Nationwide picketing of DISCOs as labour, civil society protest high electricity tariff

NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba
By Our Reporters

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and civil society organisation on Monday disrupted operations of the electricity distribution companies, known as DISCOs, across the country in a protest against the planned introduction of high electricity tariffs.

Reports from our correspondents showed that the offices of the electricity distribution firms in Kaduna, Plateau, Ebonyi Kano and other states were picketed.

KADUNA

Heavily-armed security operatives blocked the main gates to the zonal office of the electricity distribution company here.

The office is in charge of the operations in Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states.

As early as 7am, our correspondent said members of the NLC and civil society groups led by the Kaduna State chairman of the NLC, Adamu Ango, had taken positions by the zonal electricity distribution office and were singing solidarity songs.

The protester also displayed placards with inscriptions such as: “Unilateral Tarrif, Closure of more factories”, “All consumers must be provided with prepaid meters free”, “PMB probe the so-called sale of NEPA/PHCN”, “Privatization of NEPA/PHCN was a scam: PMB please probe.”

Others read, “NERC Provide Electricity and Prepaid Meters.” “Are DISCOS above the law?” “No Industrialization without electrification”, “NERC improve service delivery before tariff increase.”

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Ango said the planned increase in electricity tariff was criminal and should be resisted by Nigerians.

He noted that the congress would soon come out with a position on the current sack and non-payment of casual staff by the management of the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company.

“We shall await directives from our national office on the next line of action after today’s picketing,” he said.

“We will also address issues such as the sacking of our members and non-payment of benefits to casual staff and many other industrial disputes between the management and our members,” he said.

Our correspondent said the state Police Commissioner, Umar Shehu, visited the scene of the protest and addressed his officers.

PLATEAU

As early as 6am, our correspondent reported that protesters, led by the state chapter of the NLC, blocked the Jos zonal office of the Electricity Distribution Company along Rwang Pam Street.

The office is in charge of operations in Gombe, Benue, Bauchi and Plateau States.

While the zonal office in Jos was being picketed, our correspondent said protesters also blocked major substations across the state, a situation he reported, resulted in a power outage.

Addressing journalists, the state NLC chairman, Jibrin Banchir, said the picketing was a nationwide decision of the congress against unnecessary billing of Nigerians by the energy sector without commensurate service.

“We are here to register our displeasure to the DISCOs for overbilling Nigerians. We have found out that the organisation is only interested in hiking tariff and the NLC, TUC and CLO are against it.

“It is unfortunate that 75 percent of Nigerians are paying estimated bills. They pay for what they do not consume,” he told reporters.

Some of the placard displayed by the union members read, “Deliver before taxation”, “We say no to high tariff charges”, “Increase power supply not tariff”, “We are fighting against overbilling”, “Darkness is synonymous to robbery.”

An activist, Steve Aloku, said the new tariff introduced by the electricity distribution companies was capable of triggering bloody crises across the country.

“We are running away from possible bloody revolution against the energy sector and if we must fight corruption, let it begin with the energy sector,” Mr. Aloko said.

EBONYI

It was the state NLC chairman, Ikechukwu Nwafor, and his counterpart in the Trade Union Congress, TUC, Elias Oduma, who led the protest.

Chanting solidarity songs, the protesters took over the entrance to the distribution office as early as 8am.

Our correspondent reported that the arrival of the protesters caused some staff of the company who had reported for work to lock up their offices and flee.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Nwafor said due process was not followed in the introduction of the new tariff, arguing that the policy violated Section 78 of Power Reform Act.

The labour leader also maintained that the new tariff was unnecessary in view of the fact that there had been no significant improvement in service delivery.

“The government has no right to increase the tariff and due process was not followed. That is why we say no to it.

“The policy should be reversed with immediate effect as the condition for metering was not followed. Nigerians are not slaves to anybody. We will resist it with everything within us and we will make it uncomfortable for them,” said Mr. Nwafor.

On his part, the TUC chairman, Mr. Oduma said most consumers were not given meters as provided for in the privatisation Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, of Nov 1 2013.

According to him, the MoU stipulated 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 in the case between Toluwani Yemi-Adebiyi versus NERC and others.

“The increment will further impoverish the people who are already suffering from the national economic recession,” Mr. Oduma said.

KANO

There was a mild drama at the premises of the Kano Electricity Distribution Company, when leaders of the organised labour and civil society organisation arrived.

The protesters, led by the state NLC chairman, Kabiru Minjibir, did not block the gates of the company but insisted that all the offices must be shut.

Mr. Minjibir said they were in the company to deliver a massage but not to close it down.

“We are here to only deliver a message but not to close down the office,” the NLC chairman said, as leaders of the protesters went into a closed-door meeting with management of the power company.

Shortly after the meeting, Mr. Minjibir told journalists they were not in the office to cause harm but to ensure that the letter they brought for onward delivery to President Muhammadu Buhari was received.

However, the spokesperson for the electricity distribution company, Muhammad Kandi, challenged the notion that there was no improvement in the supply of electricity in the country.

Mr. Kandi said supply has improved significantly not only in Kano but all over the federation.

As part of the terms on the MoU, he said the company has distributed at least 150,000 to consumers, adding that another consignment of meters would soon be delivered to the zone.

OGUN

Protesters locked out staff of the electricity distribution company in Ogun State and disrupted traffic along the Moshood Abiola Way, in Abeokuta metropolis.

Our reporter said the protest, which drew hundreds of workers and activists, was led by the state NLC chairman, Akeem Ambali, and his TUC counterpart, Olubunmi Fajobi and Yinka Folarin of Coalition of Civil Societies.

Before arriving at the premises of the electricity distribution company, the protesters had walked through a number of markets and major areas Abeokuta to sensitise the public on the need to kick against the tariff.

Some of protesters wielded placards which read, “Stop the forceful extortion”,

“Transformers and pre-paid meters must be free”’, “We say no to increment”, “Electricity is our right,” and “Fashola don’t be demonic. Stop extortion.”

At the entrance of the company, located along Moshood Abiola Way, Abeokuta, the protesters blocked the gates to prevent staff from entering the premises.

While the protest lasted, traffic on the dual carriage way came to a stop, a situation which forced motorists to turn to adjoining roads.

The police and other security operatives were seen monitoring the protest from a safe distance to prevent possible breakdown of law and order.

The protesters mounted speakers blaring Fela Kuti’s songs on top of one their vehicles, chanting anti-tariff increase slogans.

Reporting by Garba Abdullahi (Kaduna); Andrew Ajijah (Jos); James Eze (Abakaliki); Muhammad Ahmad (Kano); Dimeji Kayode-Adedeji (Abeokuta)


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