Anxiety as labour begins protest against electricity tariff hike

Babatunde Fashola

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria will commence mass action against the recent 45 percent increase in electricity tariff by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) across the country on Monday.

NERC had approved electricity tariffs increase by between N9.60 and N14.80, effective February 1, 2016.

Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said on Tuesday, February 2 that the increment will improve power supply.

Organised Labour disagrees and has concluded plans to begin a series of protests.

The NLC said that the mass action which is expected to hold in the 36 states and Abuja will see the Congress and their civil society allies picketing electricity distribution companies.

The union said “our members have been sufficiently mobilized 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.

“The Abuja rally will start at Labour House, Central Business District at 8.00am before moving to the NERC head office at Adamawa Plaza, Plot 1099, First Avenue, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central Business District.

“From the NERC office, the rally will roll to the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company at Zone 4. The rally will mobilise from there to the National Assembly”

The Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED) has however appealed to organised labour to shelve its planned protest.

A statement issued by the Executive Director, Research and Advocacy of the association, Sunday Oduntan, urged the unions to support the power sector operators to improve electricity supply in the country.

The statement urged Nigerians to support the Federal Government and the power sector operators to ensure the sustenance of the sector.

It said that Nigeria was witnessing an all-time high 5,075 megawatts of electricity for the first time in the history of the nation’s power sector.

“This is a demonstration that the sector has the capacity to meet the country’s power needs.

“Power is a major requirement in the drive to grow the nation’s economy and improve quality of life.

“We believe that this is only the beginning and that we can accomplish much more improvement in the sector, if all the stakeholders work together in partnership.

“ANED and its members are sensitive to customers’ anxiety over the recent increase in electricity tariffs”, the statement said.

It said that customers should know that the increase in tariffs was necessary for improvement of electricity infrastructure that had suffered decades of neglect.

“The increase will help to mitigate the negative cash flow and revenue shortfalls that have bedevilled the sector,” the statement said.

Secretary General of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, Issa Aremu, in a statement on Sunday said the group supports the planned picketing of electricity distribution companies by the organise labour.

“We hereby declare our total support for the planned picketing by labour and civil society allies of all offices of the electricity distribution companies (DISCOS) nationwide, including Abuja, on Monday February 8, to protest the unilateral and unlawful hike of electricity tariff.

“We commend NLC leadership for this mass action for improved power supply instead of incessant non-service charges.”

Aremu advised President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently revisit the report of the 2014 national conference and implement the holistic recommendations for the power sector.

He said that the Federal Government should not allow the increase in tariff “by the underperforming generating and distribution companies.”

“The point cannot be overstated; Power/Energy is so strategic to the industrialisation and the wellbeing of the people,” the former Vice President of the Nigeria Labour Congress said.

He also appealed to the federal government to urgently review the privatisation contracts with the electricity generation and distribution companies.

Aremu said the firms should be given a two- year time-frame “to allow them stabilise and provide efficient power supply to Nigerians before they can contemplate any tariff increase.”

The General Secretary further said that there should be more transparency in all future sale of the nation’s assets.

“We reject the hike in electricity tariff and hereby call on our members across the country and all well meaning Nigerians to come out and join NLC protest to drive home the fact that the unilateral and unlawful hike of electricity tariff is unacceptable.“

Aremu said the textile union instead calls for improvement in power supply.

“The point cannot be overstated. Between 30 per cent and 35 per cent of textile and garment manufacturing costs are energy related expenses.

“Without electrification there can be no industrialisation.

“The promise and expectation that President Buhari will revive textile industry generally is not possible without electricity,” the labour leader said.

According to Aremu, it is time for the Buhari administration to critically review the power sector reform with a view to increasing public sector investment.