Marx and Engels said that “ideas cannot carry out anything at all. In order to carry out ideas men are needed who can exert practical force”.
This was demonstrated on Monday, February 8, 2016 as workers and members of civil society came out to protest over the huge 65% increase in electricity tariff. This was the fifth in a series since 2013 when the DISCOS and GENCOS took over the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). But over this time there was hardly any increase in electricity supply – indeed recently this has dropped to a quarter of the level previously delivered.
The rally took off from Labour House and was led by Comrade Ayuba Waba, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Boboi Bala Kaigama, Trade Union Congress (TUC) President and Comrade Dipo Fashina, previously of Obafemi Awolowo University.
Men and women of the NLC, TUC, United Action for Democracy, Civil Liberty Organization, Socialist Workers League (SWL) and a host of other civil society organizations were in attendance to show their displeasure with the incessant and arbitrarily increases in electricity tariffs.
The protesters, dressed in an array of colours of their respective trade unions, carried placards with various inscriptions. These included: “Invest in Electricity Generation and do not exploit us”, “We say no to further exploitations of Nigeria poor”, “Say no to the privatization of PHCN”, “NERC Obey court order!” and “We cannot pay more for darkness”.
The protest rally moved along the highway from Labour House to Wuse, Zone 4 and the head office of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company. There was much singing and chanting of solidarity songs. On arrival, Ayuba Waba addressed the protesters and in clear terms condemned the price hike. He described the action of the electricity companies as outrageous and unacceptable. He then threatened, that if the increase was not reversed, organized Labour and the civil society would occupy the electricity company offices nationwide.
With respect to estimated billing, he called for a pay boycott pending when meters are provided. He explained the companies had violated the memorandum of understanding they signed on November 1st 2013. This included the undertaking that within 18 months all electricity consumers would be metered.
Comrade Ayuba also spoke on the flagrant disobedience of the Nigeria Energy Regulatory Commission (NERC) to a subsisting court order against the arbitrarily increase in the electricity tariff. He said that on 28th May 2015, justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos had ordered that there should be no increment in electricity tariff pending the determination of the substantive suit. He said the noncompliance of NERC to this court order is an act of lawlessness.
Comrade Kaigama, TUC president, also spoke in the same vein. He threatened that if NERC failed to reverse the increment, then organized labour and civil society would have no other choice than to picket the electricity companies until their demands are met.
The protest rally then moved on to the head office of the Nigeria Energy Regulatory Commission (NERC) where similar speeches were delivered.
The protest rally terminated at the National Assembly. Here the protesters were received by the leadership of the National Assembly led by the Senate president. These included Bukola Saraki, Dino Melaye, Ali Ndume and host of other senators.
Comrade Ayuba Waba, Comrade Kaigama and Comrade (Dr) Dipo Fashina again spoke on why any increment in the electricity tariff was not acceptable. They re-iterated that the poor had suffered five increases in electricity tariff since the privatization of PHCN with no improvement in supply as direct investment had not been achieved,
Ayuba Waba presented a copy of the protest letter on behalf of NLC, TUC and civil society to the Senate President and a copy to be transmitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The Senate President assured the protestors that the National Assembly would immediately swing into action to see that the electricity tariff was reversed.
However, there is no result to date and electricity supply has further declined, despite the national protests. The labour leaders will have to stick to their threats of further action if this campaign is going to succeed.
- Peter Adejobi