Electricity Tariff Hike: APC, Buhari Face Popularity Test
• ‘Labour’s Protest An Indictment Of Party’
IF tomorrow’s nationwide protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) holds as planned, it would be the first major test of any policy by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, since its inception on May 29, 2015.
Paradoxically, it would also be the first major battle the labour union would stage against any government policy since the January 2012 protests against the removal of petroleum subsidy, and since the union’s bitter and controversial election to choose its leadership, last year.
The planned protest comes on the heels of a 45 per cent hike in electricity tariff, which took effect this month.
According to NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, the action would be “a nation-wide protest, meaning that the 36 states of the federation, including Abuja, will be involved.”
In the statement, he threatened: “Our members have been sufficiently mobilised and are ready to go. If you are an electricity consumer and you are not happy with the bills electricity companies serve you every month, you are invited to join this protest rally.”
Labour unions and civil society groups in Rivers state, consequently, have mobilised their members to shutdown offices of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) tomorrow.
The chairman, Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state, Chika Onuegbu, told The Guardian he has directed that all the offices of PHEDC be sealed up.
He warned that if electricity companies fail to meet Labour’s demands, it would shut down the power infrastructure in the country, including feeder gas manufacturing companies.
The Federal Government, meanwhile, has called a meeting between Labour and electricity distribution companies with a view to finding a resolution.
The meeting, slated for this week, and which is expected to draw representation from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), was called by the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige.
But responding to report of the meeting, the General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Dr Peter Ozo-Eson, told The Guardian in Abuja, yesterday: “We have not been officially invited via a letter. It is not in our character not to attend meetings on any matter that affects the interests of Nigerian workers directly, such as the increment in electricity tariffs. I must say that such meeting would not preclude the picketing that is planned for Monday.
“The picketing of the distribution companies and the rally to the National Assembly would continue as planned. We will take off from the Area 11 headquarters of the congress and move to the Zone 4 office of the Abuja distribution company and then proceed to the National Assembly,” he said.
He added: “We will meet with our traditional allies such as the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and civil society groups to chart a way forward, if government remains intransigent on the matter. Our expectation is for government to reverse the increment because of its negative effects on individuals as well as businesses, especially the small-scale ones. Then, we will convoke the relevant organs of Congress to chart a way forward. We will device a means to ensure the struggle against this social injustice is reversed. We will not rest until this is achieved.”
According to rights activist and convener of Movement for the Voice of Democracy (MOVERS), Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, the protest exposes the All Progressives Congress as having lacked a watertight policy on power before it took over government from the Peoples Democratic Party.
“It is an indictment on Fashola and the APC; the people who felt they had the answer to the problem. It (protest) is a way to show that Nigerians are disappointed that the APC has no plan to give Nigeria energy. Fashola was the arrowhead that pretended they had all things sorted out,” he said, adding: “The corruption in the power sector needs urgent surgery; you have to open the place up and bring in people who have the technology who would re-engineer the sector.”
The Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO) said customers in Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states have no issues with the hike.
“There was apprehension that there would be protest and showdown. But to the surprise of all, our esteemed customers behaved well. They believe that they are part and parcel of the new arrangement. We didn’t receive any negative reactions from them,” said Public Affairs Officer, Mohammed Kandi.
But in a reaction, NLC chairman, Kano state branch, Comrade Kabiru Minjibir, said the union will picket KEDCO’s office tomorrow.
“As far as we are concerned, we are abiding by the directive given from our national secretariat. And we have informed all stakeholders for the picketing coming up tomorrow,” said Minjibir.
Former NLC National Deputy President, Comrade Isah Tijjani, who spoke to the Guardian in Kano, also faulted the hike.
“You are saying government is trying to revamp the economy, and you increase electricity tariff, where then is the revamp?” he asked.
The chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and the President of the National Union of Textiles, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), Comrade Oladele Hunsu, disagreed, yesterday, on how well Nigerians have been mobilised for the protest.
Musa, who was the former Governor of old Kaduna state, said Labour has not sufficiently enlightened the people on why they should come out enmass
and protest the hike. He said many Nigerians are not aware of the plan, stressing there could be a low turnout. “We can only watch and see how it will go,” he said.
Comrade Hunsu, however, noted: “The generality of
workers have decided to be in solidarity with the nationwide protest. How can Nigerians pay for electricity not used? Directives have been given to all states to mobilise adequately. There are people in charge of mobilisation and they have been doing a good job.”
A women leader, at the Kaduna Central Market,
Hajiya Hafsat Mohammad, said: “We thought this
government is preaching change. Are they saying the
change is to bring suffering to us, by asking us to pay higher electricity bills? I am in support of the protest.”
Meanwhile, as Labour in Imo begins a strike tomorrow to protest the disengagement of about 3000 workers, monarchs in the state have called on parties to embrace dialogue.
The chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Samuel Agunwa Ohiri, in a statement signed by his press secretary, Mr. Gift Nwokoro, said: “The government and Labour should come to the negotiating table with a view to ending the dispute.”
In another statement, however, the state government urged the workers to approach the courts, if they are aggrieved by the government’s action, rather than embark on a strike.
Signed by the Commissioner for Information, Youth and Sports, Chief Chidi Ibe, the statement described the planned strike as: “misguided, ill-conceived, unpatriotic.”