From Tom Garba, Yola, with agency reports
Organised labour on Monday paralysed activities in nearly all offices of the Electricity Distribution Companies nationwide, following its protest over increased in electricity tariff.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that protesters, led by labour leaders in states, picketed the companies in compliance with the directive of the labour unions
NAN reports that the protest was led nationwide by leaders and members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and civil society groups.
At the head office of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) in Imo, the protesters, as early as 7a.m., padlocked the gate to the company preventing entry into the premises.
At the office located at No. 1, Royce Road, a banner with the inscription, “Organised labour says no to hike in electricity tariff; provide us with prepaid meters, not estimated bills’’, was tied to the gate.
Austin Chilakpu, the state NLC chairman, said the reason for the action was to make known their displeasure over the recent hike in electricity tariff.
“What NLC is doing in Imo today is also taking place in the other 36 states and Abuja.
“We call for this protest following the recent hike in the electricity tariff by 43 per cent and the continued issuing of estimated bills to customers,’’ he said.
Chilakpu recalled that after privatisation of PHCN, the new owners assured that before any increase in tariff, they would make prepaid meters available to consumers.
He stated: “Regrettably, since they took over, the prepaid meters have not been supplied; they only stay back in their offices and issue estimated bills to customers.
“There is no form of corruption like what is going on in the distribution companies, and it is very painful that this is going on while the federal government is fighting corruption,’’ he said.
The NLC chairman also said that the increase was in disobedience to an existing order of a Lagos High Court.
Calabar, Cross River
Also in Calabar, Cross River, the NLC locked out workers of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC).
Mr John Ushie, chairman of NLC in the state said that the action became necessary in order to stop the uncompromising attitude of the distribution companies towards the plight of Nigerians.
According to him, allowing the hike will cause more hardship and increase the spate of criminality in the country.
His words: “If there is an increase in petrol, you pay and you see what you are buying. In the case of electricity, we do not know what we are buying and what we are paying for. There is no light and even when there is light we are having a candle-like kind of light, yet they have gone ahead to increase tariff. We are here this morning to say no to that.
“This picketing is just for one day and after today, if the Federal Government and the companies do not budge, we will declare a total lockdown of the sector.’’
In Abakaliki, Ebonyi, the story is not different, as Labour also shut down the head office of the EEDC in Abakaliki.
Chanting various protest songs, the workers besieged the head office of the distribution company as early as 8a.m.
The workers were led in the protest by the NLC State Chairman, Mr. Ikechukwu Nwafor and his TUC counterpart, Mr Elias Oduma.
Speaking to reporters, Nwafor said due process was not followed in consonance with section 78 of Power Reform Act. He stated: “The government has not followed the right way and due process was not adopted. We say no to this and as such the increment should be reversed with immediate effect. Conditions for metering was not followed, Nigerians are not slaves to anybody, we will resist it with everything within us.”
Also, Oduma said that most consumers were not metered in line with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on privatization signed on November 1, 2013.
According to him, the agreement stipulates that within 18 months gestation period, all consumers are to be metered.
The Adamawa branch of the Nigeria Labour Congress also joined the nationwide protest against the electricity tariff increment.
The protesters barricaded the Yola Electricity Distribution Company in the state capital. Dauda Maina, state Chairman of NLC, said that the protest was to tell the government and the energy companies that they oppose the new tariff.
Maina stated that the tariff increment was an exploitation that would create additional hardship on Nigerians.
His words: “The new tariff is an indirect way of exploiting the consumers. We are of the view that the fixed charges earlier withdrawn should be sustained and the tariff should also be reverted to the status quo,” Maina said.
Reacting to the protest, Mr. Kingsley Nkemneme, Senior Corporate Communications Officer of the YEDC said that the reviewed tariff was done in the interest of the consumers and the Nigerian power sector.
His words: “What was obtainable before now is not a cost-reflective figure that will improve the power sector.”
He said that the main component of the reviewed tariff was the removal of the fixed charges and that the new tariff was “pay as you go.”
Speaking on the incident, the Public Relation Officer of YEDC, Mr. Aliyu Ardo, who was among the stranded staff of the organisation, said the increase in tariff was not the decision by the distribution companies but the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) who fixed the new tariff.
Ardo said the new tariff would not be harsh on customers as the usual fixed charge has been removed.
He urged Nigerians to accept the increase in good faith as it would further stabilise power supply in the country.
Ardo said YEDC, which is responsible for power supply in Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Taraba states, has started restoring power supply in areas recovered from Boko Haram in Borno and Adamawa state.
“In Adamawa for instance, we have restored power in Gombi, Hong and Mubi towns”, Ardo said.
The protests were peaceful across the states covered as armed security operatives were stationed to forestall break down of law and order.