8 February 2016

Nigeria: Workers Begin Protest Against Electricity Tariff Hike

NIGERIA Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and other affiliate unions are planning a protest against recent increase in electricity tariff today.

General Secretary of NLC, Peter Ozo-Eson, confirmed in a chat with The Guardian yesterday that there was no going back on the proposed protest nationwide.

However, in a twist, electricity workers cautioned against the planned picketing of Distribution Companies (DISCOs) and Generation Companies (GENCOs).

Under the aegis of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), the workers explained that such action should be directed and targeted at the Federal Government and its agencies such as the Ministry of Power and the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).

The union in a statement by its General Secretary, Joe Ajaero, explained that when the union was fighting the privatization of the assets of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), many Nigerians misunderstood the electricity workers' grouse.

Meanwhile, NLC chieftain and Secretary General of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), Comrade Issa Aremu yesterday said that the labour protest against the hike in tariff is to save the nation's ailing economy and to fight for poor Nigerians.

Aremu in a statement yesterday in Kaduna said, "The textile union instead calls for improvement in power supply," while lamenting, "between 30 per cent and 35 per cent of textile and garment manufacturing costs are energy related expenses."

In contradiction of Ajaero's stand, Aremu said, all textiles workers declare support to 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, 2016 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. 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," he said.

He argued, "Without electricity there can be no industrialization. The promise and expectation that President Muhammadu Buhari will revive textile industry generally is also not possible without electricity. Also, its time for Buhari administration to critically review the power sector reform. To this extent, government should listen to the voice and suggestions of the power sector unions namely the NUEE."

Aremu urged President Buhari to "urgently revisit the report of the 2014 national conference and implement the holistic recommendations for the power sector instead of allowing the same unhelpful posting of high tariff by underperforming generating and distribution companies, adding, "Power and energy is so strategic to the industrialisation and the wellbeing of the people."

In Imo State, after much bickering between the NLC and the Governor Rochas Okorocha over the sack of workers in the 19 state-owned parastatals, agencies and departments, the governor yesterday appealed to the workers to shelve the planned protest.

Consequently, Okorocha urged the NLC led by its president, Ayuba Wabba, to prevail on the congress at the state led by Mr. Austin Chilakpu to rescind their decision to declare trade dispute.

Suggesting a different approach to Aremu's view, NUEE said, "We believe that as a responsible trade union whose members work in the power sector; and thus, are also affected by this mindless increase, we must state that the DISCOs and GENCOs are not the sole beneficiaries of that decision. If any organisation should bear the brunt of our attacks, it must be the Federal Government and its Ministries and Agencies within the sector especially NERC and the Federal Ministry of Power.

"We believe that it is our civic responsibility and duty to educate those championing the picketing exercise to be properly directed on the targets of their picketing effort. Let it be clear that NUEE supports every effort to resist the increase in electricity tariff and other anti-people policies of the Government but we will advise our compatriots to be target specific so that we may not be accused of fighting the wrong parties in this case. Few days ago, the minister also counselled the National Assembly members that they could not force the power companies not to increase tariff because these companies do not have the power to do so," Ajaero stated.

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