Image: The author, Jaye Gaskia
*Contending pathways to change: Distributing the burden of change and the oncoming class battles*
As the new ‘Governing Party’ – the APC settles down and begins to actually govern; and as it finally constitute a government five long months after its inauguration, the consequences of the deliberate vote catching and citizen grievance mobilizing ambiguity of its ‘Change Mantra’ and its yet to be defined ‘Common Sense Revolution’, will begin to rapidly catch up with it.
Because the change that was promised was not very clearly defined, and is yet to be clearly outlined; and because the change that the long suffering ordinary citizens desire is very likely to be more deep rooted and far reaching than the elastic limit of the governing party, there appears to be quite a number of potential pitfalls, potholes, and contentious spaces between the ‘change government’ and the expectations of ordinary citizens along the way as the President Muhammadu Buhari [PMB] government continues to govern.
Additionally this government and the APC has come into office and power at a period when the economy is distressed and is in decline, with GDP growth rate declining from just over 4% in 2013 to just over 2.3% in Q2 2015.
Because of this dire situation, compounded by the collapse in crude oil prices will make it incumbent on the PMB government to take some very harsh steps and make some very hard decisions in the coming months and throughout the life of its four year tenure.
This is to be expected, however though, these decisions and hard choices are not going to be made in a vacuum, they are not going to be value free decisions, they will be decisions and choices made and mediated through intense overt and covert class battles between the selfish interests of a few ruling class elites and the critical existential interests of the overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens, the impoverished working people who are the main victims of the decades of mis-rule, bad governance and uncommon greed of the treasury looting and light fingered ruling class.
At every decisive junction and turn along the tortuous road to the future, attempts will be made by the ruling elites to shift the bulk, and disproportionate burden of stemming the tide of economic decline, of recovery from the economic crisis unto the fragile shoulders of the poor.
Let us make it very clear from the onset that the most decisive factor, the single most significant factor in getting our country and people into the present dire situation is absolutely the failed governance of the light fingered ruling class driven and propelled by their insatiable greed and aided and abetted by the crass impunity that have enabled them to like a swarm of locusts completely lay to waste our collective patrimony and common wealth.
Inspite of this glaring reality, they will seek to rewrite the narrative of our crisis and shift the blame to the ordinary citizens, marginalized and excluded from power, over whom they have reigned uninterruptedly since the foundation of the country.
As this ‘amorphous change project’ begins to be unfolded and actualized several contentious issues of existential significance to the masses will arise over which more or less acrimonious intra and inter class struggles will be waged, in a deep seethed battle for the soul and future of our country.
Let us illustrate some of the more obvious of these contentious issues over which the ruling class will be up in arms in battle in order to shift the burden either exclusively or disproportionately unto ordinary citizens.
Over the coming months, as the new regime struggles with dwindling and increasingly scarce resources, three key areas appear to be those over which their maybe immediate contestations and battles. These are Electricity tariffs; price of refined petroleum products and so-called subsidy; as well as income from taxation, in particular Value Added Tax [VAT].
As we write there is a call and seeming determination by the DISCOS and GENCOS to significantly increase electricity tariffs across the board by November 2015. The DISCOS are making demands for an average of 30% and 49% increase in commercial/industrial and residential tariffs respectively.
The implication of this is that tariffs will increase by more than a third, and by nearly half the current rates for industrial and residential users respectively. In very simple terms this means that if as a resident your monthly electricity bill at home is say 2,000, 5,000 or 10,000 Naira, going forward your monthly bill will rise to 3,000; 7,500; or 15,000 Naira respectively at current usage rate.
Similarly for businesses and commercial usage, monthly electricity bills will go up from say 10,000; 50,000; 100,000; or 500,000 Naira to 13,000; 68,000; 133,000; or 680,000 Naira monthly respectively depending on the scale of your business [whether you are small, medium, or a large scale enterprise].
But all of these will be taking place in a context of reduced access to money, stagnant wages, and rising and increasingly unsustainable cost of doing business in the country.
The implication of these will be a multiplier effect that will be seen in rising inflation and increased costs for goods and services, making Nigerian businesses and their products uncompetitive in the market; leading to reduced spending by citizens and reduced savings, and further compounding the economic crisis by engendering further decline, business closures, massive retrenchment, and reduced capacity utilization for businesses and industries.
In fact both NACCIMA and MAN on behalf of the organized private sector have cautioned against and rejected the planned increases; just as labour and civil society organisations on behalf of citizens have also cried out against the planned increases.
It is important to put all of these in context, and against the background of the power sector reform process since 2001.
Over this period of time, with a questionable privatization exercise in tow, and having the injecting of more than $40bn in public funds cumulatively; available power generation capacity has remained below 6,000MW [from just about 3,000MW in 1999]; with available power transmission capacity actually declining from about 5,500MW in 1999 to just about 5,300MW in 2015.
Furthermore inspite of the glaring stench of corruption enabled failure of the huge public investments made to yield any results; inspite of the fact that no one has yet been indicted, prosecuted and punished for these gargantuan economic crime; and despite the fact that tariffs have been continuously periodically increased with no significant improvement in services; operators of the GENCOS and DISCOS, beneficiaries of the malfeasance in the power sector reform process are now clamouring for the burden of their failure and mismanagement to be shifted unto the shoulders of the consumers.
For this is what they and their regulator [NERC] are actually demanding from us; that they should be rewarded rather than punished for rot which they have perpetrated and perpetuated in the power sector!
They are saying that rather than being penalized for cheating us since the conclusion of the privatization in November 2013, we should pat them on the back with even more opportunity to expand the scope of their pillage. And let there be no doubts about it, what the DISCOS have perpetrated since November 2013 is a grandiose act of pillage through both the abused system of estimated billing to the ignoble practice of collecting a monthly fixed charge for every installed pre-paid meter.
Let us undertake a little exposition of this embedded theft; if we assume that every DISCO has an average of 100,000 pre-paid meters installed in its area of operation, then at an average monthly fixed charge of 650 Naira, each DISCO has been generating an income of a minimum of 650,000,000 Naira monthly since November 2013 till date [that is over some 20 months]; making a total cumulative revenue of N13bn from fixed charges alone, since the privatization was concluded.
What has happened to this N13bn in revenue generated from fixed charges alone by each of the DISCOS in less than 2 years?
If we were to add to this figure average tariff collected by each DISCO on the 100,000 pre-paid meters over the 20 months, this income total will go up considerably. So for instance averaging the monthly usage between residential and industrial usage of these 100,000 pre-paid meters per DISCO at about N50,000 per month; the additional income stream for each DISCO over the 20 month period on the basis of the very minimum estimate of 100,000 pre-paid meters per DISCO will come to roughly: N5bn per month, and N100bn over 20 months for each DISCO.
Bearing in mind that these are very conservative estimates, each DISCO would have generated revenue to the tune of a minimum of N113bn from just 100,000 pre-paid meters since November 2013. What is the profit ratio of these DISCOS? What is their average overhead cost? How much have they paid in tax to the government, to the public teal? How much is their wage bill? How is this distributed between junior and senior workers, between management, owners, directors, consultants and ordinary workers? How much or what percentage of earnings has been ploughed back into the business? How much have the GENCOS and DISCOS invested in improving power generation, power distribution, and power transmission capacities?
The point being made is that given the existing scenario, nether the citizens not the government should allow these DISCOS and GENCOS to continue to perpetuate and perpetrate their scam. We should take the battle back to them. We should ask the relevant hard questions and demand and insist that these questions be satisfactorily answered. We should collectively demand that the government interrogate their business model, and we should collectively reject and resist their attempt to jerk up tariffs and increase our collective burden.
We should demand they begin to make their own sacrifices and that they adopt reformed, transparent, accountable, and efficient business models that is beneficial to our economy and not injurious to our collective interests and economic wellbeing.
Active citizens and citizens organisations, in particular organized civil society and the labour unions, need to urgently agree a common and collective stand, rejecting and resisting this piracy, while beginning to take the necessary steps towards organizing a massive resistance to dissuade these pillagers from further fleecing us, and force the pace of citizen centered change that we actually desire in this and other sectors of the polity and economy.
And for those who understand the urgent necessity to build a viable, and credible left and mass political opposition to the different factions of the ruling class, this is an opportunity that should be actively embraced.
Jaye Gaskia is National Coordinator – Protest to Power Movement [P2PM]; And Co-Convener – Say No Campaign [SNC]. Follow me on Twitter: @Jayegaskia; And Interact with me on Facebook: Jaye Gaskia