NEXT PHASE OF STRUGGLE OPENS AS DSM/CDWR HOLDS SYMPOSIUM ON ELECTRICITY CRISIS
NEXT PHASE OF STRUGGLE OPENS AS DSM/CDWR HOLDS SYMPOSIUM ON ELECTRICITY CRISIS
Wole Olubanji, DSM member
The National Secretariat of the Democratic Socialist Movement at Agbotikuyo, Agege, Lagos, on Saturday 20th August, was a hub of intense and inspiring discussion as community members, socialists and civil society activists participated in a symposium organised by DSM and the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Right (CDWR) to discuss crisis of electricity supply in Nigeria. The symposium reviewed at length the struggles of communities against this crisis with activists, who are playing leading roles in this campaign, sharing inspiring experiences of protests, and struggle. On the panel of speakers was Barrister Toluwani Adebiyi, the counsel who challenged the 45% increase in electricity tariff at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, and subsequently won a landmark judgment that nullified the tariff hike.
Welcoming participants to the public symposium the moderator, H.T Soweto, declared that the symposium is to discuss issues surrounding electricity crisis as well as “to ensure that at the end of the day, we are able to find a way forward…” Finding a permanent and practical way forward was to actually be the focus of the four hours long discussion, which was led off by four speakers. The speakers are people directly involved in organising community members for pickets against electricity tariff hike, and thus suitably qualified to speak on the theme “From NEPA to DISCOs: How can Nigeria achieve adequate, regular and affordable electricity supply?”
No Light, No Meter, No Pay
Mr Olowogemo, the acting coordinator, Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), Funmilayo unit, who gave the first speech admonished the gathering to go back to their neighborhood and sensitise the people on the need to organise against crazy billings and other crisis in the electricity sector. Following Olowogemo’s speech was the submission of Funmi Jolade Ajayi, whose track record was described by the moderator as special and inspiring in a male dominated society “where women are supposed to be in the kitchen while the men discuss politics… but she (Funmi) still finds time to play active roles in the struggle against crazy billings”. Funmi’s speech, laced with instances of her direct intervention in her community’s resistance against extortionate actions of the DISCOs, actually had electrifying effects on the whole gathering.
Expressing her annoyance at the epileptic supply of electricity, Funmi said “the average man is interested in stable electricity.” She went on in great details to show how the DISCOs extort innocent Nigerians, sometimes with the support of state instruments of coercion like the police. Narrating her ordeal in a police station after being invited for resisting disconnection of her community electricity wire-network, she quoted a Police DPO (Tunde Sunmonu) saying “go and disconnect them and let me see the bastards that would resist you”. This of course shows how far the security forces of the state would go to safeguard the excessive profit-thirst of private business, even if such profits are derived from illegal extortion and exploitation of citizens that police are constitutionally expected to protect.
Failure of Privatisation
Funmi made a passing remark that Nigerians might be less concerned about privatisation of the power sector, but rather interested in stable electricity. This, if true, will only be a temporary phase in the developing consciousness. As the reality dawns, a mass campaign against privatization can grow attracting thousands of disillusioned working people who have seen electricity supply to their homes and businesses worsen since the sale of the power companies 3 years ago. Indeed while Nigerians are interested in regular supply of electricity, privatisation of the sector has been shown to hinder such aspiration. As the DSM has canvassed over the years, only a reversal of the sale of the power companies and their nationalization under public democratic control and management can guarantee the necessary investment for stable and affordable electricity.
Other speakers and participants strongly argued that privatisation has in fact failed and is pointless, and called for re-nationalisation of the power sector. Funmi ended her speech reiterating the demands of Oko-Oba community (a community in Agege, Lagos) for an “end to estimated billings; immediate supply of prepaid meters to homes; and sensitisation of the public on how the meter reads in order to avoid possible manipulation which is the hallmark of big businesses everywhere”.
Taking the podium to speak, Barrister Toluwani Adebiyi was welcomed with a resounding applause by participants who celebrated his audacious decision to sue the DISCOs over their plans to increase the electricity tariff by 45%. He described the DISCOs as daylight robbers, who are both involved in practical and theoretical robberies. For him, “the privatisation exercise is a fallacy.” Nothing can be truer. He read the summary of the over 119 pages judgement of Justice Idris, who rebuked the DISCOs and NERC for disobeying court injunctions, and declared the tariff hike illegal. In his opinion, the copies of the judgment should serve as a mobilizing document against extortionate charges by DISCOs. He informed the gathering that legal representatives of the DISCOs have notified him of an appeal against the case, but the judgment of Federal High Court (FHC) subsists unless the Appeal Court rules otherwise. “Since the Appeal court would also base its judgment on the same laws that the FHC used, we are assured of victory at the Appellate court.” However, the forthcoming hearing at the Appeal Court must be accompanied by political actions as was done during the hearing at the FHC, Ikoyi, where court appearances were complemented by pickets of court premises.
Dagga Tolar on his part emphasized more on the need for a political action and organisation of the people to complement efforts of litigation. Dagga is a member of the DSM and Chairman of the NUT’s Ajeromi-Ifelodun Branch. He contended that the position of DISCOs that they are not making profit is false as the DISCOs defraud both government and Nigerians, while still paying little to 80% of their workers who are employed on casual basis in violation of labour laws. Dagga expressed the thoughts of mass of average Nigerians when he asserted that an increase in tariff, given the paltry size of the N18, 000 minimum wage, is anti-poor. For Dagga, the government backing the DISCOs, even with the deployment of state forces of coercion to implement their tariff hike, confirms that “the state exists in the interest of the billionaire members’ club and can never remain neutral in the war of this club against the rest of Nigerians.” Dagga noted that the roadmaps of successive governments have failed because it is built on neo-liberal policies like privatisation. Therefore, the power sector should be taken under public democratic control and management.
Calling for the re-nationalisation of the power sector â€“ or putting it under public control â€“ is a position that the DSM has held consistently on the basis of democratic and socialist principles. Privatisation is far from being a way to revitalise the economy or the individual sector involved; it is another means of feeding the cronies of politicians. That is why the crisis of the power sector has continued to worsen since November 1st 2013 when the powers sector was handed over to private interests.
However by demanding re-nationalization of the power sector, we in the DSM do not mean a return of the power sector to the redundant position, bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption that characterized the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) or Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) of old; instead we stand for the control of a sector like the power sector by a directly elected committee of electricity workers’ representatives, community consumers and representatives of government. It is this committee that would determine spending and policies for day to day administration of the sector; instead of leaving it at the mercy of politicians and bureaucrats in the power sector. It is also this kind of public control and open, democratic management that can ensure efficiency, repairs and overhaul of energy infrastructures leading to improved generation and supply of electricity at a cost affordable by the mass majority of Nigerians and small businesses as well as planned investment in renewable and clean energy sources.
Dagga Tolar submitted that “the question of political power is also essential”. That the whole crisis with electricity supply shows that there is a need for a political organisation of workers, youths and Nigerian masses that would run Nigeria for the people, and not the billionaires’ club. The end of Dagga’s speech was followed by a tumultuous chant of “The people United! Can never be Defeated!!” from the participants. The ovation that accompanied Dagga’s speech showed that his speech was well received. The twelve people that signified to ask questions, make comments or contribution also showed the electrified mood in the audience.
Contributions following the speeches were in the general direction of suggesting demands for the resistance against tariff hike; narrating different experiences of community members in the struggle against this problem and so on. Raheem from CDHR Agege suggested that “the best thing we can demand is if the DISCOs cannot provide us with prepaid meters, no payment.” Tony, a DSM member from Ajegunle, drew the attention of the gathering to the flagrant disobedience of court order by the Minister of power, without any consequence whatsoever. Barrister Odein, a member of the legal team that sued the DISCOs and NERC at the Ikoyi court, lamented that “our government is not working for us. The NLC too is not supporting the masses.” There is need for the masses to rise up too and resist the DISCO officials, he continues, as the legal team can only do its limited part in the matter. Yusuf and Ibrahim from ERC Lagos State University took time at different points to condemn the nonchalant and derisive disposition of the government towards the plights of Nigerians as far as the current electricity crisis is concerned. Wole Olubanji in his own submission called on the participants to support the emergence of a pro-working people political alternative as it is this that can guarantee a lasting solution to this crisis. He called on participants to support the initiative of DSM with the formation of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a party with radical manifestoes couched in the interest of the masses. For instance, the SPN is also the only political party that is calling for the nationalization of the power sector under public democratic control and management.
After the comments and questions that trailed the lead off of the speakers at this event, the speaker in return responded to these questions in a sum-up. Barrister Toluwani suggested to the acceptance of the gathering that copies of the court judgment should be mass-produced and used as mobilisation document. Comrade Chinedu, who is the National Secretary of SPN and the publicity secretary of CDWR, intervened in the symposium with suggestions of immediate lines of action to be taken as follow up to the symposium. Organisations and community groups were enjoined to go back and discuss on joint actions, especially in order to prepare for an organised intervention as the Appeal Court opens for the DISCOs attempt to reverse the ban on the price hike.
Dagga Tolar in his sum up correctly assessed that the meeting as in a unique way shared ideas and experiences of struggle. And indeed, this would crystalise the resolve of community members and further embolden activists to resist the anti-people dictates of NERC and DISCOs. He corroborated Chinedu that organised meetings are needed to coordinate struggle against DISCO attacks. Despite the hours spent at the meeting, the meeting ended on an inspiring note of solidarity chants, with a struggle fund raised as donation for advancement of struggle from participants. On the whole, the symposium was a landmark success in the history of resistance against electricity tariff hike, because it drew cross sections of community activists, journalists and members of artisan groups, including residents of Agege, Lagos, who would surely put the lessons learnt at the symposium to practical use of furthering the struggle.