RESIST ELECTRICITY TARIFF HIKES AND POOR SUPPLY
Public Ownership of Power Sector Under Workers and Consumers’ Democratic Control is the Way Out
By Chinedu Bosah
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed disclosed on Thursday, March 10, 2022, that the federal government had quietly removed subsidy on electricity tariff. The implication of this policy is that working people and the poor masses will be forced to pay higher tariff twice every year. The only achievement of the Buhari government is the imposition of more hardship on the working masses and the poor. Coalition for Affordable and Regular Electricity (CARE) condemns the policy that will allow the power companies to hike tariff increasingly beyond affordability for the majority of consumers. We call on the working people to organize to resist this action of the government that wants consumers to pay more for poor supply or darkness.
Besides, the government claimed that it was subsidizing the power sector to the tune of N1.7 billion daily but in reality, the government was only bailing out the corruption, expensive lifestyle of the directors and top managers and unsustainable debts incurred by the power companies. For instance, N6 billion released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) was subjected to insiders abuse and sharp practices in 2017 wherein IBEDC gave a loan of about N6 billion to its parent company (Integrated Energy Distribution and Marketing Group). This is one example of how privileged private companies mismanage the so-called subsidy and bailout funds. Hence, hikes in tariff and constant bailouts are jumbo rewards to the power companies for their obvious failure and inefficiency.
Since the so-called subsidy was removed early this year, electricity supply has got much worse in widespread darkness which has manifested through incessant system collapse and heavy load shedding. Another contributing factor to the poor electricity supply aside from the weak electricity infrastructure is the fact that the Distribution Companies regularly rejects electricity wheeled to them by the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and the Generating Companies. According to Punch newspaper of April 25, 2022, DISCOS rejected 2495.3MW in just one week in the month of April 2022. It has become a standard practice of the DISCOS to reject power wheeled to it in order to make more profit considering the fact that there are overwhelmingly more consumers on the estimated billing system and the power company deliberately refused to issue prepaid meters to theses consumers because billing are usually outrageous and fraudulent. the distribution companies reject more electricity load because they can manoeuvre with estimated billing and load shedding and still make more money despite supplying little or no electricity. It is clear that the more the capitalist ruling elite heightens the exploitation, the less electricity supply the masses get. We are going to witness outrageous tariff hikes more frequently.
In a profit-first system, there will always be unjust hike in the prices of petrol and electricity just like other essential commodities. The capitalist government and their private collaborators always clamour for higher rates and prices to guarantee super profit. The power companies have shown obvious incapacity to develop the sector, they are only interested in super profit with higher tariff and exploitative billing methodology (estimated billing) while the power infrastructure and facilities are in decrepit conditions triggering incessant system collapse and leaving communities mostly in darkness. The power sector has recorded more system collapse since privatization than in the previous 40 years before privatization and considering that governments have spent over $15 billion on electricity in the last 15 years and nothing fundamental to show for it except darkness. Since the power sector was privatized in November 2013, electricity tariff has been steadily hiked from about N12.50 to about N48 representing a whopping 280% increment. The majority of consumers are yet to be metered and are forced to pay outrageous (crazy) bills and those who have been metered were forced to pay outrageous amounts to procure them. In other words, the electricity privatization has not only proved to be a monumental failure in term of service but also a major fraudulent arrangement for super exploitation of the masses.
Labour must act and not keep quiet
The most worrisome is the fact that both Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and Trade Union Congress (TUC), have kept quiet while the government to quietly gave the go-ahead to the power companies to increase tariff under the guise of the removal of the so-called subsidy. Labour leaders threatened to embark on strike on September 28, 2020, over increments in the price of electricity and petrol only to back down and resorted to talks with the government. As a matter of fact, it was the botched strike action and the refusal of NLC and TUC to lead a mass struggle that provided a vacuum filled by the ENDSARS mass movement that protested police brutality and rising poverty. The talks with the government led to the setting up of a Technical Committee comprising 6 representatives of government/DISCOS and 3 representatives of NLC and TUC. The only thing labour leaders got from the talks was a delay in the implementation of the then tariff hike for about a month and government acceptance to have labour represented in the NERC. Considering labour’s strategic alliance with the self-serving ruling elite, it appears the natural course of action or inaction of labour leaders is to allow anti-people policies unchallenged and unchecked after ‘board-room’ discussions.
Implicitly, the labour leaders have agreed with the government to have electricity tariff increased so often despite growing poverty and cost of living. The Labour leaders went into talks with the government but never reported back to Nigerian workers on what was agreed upon as they have chosen to remain quiet. It is the same manner NLC and TUC on a few occasions bark for a struggle but refuse to bite and undemocratically call off strikes. In October 2020, labour unfortunately and openly endorsed privatization and deregulation and so, it is not shocking to clandestinely endorse tariff hikes.
The Labour leaders have left the flood gate open for numerous attacks on the working people. N30,000 minimum wage has not been implemented by many state governments despite having been even eroded by the rising cost of living and labour leaders stand akimbo. Diesel and Kerosene have been deregulated and the prices have steadily moved up and currently, about N800 per litre and over N500 per litre respectively There is rising cost of living, high inflation and rising poverty; there is a massive infrastructural deficit and unemployment and labour leaders are less concerned. There have been three electricity tariff hikes since NLC threatened to go on strike in September 2020 but labour leaders have quietly looked the other way. The anti-labour policies such as casualization are endemic in workplaces but labour leaders look the other way and in some cases like what we have seen in the food industry, NUFBTE (Food Union) leaders themselves set up outsourcing companies for the purpose of casualizing workers.
These privileged right-wing labour leaders are comfortable with the present socio-economic crises because they are now aristocratic and the capitalist system has made them privileged such that they do not feel the impact of the economic crises ravaging the working people. All this has called for workers to demand a fighting labour leadership that is run democratically and consistently defend the interest of workers and the poor masses. Any labour leader who cannot do this should be asked to step down.
What the power sector requires like any other key sector of the economy is a massive public investment to expand infrastructure and facilities and to motivate workers via decent working conditions in order to guarantee uninterrupted electricity at an affordable tariff rate. So far, the capitalist government and the so-called private sector have proved incapable of achieving this despite huge public fund that has been spent on this sector.
Therefore, we call on the labour movement and consumers to build a mass movement to reject the high electricity tariff and also demand the return of the power sector to public ownership under democratic control of workers and consumers. This is to ensure the judicious use of finances of the sector and its democratic running. However, workers may have to mount pressure on the labour leadership to support this demand.
By and large, privatisation, deregulation and other anti-people capitalist policies are responsible for the growing socio-economic crises. Instead of doing away with these policies, the capitalist ruling elite is sustaining them for its self-serving profit interest. Therefore, the labour movement and the working class need a mass working people party on a socialist programme to wrest political power in order to form a socialist government wherein the commanding heights of the economy are nationalized and democratically controlled by the working class in order to mobilise adequate resources for the benefit of the society and the vast majority as against the greed of a few.