An official of the Nigeria Labor Congress says the federal government’s decision to deploy troops at facilities of the state-run Power Company of Nigeria poses a threat to national security.
The government action follows a decision by the National Union of Electricity Employees to go on strike Monday. The union is demanding a 50 percent salary increase and opposes the government’s decision to privatize the power industry.
Power Minister Barth Nnaji is quoted as saying the troop deployment is to protect the country’s power facilities and that a strike by the workers would endanger Nigeria’s national security.
Owei Lakenfa, acting General Secretary of the Nigeria Labor Congress, says the power sector is part of the national heritage of Nigeria and the workers will not allow anyone to purchase it without first addressing their concerns.
“The first thing is that we do not think the deployment of troops is an alternative to normal industrial issues or problems for solution. Secondly, we tell the government that, if you deploy armed soldiers against workers in their places of work, that is dangerous. If you use armed soldiers against workers at their place [of] work, what would [happen] if Nigeria were invaded by another country?” he said.
Nnaji has reportedly said the deployment is intended to protect the country’s power facilities and that a strike by the workers would endanger Nigeria’s national security.
Lafenka said the deployment of troops is not about security, but rather the sale of the state-owned power company.
“If soldiers were deployed to bring in Indians and Chinese and Koreans to assess the power installations for sale, using cameras and video, that is not about security. It is about the sale of the facilities,” Lafenka said.
He said the power workers will have no need to go on strike if negotiations going on about the future of workers in a future privatized Nigeria Power Company.
“For instance, there is the issue of salary increase which had been agreed on some few years, but which had not been implemented. The second point has to do with casualization of work. There are 10, 000 workers in the sector who are casual [part time] workers and who have been working for between two and 15 years. And so, the concern of electricity workers is that, if these people are not made permanent, they will never find gratuity and pension at the end of the day,” Lafenka said.
Lafenka said the true threat to Nigeria’s security is not the workers’ demand for better wages but rather the government’s attempt to privatize the power industry.
“Whenever workers demand for basic needs, they say it’s against national security; everything that is in the interest of the poor and the people of Nigeria, they say it’s against national security. And, what we are saying is that the government action in drafting armed soldiers to power installations in order to enable Chinese and Indians to buy the corporation is against national security,” he said.
Nigeria suffers from daily power shortages and outages costing the country billions of dollars annually.
Lafenka said the workers want to be consulted before the government tries to privatize the Power Company of Nigeria.
“There is no need for privatization because the government spent billions of dollars in the name of reforming the electricity sector. For instance, former President [Olusagun] Obasanjo spent $16 billion and all we have is more darkness in Nigeria. That is a case of embezzlement and fraud. The second point we are making is that, even if you are going to privatize, there are human beings that work in this sector. So, the issue of their pension, of their gratuity, must be addressed,” Lafenka said.
He said if the government fails to listen to the concerns of workers, then the workers would no alternative, but to go a strike.
‘If the workers go on strike and the government [uses] armed soldiers and policemen, then the Nigerian Labor Congress will also call on other federal workers for support. We will then move to call the Nigerian people to defend workers and defend their workers and defend our heritage because the power sector is part of the national heritage of Nigeria,” said Lefenka.