5 February 2016

Nigeria: Labour Movements Plan Nationwide Rally Against Electricity Tariffs

Abuja — The organised labour and its civil society allies have planned to embark on a march on major government offices across the country to protest against the 45 per cent hike in electricity tariff.

This comes as the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has described utterances of the Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, as an exhibition of dictatorial tendencies.

In another development, health workers, excluding medical doctors, under the aegis of Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and Assembly of Health Care Professionals (AHPA), have threatened to resume suspended industrial action on February 17, 2016 if the Federal Government fails to fulfill her promises to the group on or before the date.

In a statement in Abuja yesterday by the President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, the Congress said the protest would be carried out in all the 36 states of the federation, including Abuja.

He said: "It is a nation-wide protest, meaning that the 36 states of the federation, including Abuja, will be involved in this action.

"Our members have been sufficiently mobilised 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 is expected to begin at the Labour House, Central Business District at 8.00 a.m. before moving to the office of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and will also march to the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company at Zone 4. The rally will then mobilise from Zone 4 to the National Assembly.

Wabba said the protest rally became necessary after all efforts to make NERC shelve the idea of tariff increase failed.

The NLC also berated Fashola for making spurious arguments to justify the increment.

It hinged its protest on the fact that due process in the extant laws for such increment was not followed in consonance with Section 76 of the Power Sector Reform Act, 2005; there has been no significant improvement in service delivery.

Moreover, the fact is that most consumers are not metered in accordance with the signed privatisation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of November 1, 2013, which stipulates that within 18 months gestation period, all consumers are to be metered; there is a subsisting court order dated May 28, 2015 by Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, in the case of Toluwani Yemi-Adebiyi versus NERC & Others, that there shall be no further increment until the determination of the substantive suit.

The Congress, which further noted that the increment at this time negates the present biting and prevailing economic recession vis-a-vis an attempt to further impoverish the poor masses, stated that distribution companies "have continued to exploit Nigerians by estimated billing system for the majority of consumers while deliberately refusing to make available prepaid meters."

It also alleged that the challenges in the economy, "which have adversely reduced the purchasing power of ordinary Nigerians and slowed down businesses, including manufacturing, have made the increase unsustainable and unjustifiable."

It added: "With the increment, this disparity will not only be substantial, it will kill Nigerians and businesses.

"The saddest part of it all is that there is no correlation between the quality of service delivery and this tariff. The implementation of this tariff is an act of lawlessness because there is a subsisting restraining court order on further increases. And yet, we are in a democracy."

The Congress also asked what the over N214 billion given to electricity sector by the Jonathan government has achieved, saying: "There is nothing to show for it."

It declared that the hike is only meant to protect the investment of a select few and not to serve the interest of other Nigerians. Meanwhile, in a statement signed by the President of TUC, Bobboi Kaigama and Secretary-General, Musa Lawal, TUC observed that Fashola's argument that an Act of the National Assembly actually empowers the commission to increase tariff and that the Act cannot be tampered with even by the federal parliament, is certainly very lame, too simplistic and misleading.

The statement said: "Any Act that preys on the masses that it is supposed to protect negates public policy. Any Act that compels the citizens to pay for services not delivered is not only flawed and undemocratic but is ultra vires the power of the Assembly to make laws for the good of the country, and should not enjoy any applicability. Any Act that further impoverishes the downtrodden and lowly is evil and should be discountenanced. We lend our voice again to advocate the need for the minister and NERC to stop trying to enforce the obnoxious Act."

Also in a statement yesterday signed by leaders of five different associations that make up JOHESU and AHPA, the health workers noted: "In view of the failure of the present Federal Government to accede to our demands as itemised above, JOHJESU and AHPA at their joint meeting, held on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 at the Medical Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) secretariat, Abuja, resolved to give a 15-day ultimatum beginning from February 3, 2016.

"It is our hope and desire that the Federal Government would take necessary steps to ensure that our demands are met on or before Wednesday, February 17, 2016, in order to forestall the impending avoidable industrial action."


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