Labour seeks reversal of electricity tariff increase

Organised Labour yesterday called for a total reversal of the power sector privatisation and recovery of all sold public electricity assets.
Members of the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) and Trade Union Congress(TUC) made the demands while picketing offices of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) in Abuja and electricity distribution companies(DisCos) nationwide.

•They also demanded an immediate reversal of the April 3, 2024 electricity tariff hike for Band A customers until ‘’certain’’ conditions are met.

•The terms which the workers said are contained in their 2021 and 2023 agreements with the government include a ‘’review of the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), de-dollarisation of gas supply for electricity generation, distribution of pre-paid meters to all electricity consumers, increase in electricity generation and distribution with an adequate commitment to investment in green and renewable energy sources.’’

• To show their seriousness, the NLC and TUC leaderships directed electricity workers to cut off power supply to all NERC and Transmission Company of Nigeria(TCN) offices.

Accusing Power Minister Adebayo Adelabu of supporting apartheid in Nigeria, they charged him to talk less about tariffs and focus on how to improve electricity generation

 

Labour first took the protest to NERC headquarters before moving to the Federal Ministry of Power in Abuja and the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC).

At the NERC head office, the protesting workers were received by its Chairman Sanusi Garba. Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power Mamudan Mamman received them on behalf of Adelabu, who was attending the Federal Executive Council(FEC) meeting.

As they moved from the NLC headquarters to the NERC office, they displayed placards with various inscriptions like “Increase regulatory oversight on DisCos and GenCos not tariff Increase on poor and innocent Nigerians “ and ‘’Let the poor breathe.’’

Others read ‘’Give us affordable and constant power,” N228 per kilowatt from N68/kWh is killing, reverse it now,” “Electricity tariff Increase, not acceptable “ and “We are not a Generator Republic.”

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Delivering their demands to the NERC Chairman, NLC President Joe Ajaero, said Nigerians have not received services for the tariffs they pay.

Ajaero said: “We are very serious about our demand that NERC and TCN reverse the recent tariff hike. The tariff is killing. It is killing businesses and Nigerians.

‘’As part of our protest, we have asked electricity workers under our centres to cut off power supply in all NERC and TCN offices across the country. Review the current tariff because it is not workers’ friendly. It is not acceptable.”

A joint message by the NLC and TUC reads: “Workers are hit hardest by the increase in electricity tariff. Unlike business people, wage-earning workers cannot adjust their income when the costs of utilities are increased.

‘’This wage stagnancy amidst increases in electricity and refined petroleum products push workers over and beyond the limits of sanity and survival.

“Small and medium scale businesses which accommodate millions of workers in the informal economy are severely affected by increases in energy costs. Many of such businesses are forced to shut down thus ballooning Nigeria’s unemployment market. The ancillary cost of crimes and social unrest is a daily living experience on our streets.

“Organised labour in Nigeria is forced to the conclusion that the privatisation of the power sector in Nigeria is a colossal failure. Organised labour in Nigeria demands the complete reversal of power sector privatisation and the recovery of all public electricity assets sold dirt cheap to largely inexperienced, technically- deficit, and financially challenged private investors.

“Nigerian workers reject the recent increase in electricity tariff and the associated upgrading and downgrading of customers from one Band to another. It is our clear position that Nigeria, after more than 60 years of independence cannot be rationing and rationalising darkness. This is unacceptable.

“We call on the government to respect the terms of the September 2021 agreement with Labour which was reinforced by a 2023 agreement that the government must halt further increase in the tariff of public utilities until certain conditions are met.’’

NERC Chairman Garba said the commission has taken note of all the issues raised by the protesting members of the two labour centres.

He added that NERC would go back to the drawing board to review the issues and come up with a solution.

At the Power House headquarters of the Power Ministry, Ajaero said the government must return to the status- quo before any negotiation with workers.

Ajaero presented the Organised Labour’s demands to the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mamman, who acknowledged that the tariff hike was unbearable.

He told the protesters that the ministry has no role to play in tariff review.

“Tariff review is the exclusive responsibility of the regulator. What the ministry does is to give policy direction,’’ the permanent secretary said.

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He added that since workers turned down the request for negotiation, he would relate the message to the minister.

“I want to inform you that I don’t have the power to reverse the tariff. For the cries of all Nigerians, we are going back to the drawing board with the regulator.

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“We all know that we don’t have sustainable electricity. I am going to take your message to the relevant authorities and then we will look at it and we will inform you.”

Replying, the NLC President Ajaero said the government must ‘’go back to status quo so that nobody will negotiate under any pressure.’’

‘’It can’t be at band Z and band A and ask us to come and discuss,” Ajaero argued, wondering why the government would increase the tariff when there is no electricity supply,

According to him, Adelabu has surprisingly become the spokesperson of the DisCos on tariff matters.

He urged the minister to cease talking about tariff hike when he has not increased power supply.

The NLC President also asked the government to stop the discriminatory tariff, which supplies power to customers based on bands, stressing that “there should be equal rights for all citizens.”

Looking directly at the Permanent Secretary, Ajaero added: “Your minister has no right. He is supporting apartheid in Nigeria where some people will get 20 hours of electricity and some people will get zero hours. It is unacceptable, Sir.”

From the Power House, the protesting workers went to the AEDC Headquarters where the Ag Managing Director, Mr. Victor Ojelabi, received them.

Ajaero told Ojelabi that AEDC must stop the “ discriminatory’’ electricity supply.

‘’If you are giving some Nigerians 10 hours, the other Nigerians are also supposed to get 10 hours. It should not be under where you are living “ the labour leader added.

*Resign now, Lagos NLC boss tells Adelabu

In Lagos, the state chapter of the NLC said the power minister should quit because the present state of electricity supply and the recent increase in tariff showed incompetence on his part.

The state chairman of NLC, Funmilayo Sese, added that categorising electricity consumers into different bands was a form of segmenting the society or creating inequality.

Her TUC counterpart, Gbenga Ekundayo, said the increase in tariff has not only added to the financial burden of households but spelled trouble for businesses.

‘’With production costs soaring, companies are left with no choice but to pass on these expenses to consumers or face the grim reality of shutting down operations.

“Consequently, this vicious cycle of inflation and unemployment threatens to plunge the economy into further turmoil,” he said.

Sese and Ekundayo spoke at Ikeja Electric headquarters Alausa, Ikeja where they led their members to picket the company.

In Oyo, members of the state chapters of the NLC and TUC picketed the offices of the NERC, TCN, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) headquarters and regional headquarters, Oluyole IBEDC Staff Development Centres in Dugbe and Apata.

They said: “We are fed up with the inhuman policies being rolled out by our leaders. As of today, living in Nigeria has become a crime, we find it difficult to relate to other countries. We are enslaved in our father’s land.

“We are here to pass a message to the IBEDC and NERC concerning the hike in price of electricity supply. We are here today to say enough is enough.

‘’They should let the poor breathe in this country. We are wailing. They should allow us to breathe. That is the only thing we are agitating for.”

Also, the headquarters of the Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JED) along Ahmadu Way was sealed off by an NLC-TUC enforcement team

JED’s spokesman, Friday Elijah, who confirmed the development, said, “ We were locked out. Even our chief security officer is also outside.’’

TUC chairman in the state, Kenneth Shammah, said the union would continue to occupy the company’s office until the hike in tariff was reversed.

‘’When we had NEPA(National Electric Power Authority), we knew how they were doing. Imagine transformers will have problems and a privatised company will ask you to buy transformers. Where is it done?,’’ Shammah added.

The situation was the same in states like Ondo, Osun, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Abia, Enugu, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Kogi, Adamawa Jigawa, Taraba, and Bauchi where placard-carrying protesters shut down the offices of DisCos, TCN and NERC.

Like the NLC and TUC national leaderships, they called for a reversal of the tariff hike and urgent solutions to the erratic power supply in the country.

<<The Nation>>