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NLC, TUC Threaten Nationwide Picketing if Electricity Tariff Hike Isn’t Reversed

Nigerian trade unions have accused the power regulator of colluding with distribution companies to impose oppressive electricity tariffs.

Organised labour, under the auspices of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), has given the federal government and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) a May 12 deadline to reverse the hike in electricity tariff to N65/kwh or face picketing of the commission’s offices and that of Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) nationwide.

NLC directed its state branches and affiliates to mobilise their members to commence picketing of the offices of NERC and DISCOs nationwide as from Monday, May 13.

In a warning letter jointly signed by NLC President Joe Ajaero and his TUC counterpart, Festus Osifo, the two labour centres demanded immediate cessation of the discriminatory segregation of electricity consumers into arbitrary bands.

They also demanded the restoration of the supremacy of the statutes governing the conduct of operators within the electricity industry.

The letter, dated May 3, 2024 and addressed to Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of NERC, urged the regulatory body to immediately reverse the electricity tariff hike or face resistance from the workers.

The letter was also copied the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Minister of Labour and Employment, Minister of Power, and all the DISCOs.

Last month, NERC increased electricity tariffs on Band A customers from N65 per kilowatt hour (kwh) to N225/kWh following the government’s partial removal of electricity subsidies.

This decision attracted condemnation from electricity consumers nationwide, including organised labour and private sector stakeholders.

In the letter to NERC, organised labour accused the body of bias, alleging that it has become a tacit collaborator in crafting the oppressive pricing regime being perpetuated against Nigerian workers and people.

The statement said, “This is to refer you to our May Day address where we expressed grave concerns regarding the recent announcement of an astronomical hike in electricity tariff across the nation from N65/kwh to N225/kwh by your commission.

“We believe that this decision is not just morally reprehensible considering the difficulties Nigerians are faced with currently, but it blatantly disregards fundamental principles and statutory obligations.

“It is a slap in the face of justice and fairness, and we will not stand idly by as the masses and workers are subjected to such unacceptable exploitation.

“As the regulator of the electricity sector, it is imperative that your commission grasps the weight of its responsibilities. NERC’s role entails the regulation of electricity tariffs in the country, a duty outlined in explicit detail within the statutes governing the commission.

“Yet, with this recent tariff hike, which you have acquiesced, it 1s evident that the commission has forsaken its duty and abandoned the people it was meant to protect to the fat cats in the electricity industry.

“We are miffed that NERC has become a tacit collaborator in crafting the oppressive pricing regime being perpetuated against Nigerian workers and people.”

The labour movement said the laws that set up the electricity commission mandated it to act as an unbiased ombudsman in the electricity industry.

But labour said, unfortunately, the reverse had been the case, as NERC had acted in cahoots with the DISCQs and the Generating Companies (GENCOs) to promote their nefarious market practices.

According to organised labour, the announced tariff hike not only defies the established procedure mandated by law but also tramples upon the rights of Nigerian citizens.

Labour described the increase as a flagrant abuse of power and a clear violation of the trust bestowed upon the commission by the Nigerian people.

It stated in the letter, “Such actions will not be tolerated, and we refuse to accept them as the new norm. Nigerian workers and masses, led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), stand united in denouncing this injustice. It is our duty to defend the rights of our fellow citizens against exploitation. Therefore, we issue the following demands:

“An immediate reversal of the hike in electricity tariff to N65/kwh. Immediate cessation of the discriminatory practice of segregating electricity consumers into arbitrary bands.

“Restoration of the supremacy of the statutes governing the conduct of operators within the electricity industry.

“We give you until Sunday, the 12th day of May, 2024, to comply. Failure to do so will result in swift and decisive action on our part, as we will not hesitate to mobilise our members and occupy all NERC’s offices and those of the DISCOs nationwide until justice is served.”

Following the deadline issued to NERC and the DISCOs, the leadership of NLC wrote to all its state branches to mobilise workers in readiness for the picketing.

The letter dated May 7, 2024 and signed by NLC’s acting General Secretary, Mr. Chris Ufot, said, “In line with the directive of the Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting held on 30th of April, 2024, I have been directed to inform you to commence preparation to picket the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission and Disco offices in the states. The nationwide picketing is slated for Monday, May 13, 2024.”

Meanwhile, the NLC president defended the proposal submitted by labour for a new minimum wage of N615,000 for Nigerian workers.

Speaking during a news programme on Arise Television on Thursday, Ajaero said the proposed amount took into consideration the current cost of living in the country.

He also responded to the concerns by employers of labour, especially those in the private sector, saying since the cost of goods and services in the country have skyrocketed, the workers have no choice than to demand commensurate pay rise.

Ajaero said, “We are asking for accommodation of N40,000. We are asking for electricity for N20,000. We look at utility that is about N10,000 and kerosene and gas, which is about N25,000 and N30,000.

“We look at food for N9,000 for the family of six, in a day. For 30 days, that’s about N270,000. We look at medical for N50,000 and education N50,000, and sanitisation for N10,000.

“Because of subsidy removal and the fact that workers stay in fringes, that amounted to N110,000. That brought the whole thing to N615,000.”

“And I want anybody to subject this to further investigation and find out if there will be any savings after these payments.”

Kingsley Nwezeh, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Nume Ekeghe and Adedayo Akinwale

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