Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



NLC and TUC must lead sustained mass protest

On December 8, 2015, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola addressed a press conference mandating the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the Distribution companies to meet and come out with “fair market tariff”. Less than two weeks after, Sam Amadi, the outgone NERC chairman announced a new regime of electricity tariff. The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) condemns this pro-rich economic philosophy of addressing basic needs of the working masses.

Consumers overwhelmingly across the country are opposed to tariff hike because, in addition to overbilling mostly imposed on consumers through estimated billing system, there is monumental rip-off through various means and poor electricity supply. However, if the priority of Buhari-led government is to hike tariff, then the change All Progressives Congress (APC) promised Nigerians is a continuation of the ruinous policies under previous governments.

Though the new tariff regime purportedly seeks to discourage overbilling the fact that the majority of consumers are unmetered means that estimated billing system will continue. In other words, consumers will pay for the electricity not used. Besides, while the NERC has been forced by struggles in communities to scrap the fixed charge, they cleverly input it into the new tariff.

The hike in tariff is a flagrant disobedience of a subsisting court order. On May 28, 2015, Justice Muhammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos, gave an order that electricity tariff should not be hiked pending the determination of the suit brought before it by a human right lawyer, Barrister Tolu Adebiyi. The matter is coming next on February 11 and 15, 2016 for hearing. NERC and the DISCOs are both defendants. The recent actions of Sam Amadi and Babatunde Fashola smack of executive recklessness.

The new tariff regime will jerk up electricity tariff by about 45% and will take effect from January 2016. The government is quick to hike tariff whereas minimum wage is still a paltry N18,000. While the federal government has placed a wage freeze, the governors are threatening to either sack workers or reduce the wage of workers. This further underscores the anti-workers/poor approach of the governments at all levels.

However, the hike in tariff confirms the fact that the Buhari-led government is going to unleash anti-poor policies just like the previous governments. This is more so, when the present government is made up of anti-poor and neo-liberal demagogues and apostles like Babatunde Fashola. The masses were expecting Fashola to mandate the DISCOs to end estimated over billing by metering all consumers that need them as well as getting the power companies to invest more to improve the electricity supply to consumers rather, as usual, the government took the side of private companies at the expense of the suffering working masses. This further confirms that government at all levels will impose more austerity policies on the working masses while the privileged few continue in opulence and extravagance.

Is it not a failure of the ruling elite for Nigeria that has the 7th largest proven gas reserves in the world with about 200 tcf to have a problem supplying gas to power plants, whereas the oil companies flare about 2 bcf/pd of gas? How do we explain the fact that gas is transported to Ghana and some other West Africa countries through West Africa Gas Pipeline Project (WAGP), a distance of about 620 miles, whereas getting gas to power plants in Nigeria with a distance of less than 200 miles is difficult? What kind of Joint Venture Partnership does Nigeria have with oil and gas companies that prioritize the supply of gas to international market while starving local consumption and power plants? Nigeria produces 5 billion scf of gas every day and exports 4 billion scf and shockingly retains 1 billion scf for domestic use with preference to industries while power plants are left with little.

The market logic that rests on profit for a few has made it possible for big oil companies, in collaboration with Nigerian ruling elite, to keep exploiting the oil and gas reserves while the masses suffer. It explains why the generating companies and the gas companies are in constant conflict on who benefits more from the exploitation of Nigerian electricity consumers. The generating companies want to pay about $2 per unit of gas while the gas company wants to sell at international market price of about $4. Most worrisome is the fact that none of the private power companies or the multinational gas companies are committed to building gas infrastructure to the power plants like pipelines. Hence, it is not a fantasy that Nigeria has the lowest per-capital electricity consumption in sub-Sahara Africa despite spending a whopping sum of $20 billion since 1999.

It is contradictions that while the big business and the Nigerian government subjects Nigeria to international price merchanism, wages and salaries earned by Nigerians are one of the poorest in the world. Privatisation and deregulation brings with it more exploitation and suffering for the working masses. In the last 5 years, the electricity tariff has been hiked on a yearly basis, yet supply of electricity remains more epileptic. To show the lack of capacity, the power companies go cap in hand begging the government for bailout and have actually gotten about N50 billion without any noticeable improvement. If Nigeria will come out the woods, including resolving the myriad of problems which includes and not limited to fuel scarcity, epileptic power supply, gross lack of basic infrastructure etc., it has to abandon the profit-first capitalist system. The way forward is for the oil and gas companies including the power sector and other commanding height of the economy to be nationalized (owned publicly) and subjected to democratic control and management of workers and consumers as a means of fostering efficiency and ending corrupt practices. We therefore call for reversal of electricity privatization and democratic control of the re-nationalised power sector by elected representatives of workers and consumers.

The SPN calls on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to lead a sustained mass protest against the hike in electricity tariff and poor supply linked with a struggle for reversal of electricity privatisation. We also call on communities across the country to resist this further exploitation and launch a NO PAYMENT OF BILLS campaigns.

Segun Sango
National Chairperson
E-mail: [email protected]