Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Worsening Electricity Situation: Labour must call Mass Protest and 24-hour General Strike

Socialist Party of Nigeria

Worsening Electricity Situation: Labour must call Mass Protest and 24-hour General Strike

We Reject Fraudulent Hike in Tariffs by New Private Owners

We Call for Renationalization of Electricity Companies under Democratic Control of Workers, Communities and Consumers

The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) deplores the worsening electricity situation in the country since the privatisation of the public electricity last month. We hold that this situation confirms vividly our position that privatization rather than improve the horrible state of electricity will worsen it.

We condemn the irresponsible hike in electricity tariffs by the privatized electricity companies as well the retrenchment of several thousands of electricity workers, and non-payment of entitlement of over 7, 000 of them.

According to newspapers’ reports, over 50 percent of the workforce of the former PHCN has been sacked while those retained are already casualised. This has had untoward effects on the repair of faulty facilities, and supply of electricity, as there are few staff to operate and maintain electricity infrastructures. Consequently, there has been reduction in running cost including cost of replacement of faulty parts. All this has led to incessant power cut. On the generation side, the situation has also worsened, as new private owners have refused to maintain the little generation guaranteed under public owned PHCN. According to the Vanguard newspaper (December 2, 2013), the new owners have been defaulting in payment of gas supply to the generating plants, leading to drastic cuts in power generation.

To add insult to injury, while private buyers have no solution to the debilitating electricity situation that is killing small businesses and increasing cost of living for the working class, they are quick to hike tariffs criminally, with crazy (estimated) bills becoming the norm. For instance, according to Vanguard newspaper of December 2, 2013, maintenance charge has been hiked by 100 percent to N1, 500, while other hidden charges have also been added.

Behind this development is the fact that the so-called private investors/buyers are mostly portfolio investors whose sole aim is amassing huge profits with little or no risk. This is why already the government, just weeks after privatization, is giving the Electricity Generating companies N50billion to increase generation (Nation, December 4, 2013). The fact that the new private owners need public funds completely undermines any argument in favour of privatization and shows that privatization is simply a way of giving capitalists a new source of profit.

According to Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the government agency carrying out privatization of public assets, about N300 billion is required in the next five years by new buyers to improve the electricity situation. In fact, according to International Energy Association (IEA), over N900 billion is needed annually over ten years in investment to guarantee universal access to electricity by all Nigerians. This surely will involve not just massive investment in infrastructures, but also employment of thousands of new hands. But it is highly unlikely that the new private owners will be prepared to invest such amounts and, if they do, they will charge sky high prices in order to make a profit.

But we can already see, on the basis of the reality on the ground, that the private buyers cannot guarantee these. Rather than retrain staff and employ new hands, several thousands have been disengaged. Worse still, there is no reasonable plan by the new buyers to improve the rapidly worsening electricity situation in the country. All they want is guarantee of profit by astronomical hike in tariff. All this has confirmed our position that privatization of electricity is a disaster.

On this basis, the SPN calls on labour movement to demand immediate reversal of the obnoxious privatization of electricity and retrenchment and casualization of staff. We call on the labour movement leadership including leadership of NLC and TUC, to immediately begin a nationwide mass protest against worsening electricity situation in the country and demand immediate renationalization of the private companies. This must be linked to the calling of a 24-hour general strike on this crisis and other pressing issues, like the ASUU strike, facing working people. Such a general strike must be accompanied by mass mobilization of workers, market men and women, youth, communities, and the oppressed in general; with active collaboration with pro-labour civil societies like Joint Action Front. It should be noted that the passive acquiescence of labour movement leadership emboldened the government to go ahead with the privatization of electricity companies.

We in SPN maintain that the failure of PHCN under public ownership to guarantee power supply is not a product of impracticability of public ownership. On the contrary it is the corrupt capitalist ruling class that turned the sector into cash cow for their selfish interest. In the last 12 years over $20 billion has been purportedly spent on the power sector by successive capitalist governments in Nigeria with nothing to show for it. Private ownership can only make the situation worse, as the so-called private investors, aside looking for cheap profits, comprise the same set of people that contributed to the run-down of public enterprises. Therefore, as a viable alternative, labour movement leadership must demand democratic control of electricity companies by elected representatives of workers, communities, consumers and professional groups. With massive deployment of huge wealth of the country into expansion and improvement of electricity infrastructures, under democratic control and management, it can be possible to make electricity sector serve as engine of development of the country.

However, the failure of Nigerian capitalist ruling class to resolve electricity problem again underscores the fact that Nigeria cannot move forward with the current set of capitalist political class. On this basis, we call on labour movement, being the most organized platform of the working and oppressed people to begin the process of building an alternative political platform to the rot constituted by capitalist political class of all shades, whose rule has ensured suffering for the majority in the midst of huge human and material resources. The SPN is committed to supporting this cause and setting an example of building an independent political movement of working people.

Chinedu Bosah
National Secretary
Socialist Party of Nigeria