Nigeria: NEPA workers say no privatization

This article, written by a Nigerian trade union leader argues the case against privatisation of the state-run NEPA electricity company.

The comrade, however, after pointing out all the mismanagement of the various regimes (all part of a plan to force through privatisation) makes two mistakes towards the end of his article. The first is to say that in the more advanced countries privatsiation is acceptable. The privatsiation of electricity supplies in the industrialised capitalist countries has not led to any real improvement. Jobs have been cut, prices increased, and in some areas where there had hardly ever been power cuts these have now become more common. The second mistake is to argue for the freedom for private investors to build their own power stations. This means basically allowing private capitalists to compete with the state. This would in no way lead to the electrification of the country, especially in the rural areas. the NEPA workers rightly refuse privatisation because they instinctively understand what it would lead to. There is no need for any further concessions. The unions must soy NO to privatisation, full stop!

The Government policy to privatize is generally anti-worker and at best to further impoverish the teeming masses of this country. Because labour has the right to reject outrightly any policy, law and regulation that are repressive to the workers, the National Union of Electricity Employees is saying NO to the intended privatization of NEPA, and will resist vehemently any attempt by the Government to privatize the industry. Our Union's position is not informed only by the fear of job losses that have usually accompanied such exercises in the past but because of the following amongst others.

It is the responsibility of the fovernment to electrify the entire country. Today, Nigeria is only 30% electrified, if eventually we allow the government to execute its obnoxious privatization agenda, will Private Company(ies) electrify the remaining 70% that is currently not covered by the National Grid? The answer is definitely NO - hence our resistance. Thus, NUEE must mobilise and educate all and sundry to stand up for their rights and say NO to the government intended privatization of NEPA because our rural areas will remain without light forever if NEPA is allowed to be privatized.

The sensitivity of the electricity industry is another major factor. The intended privatization as planned by the Bureau of Public Enterprises is transformation of a public monopoly into a private monopoly. This is very dangerous to this country at our level of development.
The level of poverty in Nigeria is very high and the privatization of social utilities like NEPA will further impoverish the mass in this country. This is true because privatization of NEPA will bring about high prices for the product, i.e. electricity will become very expensive and out of the reach of the common man. Thus, the welders, hairdressers, saloon operators, fashion designers, etc., will not be able to buy the product and the bandwagon effect is that the majority of the self-employed will go out of business and poverty will be a recurring decimal in our national life.

Privatization of private utilities generally involves the withdrawal of subsidies, and this is only reasonable in those countries where the government stands up to its social welfare responsibilities. In such countries, workers are paid wages above the living wage stipulated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the unemployed are paid unemployment benefits, Medicare is almost free and functional transportation system is in place, etc. In contrast, these facilities are not available in Nigeria - hence the government must stop further privatization of public utilities.

The government has consistently told the world that the privatization bid for NEPA is a result of the organization's failure to meet up with its constitutional responsibility of generating, transmitting, distributing and selling of electricity. The Nigerian masses should hold the government responsible for such failure. First, the government abandoned the industry for more than 25 years. The last power station was built in the 1980s, i.e. Lagos Thermal Station at Egbin, the transmission lines were neglected and staff welfare and other motivational schemes such as training, promotion, etc., were almost non-existent because of government neglect.

With this scenario, how do you expect NEPA to perform credibly? In addition the management of NEPA over the years was appointed by the government. Irrelevant and over-inflated contracts were awarded by them. When the government says its has spent N70 million on NEPA, the actual expenditure could be less than N20 million, while the balance is shared among themselves. So they should be bold enough to accept responsibility for NEPA's failure. With all that they claim to have spent on NEPA since the assumption of office by the Obasanjo administration, you would be sick and surprised to hear that NEPA is still highly indebted to its employees, while staff-members are still very loyal and dedicated to their duties.

Now that the government is showing interest in the electricity needs of the nation, they should not come with that deathly pill called privatization. The alternative the union is calling for is full commercialization of the Authority. NEPA should be allowed to exist as an autonomous and commercialized government company capable of making decisions with little or no interference from the Ministry. Those intending to buy NEPA should build their own power stations and participate in the electricity business. Indeed, we welcome private participation.
Brooms and Siscoms, it is sorrowful to note that the NLC President, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, on whose shoulders the campaign for national working class solidarity to fight against privatization and deprivation lies, has rather become the unofficial political adviser to Chief Obasanjo and a Consultant to the PDP Government on matters that will jettison the wellbeing of the Nigerian Working Class and the poor masses. Oshiomhole sits on the board of the National Council on Privatization and is fully in support of government intention to sell everything. It is indeed unfortunate for Labour and the class struggle in Nigeria.

By Brocom Obol,
M.E.E Ntukubes Chairman,
National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE)
May 2003

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