HOLDING NIGERIA ON THE THROAT
For the first 24 hours, not many people noticed that Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) had shut down the country. In fact, if it did not become the subject of national discourse and cause for erratic government reactions, many Nigerians would still not have been wizened to the fact that for almost 48 hours as from last Wednesday morning, the staffers of the nation's monopoly power supply company had, in an act yet to have any precedent anywhere in the word, had thrown the sabot into the very wheels of nation's lifeline. Many of us had only noticed that something was becoming somehow abnormal when we had to use the generator for the whole Wednesday night.
Not all would agree but yet, it is a matter of fact that the power supply situation had improved considerably, at least at the federal capital, in the last one month or so. So, Abuja residents must have been the first to notice that PHCN staff had gone on strike. By the time power was restored in most parts of the country almost 48 hours later, it became obvious that an incalculable damage has been wreaked on the nation's socio-economic life. But more than that, PHCN workers, and in fact their dysfunctional organization, has shot themselves on the foot, confirming to all and sundry that they have veritably outlived their usefulness.
Any sympathy which the company and its staff had drawn from the public since it started complaining of all manners of welfare challenges have suddenly evaporated like an unanswered and an unanswerable prayer. If anything, the company's striking workers have shown themselves as an irresponsible bunch of terrorists who believe that the only way they could have their warped way is to hold a loaded gun to the head of all Nigerians and their institutions. No problems have ever been solved in a civilized society when its members are held hostage as the perennially incompetent PHCN staff have done. This is so because no civilized institution or state would ever negotiate with terrorists, lest it creates a precedent which would haunt it thereafter.
It is a surprise that the striking workers are not aware that after the Nigeria Police Force, PHCN is next most hated organization in Nigeria. If they had known, they would have been most disingenuous to commit this act of treason, at this material point in time, when every action would be interpreted in most sinister terms. In the first place, if the Goodluck Jonathan government claims that the PHCN action is a direct act of sabotage against it, it would be 100 percent correct. The reason is that the workers are complaining of being owed for several things for the past seven years or so. Even if this administration could be adjudged to be a continuation of the Yar'Adua government, it would still be incorrect to hold it wholly responsible for the woes of PHCN that predated it by several years.
If anything, this administration has been the most committed in actualizing in concrete terms, the many past promises that had ended up like vows made in vine. It was this administration which had been so optimistic as to pledge to give the nation the famous phantom 6000 megawatts by the end of last year. If one would be honest enough, one must admit that the failure to reach that benchmark could not have been due to the lack of the will of the administration, but rather due to the perfidy of PHCN staff themselves. It was, therefore, in the determination to improve the power supply situation considerably that made President Jonathan to make a pledge to make it the first rubric on his programme.
It was not to be, PHCN staff no thanks to the perfidy of PHCN staff that seems to have sworn that nothing else would work outside the legendary incompetence of its operations. So, immediately the government set up a task force to work practically for the actualization of these objectives, PHCN tackled it from the first day. The special adviser on Power to the president, Professor Barth Nnaji and the members of his team were literally driven out of the PHCN premises from where they would have pursued their remedial operations.
Since that day, PHCN staffers have embarked on every type of sabotage and blackmail activities in the book. They first began with the blackmail of threatening a strike if the nation did not empty its treasuries for them. The government quickly offloaded several billions of naira to assuage the blackmail. It was equally unfortunate that the Jonathan administration is unable to have realised that it is completely counter-productive to succumb to the demands and antics of a blackmailer. An elementary given in criminology all over the world is that the only way to stop a blackmailer is either to call his bluff or to kill him. Jonathan did neither and the consequences have come staring him in the face, robbing him of any further opportunity of moving decisively against the masterminds of NEPA strike whose actions clearly amounted to planning and executing treason, which in our statute books, attracts capital punishment.
The reasons why I do not bother myself with reasoning on the flipside which would blame the government for failing to meet up with the longstanding demands of PHCN strikers are manifold. In the first place, PHCN workers know that theirs are unusual essential services which have a direct bearing on national security, and so, when the workers shut off power suddenly across the country, they have automatically cut off oxygen from the nation's life support system. That was the point the Ibrahim Babangida administration wanted to prove when some 12 ring-leaders of NEPA strike were arraigned and sentenced to death. Perhaps, if the administration at the time had remained adamant to many pleas of clemency, the current criminals at PHCN would have thought twice before shutting the nation down last week.
No PHCN staffer was conscripted into his job and each had applied and been hired, having fully appreciated the peculiarities of such a job. More ominously, it would be difficult for the PHCN strikers to absolve themselves of the accusation of deliberately attempting to frustrate President Jonathan's efforts and therefore make him lose at the forthcoming election. It is more-so as the strike was programmed to commence on the very day that the president was inaugurating his reform programme on power, on which his administrations success or failure hinges. What louder notice that the president had failed could the strike action be? Who can absolve the strikers of being hired tools in the hands of the enemies of this government - domestic or foreign?
It hardly matters if one is a supporter of President Jonathan or not. But what is obvious is that as patriotic citizens one must respect and take him as the symbol and substance of our nationhood and by so doing, abhor anything that undermines his authority. In the same way, the president must also not disappoint the citizens by failing to asserting his authority at all times by taking charge. One of the best ways to do this is to set an example with the ringleaders of the PHCN strike by ordering their arrest, arraignment and trial for treason. He would also, by so doing, be reassuring us that if the nation were confronted with a more dangerous situation, that he would stand up to be counted as a leader that would command respect and awe.
Furthermore, as the election draws near, Jonathan would be sure that if the PHCN miscreants are not set examples of of with a considerable knock, other similar destabilizing strikes would follow in quick succession and render the nation prostrate. There are many people who are today swearing that our president is an indecisive and weak leader (and they quote the flip-flop over the international football ban issue as a case in point). This is the time for him to prove them wrong, for his own sake and that of our nation. Otherwise, he would leave Nigerians no option than to find another leader who would not be pushed around at the whims and caprices of little people or even big nations.
For, as we say in political science, every weak leadership is a danger to itself and those it leads.