· We call on NLC, TUC, NUEE, SSAEC, etc to declare 24-hour strike and protests
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) condemns in absolute terms the latest obnoxious hike in electricity tariffs by the government in collusion with the private owners of electricity companies. According to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), a new tariff regime will start from June 1, 2014, which will see tariffs increasing between N2 and N5. This is aside the recently-introduced service charge that ranged between N750 and N1, 500. By the latest announcement, a kilowatthour tariff will go up to as high as N13 as against N4 in 2012.
We consider the latest hike as insensitive and callous. This hike is coming on the heel of two previous hikes, which have brought more darkness to Nigerians than ever. If allowed, the latest hike will further worsen the living conditions of the working and poor people of Nigeria, as it will engender rising cost of living, which will further erode the meager values of the poor incomes of working and poor people. On the other hand, it will lead to more profits for the private buyers.
Consequently, we call on all Nigerians, especially working people and the poor across the country to mobilize to reject this latest round of attack on their living conditions. More importantly, we call on the labour movement, especially the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and in-house unions in the electricity sector, National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and Senior Staff Association of Electricity Corporation (SSAEC) to mobilize for mass action to reject this hike. While we commend the labour movement for rejecting this hike, we call on them to go a step further by mobilizing the mass of workers and the poor to oppose this latest onslaught on working people’s living conditions. An important step in this direction should be a declaration of a 24-hour warning general strike backed up with mass protests across the country. Surely, the only language the ruling class understands is that of mass struggle of workers. Had similar hike been met with this kind of mass actions, the bankrupt ruling class and its big business backers, will not be contemplating a new hike now.
Moreover, we call on labour movement to use this opportunity to oppose privatization, especially privatization of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), and demand immediate reversal of this fraudulent sale. If there is any lesson that should be drawn from the latest hike in electricity tariff, is it that privatization, as against lies of its proponents, is actually meant to defraud Nigerians. It has not and will not improve the horrible state of electricity generation and supply, but rather, as we in the SPN have consistently maintained, worsen the sorry state of electricity. Events have proved this more than correct. With less than nine months into privatization, government, through the NERC and in collusion with the private buyers, has hiked electricity tariffs two times. At the same time, there has been more system collapse than before, while generation and supply are at lowest levels. Reflecting the clear inability and disinterest of private investors to improve power generation and supply, several thousands of electricity workers, including thousands of technicians and engineers, trained with public funds, have been sacked. Meanwhile, just a thousand megawatts rise in electricity generation and supply should normally require engagement of more staff to the existing staff strength prior to privatization. The simple implication of this is that there is no plan to improve power supply, as more workers are sacked, even when more are needed.
The argument of NERC and the government that privatization, and by extension hike in tariff will engender more investment has now been torn into shreds. Most of the investors in the privatization rackets are portfolio investors, who relied on bank loans, secured with property values of electricity companies being bought. Therefore, Nigerians are only being used to service the profit quest of banks and portfolio private investors.
The arguments of NERC for the latest increase in electricity tariffs are indeed ridiculous and shameful. NERC had hinged the increase on the excuse that under the Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO), there will be increase in tariff when inflation reduces. This is patently absurd. It is clear reality that more people are finding it difficult to make ends meet more than ever. Over 120 million Nigerians are classified as poor, while unemployment rate is put conservatively at 40 percent by government. Moreover, basic cost of living has increased for most families as cost of feeding has increased. Education, especially public education, is being priced out of the reach of working class families, while fuel prices have been fraudulently and unofficially hiked. Meanwhile, working people’s incomes have stagnated. For instance, the N18, 000 minimum wage fought for and won by workers as early as 2011, has not been fully implemented by any government. Even if fully implemented, it cannot cover for the aforementioned rise in cost of living. It is very shameful that the government that could not compel private ‘investors’ to improve supply is quick to help them inflict more pains on Nigerians. By the end of June, the second directive of President Jonathan for improvement in power supply will lapse, with nothing to show that the situation has improved or will improve.
All this shows that the Nigerian government is acting in concert with the private big business to rip off Nigerians, in order to guarantee unhindered wealth for private businesses. This is not unexpected as the so-called political officers are themselves big time capitalists, many of whom are directly involved in the privatization scam, as buyers, front for buyers or supporter of buyers. Indeed, it is the same ruling class, through mismanagement and corruption, who run aground PHCN and other hitherto thriving public corporations. Having milked these corporations dry, they are now selling the better parts to themselves and their cronies in order to extract more profits by inflicting more hardship on Nigerians.
This is why we call on the labour movement to reject privatization. The failure of the private buyers to improve the lots of the electricity companies shows that there is no way out of privatization. On the contrary, labour movement should demand renationalization of PHCN and other privatized public corporations, under democratic public ownership and control. With management of PHCN put under democratic public control of workers, consumers and relevant professionals, it can be possible to ensure proper and judicious use of enormous wealth of the country to provide adequate and constant power supply to all Nigerians. However, this in itself should compel the labour movement to draw the necessary conclusion that the current pro-capitalist, corrupt ruling class cannot move the country forward, as its interest is tied to that of the capitalist big business that is holding the country at the jugular. This is the time for labour movement to begin the process of crystallizing a new political formation of the working and oppressed people with clear-cut anti-capitalist and socialist programme.