Labour Holds Nationwide Protest against Electricity Tariff Hike
Labour Holds Nationwide Protest against Electricity Tariff Hike
More Work needs to be done to defeat the hike
By Peluola Adewale
On Monday February 8, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) held protest marches across the country against the latest hike in electricity tariff. This tariff hike is not only anti-poor but was also introduced in violation of a subsisting court order. Workers, youths and civil society activists joined the actions.
The NLC and TUC’s action is commendable as it helped register the objection of workers and masses to the obnoxious action. The increase which is by at least 45 percent drew the ire of the masses because it is tantamount to asking consumers to pay more for a service not enjoyed. As one of the slogans of the protest aptly put it, “we can’t pay for darkness”.
The majority of the consumers have not been metered. Hence, the monthly electricity bill is at the mercy of the shylock profit-first distribution companies (Discos). Even those that have the old analogue meters hardly see disco’s officers coming to read them. In other words, while the government is trying to be clever by removing the obnoxious fixed charges, it has not resolved crisis of overbilling popularly called crazy bill”. Besides, the electricity supply is still very poor in many areas.
However the planning and mobilisation for the protests left much to be desired. This clearly accounted for relatively scanty crowds at the protest virtually in all the states. Given the anger against the hike which was already deep seated even before it was effected, as shown by struggles in many communities, the action would have attracted much more protesters than were on the streets if adequate mobilization had been done. Unfortunately, while the NLC claimed in its February 4 statement publicising the protests that its “members have been sufficiently mobilized and are ready to go”, this clearly was not the case. Indeed, the state councils of the NLC reportedly did not get directive for the protest until Friday February 5, the last working day before the day of action.
This poor planning also explains why it was only one of the two discos in Lagos that was picketed. It was business as usual in Eko Disco in Marina, while the Ikeja disco management staff were being booed by protesters for trying to justify the increase. What is more disturbing was the absence of plan to picket a meeting involving Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola , NERC and chief executives of Discos and Gencos taking place in Lagos on the same day. This would have helped take the struggle to the heart of the attack.
Good enough, the labour leaders in their speeches threatened to escalate the struggle if the government and discos do not reverse the hike. But to ensure this is not a merely hot air, there must be serious mobilization in communities and workplaces for a “don’t pay” campaign side by side with a day of general strike and mass action. The labour movement cannot be simply turned on and off like a switch. To build the serious action needed to block attacks like this tariff hike requires serious mobilization like the constitution of action committees in communities and workplaces saddled with organizing public meetings and protests.
Another drawback of the February 8 protest was the non-participation of the electricity workers’ union, National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE). Worse still, the union issued a statement on the eve of the protest against the action. The union said that it opposed the hike, but argued that protests should be directed against the Federal government and not the Discos and Gencos. But all three are implementing the hike. NUEE members could play a key role in arguing against the hike, the re-nationalisation of the electricity supply and a national plan to provide power. This action by the NUEE leadership may be partly not unconnected to the crisis in the NLC following its disputed 2015 delegate conference which led to formation of a splinter group comprising, among others, workers’ unions in electricity and petroleum sectors. The textile union appears to have backed off the faction as their members were seen at the protest.
It is also possible that electricity workers union is still livid over how it was isolated in the struggle against privatization of electricity. Instead of supporting the union with solidarity actions in order to defeat the privatisation, the NLC sadly chose to become the mediator between the union and government. Hence, the struggle was lost and electricity union had to resort to negotiating severance payment of their members that would lose their jobs.
The current tariff hike is a consequence of the electricity privatization as it is meant to guarantee super profit for the private companies. Nevertheless, the statement of NUEE on February 8 protest against electricity tariff hike was in bad taste and tantamount to strike breaking.
The struggle against tariff hike can hardly be won without the participation and support of electricity workers. We call for a principled support for the struggle by the NUEE notwithstanding its disagreement with the Ayuba Wabba led NLC.
By and large, as we put forward in a leaflet circulated at the protest rallies the labour movement should mobilise the working people, poor and pro-labour organisations to demand the following:
- Reversal of the tariff hike
- End to crazy billing. End to reconnection fees and other exploitative charges
- Provision of prepaid meters to all consumers
- Overhaul of electricity infrastructures including electric poles and wires as well as the replacement and provision of new transformers to all communities.
- Stable and regular electricity supply to all consumers. No to plots by DISCOs to shift electricity supply to so-called high-end customers and industrial areas because of the profit at expense of poor communities.
- Improved pay and conditions for electricity workers. An end to casualization. All power companies must respect the rights to unionize and collective agreements.
- Renationalization of the power sector under the democratic control and management of workers and consumers.
The members of DSM participated at the protest rallies in Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan and Osogbo where altogether over 7,000 copies of leaflet were circulated and many copies of Socialist Democracy (SD) sold.
The reports below from the rallies in Abuja, Lagos, Osun and Oyo show both the potential for resisting the hike, but also the urgent need for a serious mobilization on the ground around a plan of action. On their own radical words and gestures will not build a movement. The NLC and TUC cannot limit themselves to simply issuing militant sounding press releases, a genuine fight-back requires proper preparation and plan of action. Activists themselves will have to attempt to build resistance with the aim of stimulating a movement that can, as happened in January 2012, lead to an upsurge that can defeat this hike.
By Daniel Akande
On Monday February 8th the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress led workers, and youths and civil society activists in a protest march in Abuja against the hike in the electricity tariff. The protesters bore placards with various inscriptions such as; “Stop estimated billing”, “don’t increase electricity Tariff”, “NERC and DISCOS obey court order”, “We need light not darkness” and” We can’t pay more for darkness”.
The protest started at exactly 8:00am, at the Labour House, Central Business District, Abuja. The rally started with solidarity songs, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress Ayuba Wabba, the Chairperson of the Joint Action Front (JAF) Dr Dipo Fasina and president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Boboi Kaigama addressed the rally.
The rally was targeted at about five places; the first was the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) office in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja, where the leaders of the different trade unions addressed the rally.
The NLC President Wabba, in his own speech, “the Nigerians should know that the days of exploitation should be brought to an end, the time of taking the Nigerians for granted is over, the days of selling our common wealth, should also be brought to an end, and that any increment will not be allowed to stand and that there has been no significant improvement in service delivery”.
He added, “Payment in any part of the world is based on consumption; it is what you consume that you will pay for”. He further said that most of the consumers are not metered in accordance with the signed privatization Memorandum of Understanding of November 1, 2013, which stipulates that within 18 months gestation period, all consumers are to be metered, and with that Nigerians will not agree with any hike in bills. He asserted that Nigerians will not pay for darkness and observed that there is no place in Nigeria, where the working people reside that have a stable or constant electricity supply, instead the discos prefer supplying the electricity to those who had stolen our wealth and who can afford to pay.
Wabba added that the private owning and management of the electricity sector had failed and that there must be a stop to the impunity as the regulatory agency is expected to protect the interest of consumers. He finally called on the Nigerians to resist the attacks from the ‘DISCO and GENCO’ and any payment that is based on estimated billing. He said the President must stand by the people and also that the issue of selling the power sector should be revisited by the President which promised to fight corruption.
The president of TUC Boboi Kaigama, in his own address, says “that the Nigerians have come out to resist their callous billing, and that the outrageous increase in the electricity tariff is fraud”. “The era when the Nigerians will be treated impunity is over, the era that those that enjoy the free education, free health care, free housing accommodation, free transportation and today exploiting the Nigerians, we say no, and God punish them, all the Nigeria leaders that involve in the exploitation of the masses, God punish them”.
Also Dr Dipo Fasina of the JAF addressed the rally saying that the privatization of the electricity sector is the cause of the mess that the Nigerians are experiencing today, that the government need to revisit the electricity privatization and also the fate of the Nigerians cannot longer be hold in the hands of the private individuals, who do not in an inch passionate about good the Nigerians but always having the aims of profit making at the expense of the Nigerian masses. “Nigerians will not agree and we will continue to resist any attack from every area, Gencos and Discos should listen and listen well, this serve as a note of warning, we demand immediate reversal of their unnecessary billing and also they should improve their service, Nigerians will no longer pay for darkness,” he added.
Also, the head of public relations of the distribution company, Ahmed Shekarau promised that the company would provide 100,000 prepaid meters free of charge to consumers.
Finally, the protest ended at the National Assembly, where the Senate President, Bukola Saraki addressed the protesters and appeared sympathetic to the protests, but this sort of “ally” cannot be trusted as his position is not unconnected with his own battles against the Federal government.
Democratic Socialist Movement members sold copies of Socialist Democracy newspapers and circulated about two thousand copies of leaflets demanding immediate reverse of the satanic electricity tariff.
By DSM Reporters
Hundreds of workers, community organizations and pro-labour organizations converged under the bridge in Ikeja early in the morning of February 8 for the picketing of Ikeja Distribution Company. This protest and picketing in Lagos was part of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) led nationwide protests that took place simultaneously in all the 36 states of the federation.
The march stated off at Ikeja under bridge by 9am, marched through Awolowo Way and to Alausa where the Ikeja Disco’s head office is located. Many passersby, motorists and traders hailed the protest while some simply said that this action should have started long before now. The business activities of Ikeja Disco were paralyzed for 3 hours by the action.
The Lagos mass action was led by the NLC vice president, Amaechi Asugwuni alongside other trade union leaders as well as pro-labour organizations. Amaechi, who addressed the protesters, said that there is no justification for the hike considering the economic reality. More so the hike flouts due process and is in contravention of a court order. He concluded that the mass actions would be intensified should the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the Discos refuse to revert to the old price. The only official of Ikeja Disco who spoke in justification of the tariff hike was booed. As he tried to argue for the hike, shout of “thieves! … thieves! â€¦ what is the benefit of privatization?” rented the air.
On the protest were placards and banners. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Right (CDWR) as well as the Ajeromi Ifelodun United Interest for Justice distributed thousands of leaflets.
On the way back, six members of the DSM stopped by at Linda Company, producer of Xpression weave-on, to solidarize with workers who have been on strike for over a week protesting anti-management policies. This company is notorious for forcing workers to meet unrealistic targets which led to the death of Mr. Wisdom Atukpo in October 2015. The Agege Area Commander, Mr. Edward .C led tens of armed police men in eleven trucks to the company harassing workers and DSM members. It is instructive to note that on the February 1st the same police men who apparently are working to the dictates of the management, shot a tear-gas canister at a female worker injuring her in the face
The mass actions would have been stronger if there were planning meetings of trade unions, pro-labour organizations and community organizations to popularize the struggle in the communities and workplaces, mobilize bigger actions and production of agitation materials.
By Kola Ibrahim
Members of the DSM and SPN in Osun State intervened in the NLC/TUC planned action against electricity tariff hike on Monday February 8th in Osogbo. The previous Saturday the DSM leadership in Osogbo had been making frantic efforts to get the information about the planned NLC protest in Osun State. However, we could only get contradictory information from various NLC sources on whether the protest will hold or not. Flowing from our discussion on the Sunday, 7th February, on the Monday we moved out to strategic places in Osogbo, including NLC and NULGE secretariats, but no action was visible, while office staff of the NLC secretariat denied any planned activity. This was contrary to information from a leader of NUT.
However, while searching across the town, we stumbled on a NLC contingent at IBEDC (Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company, a Disco), in Station Road. This was around 10 a.m. At the venue, only a NLC bus, the NLC chair and a handful of workers were seen. Most of the workers are staffs of the IBEDC, who have been locked out of the office by labour leaders. There were no serious activities going on. The IBEDC was only locked up and the banners of NLC placed at the gate. But no protest, rally or mass enlightenment. There were no leaflets or poster. The security men at the venue outnumbered the NLC contingent. The workers were aloof.
When we returned 30 minutes later with leaflets, the NLC leadership had left, possibly replaced by TUC chair, who was the only labour leader present. Our leaflets lightened up the place as people started debating the issue with our leaflets. The media, NTA and local OSBC, interviewed the state chair of SPN, comrade Alfred Adegoke. Eventually we left the venue when nothing tangible was happening.
Clearly, the labour leaders in Osun State have lost much of their credibility with their ‘consistent’ compromising activities with the Osun State government to the detriment of workers in Osun State. For the past four months, Osun State government has been paying half salaries to workers, while the salaries of November 2015 to January 2016 have still not been paid. More than this, the NLC national leadership have also played a rotten role in this situation, assisting the government to drive through many anti-worker policies. It is therefore no accident that workers were not prepared to stand with labour leaders.
Now the SPN, DSM and labour activists need to step up our organizational and party activities in Osun State in order to provide some alternative, no matter how minimal. Currently, the SPN and DSM seem to be the only recognized left and pro-labour opposition in the state.
Gbadamosi Dayo (Acting Secretary of DSM UI)
Abbey Trotsky, Secretary DSM Oyo State, addressing the protesters in Ibadan – photo DSM
Members of the Oyo State Chapter of Democratic Socialist Movement, DSM, took part in the protest action jointly organised by members of the Oyo State Chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, against the 45% increase in the electricity tariff which was recently announced by Raji Fashola, the Minister for Power, Hosing and Works.
We participated with a special leaflet on electricity tariff hike, Socialist Democracy (DSM paper) and banners of both the Socialist Party of Nigeria and Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR)
This action which was scheduled to kick-off from the Oyo state secretariat of the NLC by 8pm was delayed until 10am due to the late arrival of many participants. Despite this delay, the turn-out for the action was still poor. This is largely due to the selective and impromptu character of the mobilisation by the state labour leaders. The majority of the participants were hand-picked members of the executives of the affiliated unions of TUC and NLC at the local government and branch levels. Clearly there had been little or no serious mobilization of the rank and file.
Shortly before embarking on the action, there was a brief meeting presided over by the state Vice-Chairman of the NLC. In the absence of the state NLC Chairman due to an undisclosed reason, the Vice Chair itemised various reasons why NLC and TUC had decided to lead Nigerians to oppose with a view to defeat the attempt by the Discos, in connivance with the Federal government, to impose on Nigerians an illegal 45% hike in the electricity tariff.
Another lead speaker at the meeting was the state Chairperson of TUC, who stated why the n electricity tariff hike was not acceptable in the face of the economic hardship Nigerian masses are currently going through.
Also recognised to speak was comrade Abbey Trotsky, from the Oyo State Chapter of DSM, who submitted by urging the NLC and TUC against one-off actions and raised the need for the formation of trade union and civil society coalition as a step towards ensuring that mobilisation against the hike in the tariff is initiated in communities and workplaces.
After this short meeting, a possession was led to some of the offices of electricity Disco located in different parts of Ibadan viz: Molantan, Agodi-Gate, Dugbe and Ring road. At each of these offices, workers were ordered to come out with personal belongings and leave the premises while the main gate leading to the office was locked up.
The three thousand copies of the leaflet produced by the DSM were not enough as they were exhausted before the action was brought to a close. This was addition to the copies of Socialist Democracy which were sold.
The intervention of DSM comrades during this action has no doubt further help to build more political influence for us amongst the working people within the state. For instance, Comrade Abbey Trotsky was not only recognised to speak at every strategic point throughout the possession but also invited to feature on a live radio programme two days after the action to engage in debate with the General Manager of the IBDEC over the issue of 45% hike in the electricity tariff.