Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Name Changes but Darkness Remains

By Bosah Chinedu

Since the change of the name from National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), which is commonly known as “never expect power always” to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) also known as “please hold your candles now”, epileptic power supply has gone from bad to worse. In fact, much more parts of Nigeria are in perpetual darkness.

Successive regimes had always promised constant power supply for all by a target year. It was first the year 1990 and then the year 2000. This present Obasanjo led PDP regime initially promised constant power supply by 2002 when it came to power in 1999. It later changed it to 2005 and now the Minister of Power and Steel has promised another 50 years (2056) before adequate and constant power supply will be guaranteed!

Just a month to the expiration of its first tenure in 2003, the National Assembly passed the Electric Power Sector Reform Bill. The Obasanjo regime re-introduced the bill to the National Assembly which passed it in March 2005. The Electric Power Reform Act 2005 stipulates that the assets and liabilities of NEPA will be transferred to PHCN under the surety and monitoring of the Federal Ministry of Finance with the aim to finally privatise it. However, in the so-called power reform law, there is no conscious attempt to improve the level of infrastructure in the power sector. Besides, the sub-stations and other facilities are a far cry from what is expected. Today, the present regime is yet to explain to Nigerians what has happened to over N2billion colleted as pension for NEPA staff and also what happened to N75billion allegedly spent on refurbishment of NEPA/PHCN, while hydro-electric and thermal stations including Kainji and Shiroro have not had turn around maintenance for the past 30 years. Nigeria presently generates about 3,000MW when in actual fact Nigerians need over 10,000MW.

The National Union of Electricity Employee (NUEE) in its recent publication revealed that only 30% of Nigerians are connected to electricity, which is even epileptic. With desperation by Obasanjo regime to privatise, it invariably means that more Nigerians will be cut off from the use of electricity due to the high cost that will be associated with the sales coupled with low level of infrastructure.

The major reason for privatising NEPA is that public enterprises are badly managed and used to corruptly enrich few people. NEPA, just like other public enterprises, had performed fairly well in Nigeria before. What has been responsible for its present inefficiency is the way and manner it is being run by the successive governments. Workers have never run it by themselves. It has always been run and managed by an individual or group of individuals appointed by corrupt ruling elite and only loyal to the elite. Huge resources annually allocated to the power sector are stolen by these appointed administrators in connivance with their benefactors who first appointed them. This explains why none of these elements has been questioned. If this sector, like others, had been democratically run and managed by workers or their representatives, huge resources often allocated to it would have been judiciously used to supply adequate and constant electricity for both rural and urban dwellers.

While workers were not part of the mismanagement of the sector, they are made to pay the price of privatisation, as thousands of them will be sacked. Society at large will not be spared. Electricity which it used to get at cheaper price under the public sector will not be available again. Only those who could afford the prohibitive new price as a result of privatisation will have access to electricity as Privatisation has nothing to do with provision of social services. It is about profit and profit alone. Only the directors, managers and bureaucrats that had plunged NEPA into crisis are made to benefit through using the public resources wrongly cornered to buy the same establishment all in the name of privatisation.

We therefore wholeheartedly support NUEE should be commended for its opposition to privatisation of NEPA. However, some of the positions that it put forward are contradictory and can only end as mere reforms that cannot be a way out of the present predicament. Some of the suggestions include: all labour related issues must be settled before any business unit is privatised; Government should appoint an autonomous board of competent people of proven ability and integrity that can bring the industry back to life. In this respect the government should not sell shares to private sector but an efficient programme of commercialisation that will bring returns; the board will ensure that public and private sector subscribers pay their tariffs and apprehend all revenue leakages; curbing consumers wastage of electricity through proper enlightenment etc.

In a memo recently released, the union (NUEE) also concluded, “Government is meant to serve the interest of the people and not the market. For too long, government has chased the market and it has failed, it should simultaneously allow the market and the state to co-exist without one chasing the other as this is the only way competition can strive”. In a way, the union is opposed to privatisation but it is for its twin brother – commercialisation. The reality is that the only difference is that one is handled by private investor for sole aim of making profit and the other is handled by the state for the sole aim of making profit. Since the union has stated that about 70% of Nigerians do not have access to electricity, whether it is privatised or commercialised, more Nigerians will be cut off from the use of electricity because of the high cost of production due to low level of infrastructure, which, in itself, cannot resolve the problem.

Rather for the union to call for the unity of private and public interest, it should struggle along with other unions and pro-masses organizations for a poor working people agenda, whose sole aim is to commit public resources for public needs. This entails giving support to the call for a working peoples political party through which the representatives of the working people could be in government to truly represent the interest of the poor people.