By ETIM ETIM
It should be a big shame and embarrassment to the Buhari administration that electricity workers had embarked on a nationwide industrial action and plunged the whole nation into darkness. I do not know of what other hardship is yet to be visited on Nigerians before President Buhari leaves office. By turning off gas turbines and power plants, the electricity workers have declared economic sabotage and subversion against the nation. It is a scandal that the government could not prevent this strike, and it speaks to the growing ineffectuality of the Buhari administration. This is a real lame duck government. The Ministers of Labour and Power and the Management of TCN should be fired right away.
The workers are protesting non-payment of outstanding arrears owed former workers of defunct PHCN, suspension of conditions of service and lack of defined career path for workers and the directive by the TCN Board to conduct promotion interviews for acting principal managers who are moving to Assistant General Manager positions. Two years ago, I served as an official of my estate residents’ association in Uyo, and I had cause to interact regularly with PHED workers. They were always complaining of these same issues to me, especially the lack of career path in their jobs. It is therefore a shock that the same problems have led to this strike action that has plunged the nation into a huge economic loss.
I wish to seriously condemn the ineptitude of this government in handling certain important duties. This strike action is the clearest manifestation of the administration’s inability to nib a problem in the bud before it overwhelms us. We have seen many instances in which every single problem grew into a crippling crisis in the last seven years. IPOB crisis, scarcity of aviation fuel and rampant kidnappings all started as isolated infractions but gradually burgeoned into paralyzing calamities in a short time. Now that electricity workers have gone on strike, I would not be surprised if Aviation workers, Policemen or Customs officials don’t join next time. After all, nobody seems to have any care for how the country is fairing.
We should be clear that the DISCO and GENCO workers who are on strike today are not government employees. They are actually staffs of privately owned companies who bought the assets and liabilities of the defunct PHCN in the last days of the Jonathan administration I believe that the transactions and the power structure that emerged were poorly thought out. Th. e industry has not performed optimally since its privatization.
Before PHCN was privatized in 2014, electricity workers were barred by law from embarking on industrial action. Such an action would have been deemed as an economic sabotage punishable by long prison term. In all of my 40 odd years as an adult, I can only remember one incident when these workers attempted an industrial action in the 1990s. But it was met with a brutal response from the IBB military junta. The ring leaders were not only sacked, they were arrested and detained under Decree 2.
This is 2022. The Buhari administration has just 10 months to go. I guess the electricity workers have come to the realization that nobody has any iota of respect and regards for this government. Almost every workers’ union has been on strike in the last seven years. I remember calling a Director in the National Library some months ago in connection with my book project, and she responded that she was home because her union had been on strike for several months. ASUU’s strike, we all know, has shut down public universities for a cumulative period of over a year in the last seven years. It is inconceivable that a government would be so complacent to allow all these chaos.
The electricity workers’ strike would inflict the greatest harm on the already fragile economy and social life in the country. It is difficult to estimate the extent to which the pervasive security challenges would be further impacted by this strike. So, why did the Ministry of Labour not able to thwart the workers’ action despite the fact that it was presaged by a series of picketing and warnings across the nation? Why was no single person in TCN, Ministry of Power and even the intelligence community incapable of doing something to stop the workers? Was the government not alerted to this? Don’t we have a mechanism of early warnings within the government? What exactly is the worth of the federal government if it cannot protect us from all these miseries?
The workers should call off this strike right away, and the government and TCN should get quickly resolve this matter with their employers. I believe that given the centrality of of electricity in our economy, the workers have committed a serious economic sabotage by their action. They should be condemned; and to prevent a recurrence, the National Assembly should make a law that criminalizes an industrial action by certain workers, including electricity workers, just as it is illegal for the people in law enforcement to go on strike.
Etim Etim is a politician and public relations consultant in Abuja