2 October 2011, Sweetcrude, Lagos- NIGERIA Labour Congress, NLC, has said if the revelations at the Senate Hearing on Privatisation especially energy, are anything to go by, a people-oriented reforms in the nation’s Power sector, is a mirage.
At a Power Sector Workshop in Abuja, President of NLC, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, lamented how former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration allegedly wasted over $16billion into “reforming” the sector and achieved nothing substantial.
Comrade Omar argued that labour had been in the forefront of progressive reforms in the Power sector and recalled that under General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, electricity workers made a comprehensive study of the sector and came up with recommendations.
He said these recommendations were ignored, and when the senior staff decided to go on strike to press for needed reforms in order to save the system from collapse, the General Ibrahim Babangida regime rounded up their leaders and jailed them.
According to him, “There is no doubt that we have a serious problem in the sector. On this, all Nigerians are agreed, but the issue is what type of reforms is needed, for what purpose and in whose interests? Back in the 80s, electricity workers made a comprehensive study of the sector and came up with recommendations. These were ignored, and when the senior staff decided to go on strike to press for needed reforms in order to save the system from collapse, the General Ibrahim Babangida regime rounded up their leaders. These electricity Labour Leaders were arraigned before a tribunal where the Federal Government asked for the death penalty. Eventually, eleven of the Labour Leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment.
“We have stated this to show that workers have been at the fore front of energy reforms in the country decades before the country’s political leadership woke up to this realization. The reform path being pursued by the political class is the normal gambit of privatization. But if the revelations at the Senate Hearing on energy are anything to go by, this may not be viable. Our position is that as it was done in the telecommunication industry and private electronic media, more players should be brought in. The emphasis should be availability and affordability of electricity.
This is not new, since 1929, the Nigeria Electricity Supply company has been operating in Jos and supplying electricity efficiently to consumers. We need to study this and re-enact it on a national scale.
“We should not go the same way the President Obasanjo administration did which threw over $16billion into “reforming” the sector and achieved nothing substantial. We appeal to the Federal Government not to compound the problems of Nigerians and indeed the country by increasing the electricity tariff in the country. We reiterate that the submission by the Electricity Regulatory Commission to increase tariff by between 50 to 100 percent is an invitation to chaos. This unpatriotic submission must be rejected.”
It will be recalled that the leaders of the two labour centres, NLC and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, led thousands of workers on the streets of Abuja against the anti-people’s privatization programme of government and planned hike in electricity tariff.
The protest which ended at the National Assembly paralysed activities at the Assembly.
The worker who were in their hundreds marched the streets of Abuja and came to the front gate of the Assembly Complex with a call for the trial of former President Chief Olusegun over what they termed his ‘dirty roles ‘ in the entire privatization and commercialization process which is presently under probe by the Senator Ahmad Lawan led Ad-hoc Committee.
The protesting workers were led by the President of NLC, Mr Abdulwahab Omar and the TUC President, Peter Esele who arrived the Complex at about 9.30am with over 300 buses.
The protesters displayed placards condemning the privatization of federal government investments since 1999.
Some of the placards read, “No to privatization,” “Privatization is Evil,” ”No to increment in the fuel price”, “Goodluck we voted for you, Act now.”
The protesting workers and their leaders in a protest letter tagged, ‘Save our Nation Rally’’ detailed some of grievances including increase in electricity tariff and privatization.
Addressing the crowd, NLC President, Omar Abdulwaheed said, “we made a vow to come to NASS on behalf of the Nigerian people and we are here particularly on the issue of sales of public utilities, the
Nigerian workers in their wisdom has decided to support the Nigerian senate on the probe. We do not want the report to be swept under the carpet like that of the Godwin Elumelu led panel on Power that we gathered that over $16billion was misappropriated and the report died,
“We cannot afford to let this probe be swept under the carpet like the power probe Ndidi Elumelu conducted in the previous session of the National Assembly. It is unacceptable to us. So we are here basically to support the Senators.’’
Also speaking, NLC Head of Administration/Industrial Relations, Comrade Emma Ugbuaja, “the former President, Obasanjo must face the probe panel and give account as to how the sales were made and those that are the beneficiaries of our national wealth because we know they all went into the pockets of rich individuals.
Similarly, Deputy Secretary of National Union of Air Transport Employees, Peter Ogaba, the protest became imperative because it would help checkmate the Federal Government from further “sales of our commonwealth and a proper account must be given to us as to how the sales were conducted.”