09 February 2016, Abuja – The nationwide protest organised monday by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) against the recent increase in electricity tariffs did not disrupt power supply, as the police and other security agencies deployed in the offices of electricity distribution companies (Discos) and power installations in the country ensured that the protest was peaceful.
This was just as the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, said monday that the federal government and other stakeholders in the electricity value chain must do everything to protect the current stability in the electricity supply industry, which he described as comforting.
The minister, who spoke monday in Lagos when he presided over the second sectoral meeting of CEOs of the Discos, generation companies (Gencos), Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Niger Delta Power Holding Company, Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), as well as other agencies in the power sector, restated that the current tariff regime, which was designed to last for 10 years, would start decreasing after the second year.
The unions yesterday organised a nationwide protest against the new tariffs, insisting that Nigerians should not pay for darkness. They also led the protest against the Discos over the absence of electricity meters for consumers before the tariff review.
In Lagos, the workers numbering over 1,000 gathered under the bridge on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, and marched through the Lagos State secretariat at Alausa to Ikeja Electric.
The placard-carrying protesters, who were guarded by policemen and other security agencies, stretched from Ikeja Electric’s head office to Allen roundabout.
Addressing the workers at Ikeja Electric, the first Vice-President of NLC and President-General of the National Union of Civil Engineering, Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWWU), Mr. Amaechi Asugwuni, who led the protesters, insisted that the distribution companies should not implement the new tariff regime.
Asugwuni further stated that Nigerians are not ready to pay for darkness, adding that the protest would not stop until tariffs are reduced.
According to him, billions of dollars had been sunk into the power sector without stability in electricity supply.
“It is only in Nigeria that people pay for darkness,” he added.
But in a short address to the protesters, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Ikeja Electric, Mr. Aigbe Olotu, urged the protesters to direct their complaints to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
The protesters sang and danced peacefully outside the premises for a few hours before dispersing.
However, they did not disrupt the operations of Ikeja Electric or stop its workers from entering or leaving the premises.
As the protest was ongoing, Fashola was presiding over the second monthly meeting of CEOs of all the companies and agencies in the power sector, which was hosted by Eko Electricity Distribution Company at the transmission sub-station at Alagbon in Ikoyi.
Speaking on the protest, Fashola appealed for understanding and trust from the labour unions and other Nigerians, saying that the tariff increase was a painful pill that Nigerians should try to swallow.
He said under the Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO), tariffs are supposed to be reviewed upwards every two years, but the current administration decided to draft a tariff regime that would last for 10 years.
According to him, the 10-year tariff order would start to decrease on a sliding scale after the first two years.
“I understand that people who have been disappointed over a long time will feel a sense of concern that again, tariffs have gone up. But the truth is that this tariff – we ought to have been there from day one.
“I don’t know why the government of monday was not courageous enough to tell us that we were supposed to be there. This is why they have this MYTO every two years.
“What we have done now in NERC is to draft a 10-year tariff and if you look at the tariffs painstakingly, you will see that in two years from now, it will begin to go down on a sliding scale. Whatever price the tariff offers now is a lot cheaper than diesel generation,” Fashola explained.
Speaking on why the federal government did not wait for power to be available before increasing tariffs, the minister stated that the power sector is funded with bank loans and that no bank would lend money to the operators if recoverable tariffs are not put in place.
He said the government and other stakeholders must do everything to protect the current stability in the power market.
“That stability has given confidence to the banks, gas investors, generation companies and others; a lot of people are now coming into Nigeria. They want to participate in power and it is because of the stability that the government and the administration under Mr. President has provided since they came. We must not destroy that stability,” the minister added.
Fashola said Nigerians needed more power, adding that the recent improvement in supply was not enough for 170 million people.
He said the monthly meeting was conceived for the CEOs to meet and exchange ideas and also go round the country and see what others are doing differently.
“If we could go round and take the gas people from the Ministry of Petroleum also and the transmission people, we can actually see on-the-spot, what really the problems are and what needs to be done, we can have everybody who is connected with problem-solving in one house once in a month,” Fashola added.
In Abuja, the protesters who took off from Labour House in the Central Business District of Abuja, carried placards with the signs: “Say No to Electricity Tariff Increase”, “Say No to Privatisation”, “Fight Corruption, Not Electricity Tariff Increase”.
From Labour House, the protesters marched along Shehu Shagari way en route IBB Boulevard where the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) is located in Wuse Zone 4 District.
At the AEDC office, the union leaders made their case, pressing home their opposition to the electricity tariff increase.
Thereafter, they proceeded to the headquarters of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) where they also demanded the immediate reversal of the tariff hike.
Addressing the protesters, NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, accused NERC of recklessness in the handling of the new electricity tariffs.
He said: “The commission has colluded with the Discos to exploit Nigerians. This is outrageous; this is the extended corruption that Mr. President must fight headlong.
“Any Nigerian that has been given an estimated bill should not pay. People that have bought PHCN, we are aware that some them are incompetent and cannot drive…”
Wabba argued that consultations on the new tariff structure were only restricted to the families and cronies of those who bought the companies.
“We call on Mr. President to quickly put on the board of this commission competent hands. A lot of companies are going under because there is no electricity to power their businesses. Instead of increasing tariffs, let generation be increased,” he said.
On his part, President of TUC, Mr. Boboye Kaigama, warned that failure by the government to heed the demands of organised labour would push the unions to resort to self-help.
Kaigama said: “The next time we come here is to occupy this office. It is our collective wealth. They conniving with the Discos and Gencos to deprive Nigerians of electricity, to deprive Nigerians of equity, it’s a right not a privilege so if NERC cannot do its work, the organised labour will do it.
“Today, we are here witnessing the change that we voted for and the change is bringing darkness for us. We didn’t vote a change that we will see darkness at the end of the tunnel. We voted for change to see light at the end of the tunnel. If the rule of law cannot perform, self-help will perform.”
Taking on Fashola, Kaigama said the increase was carried out without recourse to organised labour, threatening: “If the tariff is not reversed, we are prepared to take over all the Discos – we haven’t seen where a legal luminary will disobey the orders of the court.”
At the National Assembly, where the union leaders were received by Senate President Bukola Saraki, Senate Leader Ali Ndume, Senators Dino Melaye, Andy Uba and others, the protesters demanded that the lawmakers must compel the executive arm of government, especially the Minister of Power, Works and Housing and officials of NERC to reverse the tariff review.
According to Wabba, “Governance is about the good of the people. The companies were privatised five years back, we expect that by now they must have added value, but instead of adding value, they try to exploit Nigerians by increasing the tariffs.
“For the past five years, tariffs have been increased. What makes this increase outrageous is an increase of N14 to N24 per unit, which is between 45 per cent and 60 per cent.
“We have made the point very clear that in this difficult economic situation, it is difficult for Nigerians to swallow this very bitter pill. Nigerians must be carried along in every policy.
“Everywhere in the world, people pay for what they have consumed. So tariffs must be matched with the quantity of electricity consumed.
“Whether you have light or not you pay, you even pay for darkness, we are also paying for inefficiency. The authorities must listen to the cries of the masses. We are here so that this issue can be resolved, we are also demanding that this tariff hike must be halted.”
Responding, the Senate President said: “I want to assure you that the Eighth National Assembly is with the people. You will recollect even before now we too had observed that some of the tariffs were not palatable and we summoned the NERC.
“We stand with you and assure you that no policy will in any way not be palatable to the masses and people. Yes, we want more power; yes, we want more power improvement but not to the detriment of the masses.”
He contended that “there must be consultations, because we are here at your instance and by virtue of you, we are here. We cannot make laws or policies without the people. I want to assure you that this Eighth National Assembly will always stand up for what will ensure the survival of the masses”.
In addition to Lagos and Abuja, the unions picketed the offices of Discos in Benin, Port Harcourt, Osogbo, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Ilorin, Ado-Ekiti, Dutse, Lokoja, Uyo, Calabar, Abeokuta and Bauchi.
The protest nationwide was largely peaceful and saw the chairmen of the state chapters of the unions address the Discos, demanding a reversal of the tariff hike.