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Socialist Democracy August September 2017


17 July 2017

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4 YEARS AFTER PRIVATISATION, ELECTRICITY SUPPLY HAS GONE WORSE AMIDST EXTORTION OF CONSUMERS

For Renationalisation of Electricity under Democratic Management and Control

By Chinedu Bosah

Almost 4 years into privatization of the power sector, electricity supply across the federation remains epileptic and the private power companies have shown lack of capacity to stabilize the sector let alone improve it. Besides, all other anti-consumers policies have been unleashed by the private companies.

According to the Independent of April 2, 2017, "The daily operational report of the National Control Centre (NCC) of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) revealed recently that six out of the 11 power generation companies (GENCOS) failed to generate electricity in one week due to constraints of gas and water to the power plants. The GENCOS that recorded zero electricity during the week-long period included Sapele 1, Afam IV-V, A.E.S, ASCO, Transamadi and River IPP."

Many communities have experienced blackout for weeks or months due to the inability of the private power companies to fix, upgrade or install basic facilities and infrastructures. In some cases, the communities themselves are forced to fix faulty transformers, aluminum conductors etc., including installing new ones.

THE PROFIT SYSTEM IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FAILURE

One touching issues that set consumers/communities against the power companies, particularly the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) is over billing of consumers through systematic and deliberate estimated billing. One of the agreements reached between the power companies and the federal government was for all consumers to be issued meters within 18 months from November 1, 2013 when power sector was privatized. Despite this agreement, there is still widespread overbilling through estimated billing and yet Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the federal government have failed to call the distribution companies to order.

The pursuit of profit through neo-liberal policies (privatisation) is responsible for the continuation of the crisis in the power sector. The ruling elite and top government officials who had benefited immensely from the corrupt and bureaucratic management structure of the former public corporations, including the power sector, turned around to acquire them and have continued to shortchange and profit from the working masses. The sector was sold at a giveaway price of N480 billion without liability while the sector is worth trillions of Naira.

Ruling class interest and solidarity was exhibited recently when the federal government and NERC ordered the DISCOs to stop issuing estimated billing to Maximum Demand (MD) electricity customers who consume 45KVA and above. The directive went ahead to state that MD electricity customers should not pay any estimated billing henceforth from March 1, 2017. Government has come to rescue big consumers from estimated billing but has abandoned the poor working masses in their millions who are daily being subjected to extortion through estimated billing.

It is also profit motive that made it possible for over two-third of the total gas produced to be exported at a more profitable price while the country is starved of gas and, where it is made available, it is mostly unaffordable. For instance, there is a 620 mile pipeline that transport gas to some neighbouring countries while gas infrastructure to generating plants in the country is grossly lacking despite the fact that Nigeria has the 7th largest proven gas reserves.

It is the pursuit of profit that has engendered perennial hikes in electricity billing despite falling standard. Just recently NERC hinted that electricity billing will be increased on a bi-monthly basis to enable the power companies make more profit.

Two years ago, human rights lawyer, Barrister Toluwani Adebiyi sued NERC and DISCOs. Subsequently, Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court ordered NERC and the DISCOs not to hike tariff in May 2015 and finally gave a judgment on July 13, 2016 that declared the hike as illegal, irresponsible and ordered a reversal. Hence, the last 45% hike in February 1, 2016, was a violation of the May 2015 court order by the DISCOs, NERC and the federal government. DISCOs and NERC appealed the judgment and the Court of Appeal in a judgment delivered on July 10 2017 set aside the judgment of Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court and ordered that the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court should reassign the matter to another Judge for retrial. This of course only shows the limitation of the bourgeois courts and the need for the "No light, no pay" mass struggles in the communities to be built and strengthened.

STRUGGLE BREAKS OUT IN COMMUNITIES

Due to the blackout and unfair practices of the DISCOs that charge consumers much more than what was consumed, struggles have broken out in communities. Just like Agege, Aboru, Ago Palace who had engaged the DISCOs in struggles in the past, Awodi-Ora community in Ajegunle have engaged the Distribution Company over estimated billing and epileptic power supply in the last three months. The residents have organized protest and several mass meetings such that the management was forced to listen to their demands and promised to meet some of the demands. Some of these ongoing struggles right from onset were spearheaded by members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and the Ajegunle branch of the DSM. But in some other communities, the people themselves and community activists appeared to be the driving force. In many ways, the electricity struggle is drawing new layers into struggle something vital in the ongoing radicalization of mass consciousness.

Their demands like many other communities remain (1) an end to estimated billing and issuance of pre-paid meter, (2) supply of uninterrupted power supply, (3) improvement of working condition of electricity sector workers, (4) reversal of the tariff hike etc.

THE WAY FORWARD

It has become obvious that privatization is not the solution given the experiences of ordinary Nigerians since November 2013. The reason why the power sector failed when it was publicly owned and run was because it was managed bureaucratically and undemocratically thus leading to entrenched nepotism, corruption, profligacy and this undermined the efficiency and effectiveness that would have been achieved.

The only ownership and managerial structure that can guarantee uninterrupted power supply is renationalization (public ownership) of the power sector and its placement under democratic control and management of workers and consumers as a means to guarantee uninterrupted power supply at the shortest possible time while also permitting massive investment in renewable energy such as solar, wind etc.