the protest. A protest letter was delivered to the officials of the Ikeja DISCO. Some journalist was on ground to cover the protest march. Another protest was organized on May 30, 2015 wherein about 50 persons participated as a response to the failure of the Ikeja DISCO to meet their demands.
About 50 residents, mostly youths participated in the community protest held at Akinola-Aboru on May 20, 2015. The Ifesowapo CDA leadership and members cowardly pull out of protest citing lack of police protection. The protest march that kicked off at Oju-Odo stopped at Akinola for public address and media interviews. The protest march later moved round several streets in Aboru and through the Genesis Estate and ended at the Olaide Petrol station. Placards and banner highlighting demands and slogans were displayed. PM news, The Nation Newspaper, Guardian Newspaper, Super Screen TV, Galaxy TV and Ray Power Radio Station attended and covered the protest and all reported the protest march except PM News. About 2,000 copies of leaflet of the DSM were distributed within the community and 3 copies of Socialist Democracy were also sold.
The June 4, 2015 Ajegunle protest commenced at 8:30 am at Arumoh Street and marched through Bale Street to the Business Unit of EKODISCO at Apapa and demands were presented to the management. Over 1,000 copies of leaflet produced by the DSM were distributed as well as placards and banner conspicuously displayed. Agege residents numbering about 3,000 held at a community meeting at a playing ground on May 15, 2015. Before this mass meeting, different communities in Agege had protested to the Ikeja DISCO with their demands.
The protest was able to take place in the communities where there are platforms and leadership that are ready to lead struggle against the darkness and exploitation. Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) played big roles in the struggles that developed in Ago Palace/Okota, Aboru, Ajegunle and Agege. In communities where protests never took place it was simply for lack of platforms and leadership despite the poor electricity supply and exploitation in the billing system.
Ago Palace and Ajegunle protests ended with meetings with the officials of the Distribution Companies without any agreement reached. The management officials only heaped the problem on the Generation Companies whom they claimed did not generate enough megawatts of electricity for them to distribute. While it is true that generation companies are not generating enough, the Distribution Companies are also not distributing enough of what is generated. The collapse of distribution facilities has become rampant because of the dilapidated nature of these facilities. And, the Distribution Companies have not been responsive in terms of repair and replacement. When an electric pole falls, it takes weeks to erect or replace it and when a transformer breaks down, it takes months to repair and sometimes the DISCOs abandon the transformers. To add insult to injury, most repairs are undertaken by the affected communities.
Due to these delays and gross irresponsibility of the DISCOs, the affected residents are plunged into darkness. For example, the Transformer at Iyana-Orile junction in Agege Lagos has developed fault since late January 2015 and the Ikeja DISCO has abandoned it leaving the affected residents to connect electricity from a distance source after 3 months of being in darkness. And yet, the Ikeja DISCO issued an outrageous estimated bill of N12, 000 to the DSM office for the month of April when there was no electricity supply.
As part of the ongoing struggle, cases have been instituted against the DISCOs and Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). Barrister Toluwani Adebiyi has filed a case at the Federal High Court Ikoyi seeking the court to stop estimated billing, ending the N750 fixed charge and stopping the hike in tariff without commensurate improvement and stability in power supply. The ex-parte motion was brought to the court on May 28, 2015 and it was granted by Justice Mohammed Idris. The next adjourned date for hearing on the matter is July 9, 2015 because NERC failed to make adequate legal representation and response. Similarly, a case has also been instituted at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi by residents of Itire-Ikate area of Surulere and Mushin communities in Lagos who are challenging the outrageous estimated bills issued to them by Eko Electricity Distribution Company. The case has been adjourned to October 7, 2015.
More and more working people, having experienced worsening electricity situation, under the private sector are becoming receptive to the demand for the re-nationalization of the power sector. We have however argued that in addition democratic management and control by workers and community people is needed to forestall corrupt practices and guarantee stable electricity suppl. Of course it is clear that the electricity, like other key sectors of the Nigerian economy, requires massive state investment with democratic management to prevent looting and corruption. It is clear the Buhari government, being pro-capitalist, cannot meet such demand for public ownership with democratic control. Only a working peoples’ government can dare to re-nationalise the electricity sector as well as other key sectors, provide the necessary funds and place it under democratic management and control of workers and consumers. This is one of the reasons we of the DSM have consistently called for the building of a mass working people party that can identify with struggles of the working people and wrest political power from the thieving capitalist elite in order to form a working peoples’ government on socialist program.