Published On: Tue, Oct 1st, 2013

Nigerians Brace for Nationwide Blackout as PHCN Workers Protest handover to Private Owners

PHCN Workers protesting at Ikeja office


LAGOS OCTOBER 1ST (URHOBOTODAY)-Electricity workers yesterday threatened to plunge the nation into darkness and prevent the investors from taking possession of the companies if the government failed to fulfil its promise to pay the full benefits.
The workers had protested over the non-payment of their severance benefits from Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).
There were protests nationwide yesterday which coincided with the formal handover of share certificates and operating licences by President Goodluck Jonathan to the investors in the PHCN.
Those who protested at PHCN offices in several cities, including Lagos, Abuja, Lokoja, Gombe and Kano.

The privatised firms include 10 successor distribution companies (DISCOs) and five generation companies (GENCOs), namely Geregu Power Plc, Ughelli Power Plc, Kainji Hydro Electric Plc, Shiroro Hydro Electric Plc and Sapele generation companies.
The distribution companies are Abuja Disco, Benin Disco, Eko Disco, Ikeja Disco, Ibadan Disco, Kano Disco, Port Harcourt Disco, Yola Disco, Jos Disco and Enugu Disco.
All the PHCN offices in Lagos were locked yesterday while the workers, serving or retired, carried placards with various inscriptions demanding for payment of their benefits. Some of the inscriptions read: “Pay our money”, “We are ready to leave”, “Over 50 per cent of workers’ benefits are still outstanding” and “FG should pay us before handing over.”
The Chairman, Lagos State Chapter, National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Mr. Adeleke Ibrahim, said the protest was in response to government’s failure to pay them before handing over the companies to new owners. Ibrahim said that the Federal Government had not paid severance package, pensions and gratuities to about 50,951 workers as at September 27.
“It is expected that the agencies saddled with the responsibility of paying the workers’ benefits would have done that before officially handing over to the new investors. “PHCN workers nationwide will not leave their offices until all our severance packages are duly paid by the government’s agencies saddled with the computation of the packages,” he said.
The NUEE Chairman in Eko Electricity Distribution Company, Mr. Olusegun Afolorunso, said that only 25 per cent of the workers had been paid. In Auchi, the workers also stormed the major streets, calling on the Federal Government to pay their entitlements before handing over to the new investors.
In Lokoja, the Kogi State Chairman, Electricity Workers Union, Mr. Opaluwa Eleojo, stated that the Federal Government was deceiving the public to believe that all was well in the power sector and wanted to hand over to investors. He called on the investors not to assume duties because “the workers will close the door against them,” stressing that the Federal Government must play its part and pay every worker before the official handover to the investors
He warned that if the Federal Government failed to tackle all the labour-related matters, no investor would be allowed to take charge, stating that the workers would shut down electricity supply by Wednesday. Similarly, the NUEE Zonal Organising Secretary in Abuja, Mr. Temple Iworiwa, said while the workers were not opposed to privatisation, some of the agreements reached between the union and the Hassan Sunmonuled negotiating team in July 2012 had not been implemented. Iworiwa said currently, almost 40 per cent of PHCN staff had not yet received their severance benefits.
“The reports reaching the union is that majority of the banks cannot give financial backing to the schedule sent to them by the government, meaning that government does not have money,” he said. In Gombe and Kano states, workers also locked up their offices as part of the protest.
The workers, carrying placards with various inscriptions, said they would not allow the handing over of the company to private investors until their entitlements were settled. Addressing workers in Gombe, the NUEE Leader, Mr. Yakubu Dung, urged the Federal Government to settle the labour issues. In Kano, the North Zonal Chapter of the union held a peaceful demonstration over the matter.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress in Kano State, Mallam Yunusa Danguguwa, expressed its support to the unions, saying it was determined to ensure the resolution of the stalemate with the government. Earlier, at a ceremony at State House, Abuja to mark the formal handover of the PHCN successor companies yesterday, President Jonathan said all the labour issues would be addressed by the government.
While handing over the documents, the President pledged his administration’s commitment to provide necessary elements to ensure the success of the private partners in providing Nigerians with uninterrupted power supply. He urged the PHCN workers to dispel the feeling of displacement and be consoled by the “tremendous possibilities that revitalisation of the sector holds for the future of the country.”
The President, however, reminded the workers that their work was not over yet and charged them to reorient themselves to play the needed new roles that had been assigned to them as a result of the reform. He noted that in demonstration of government’s political will towards the power sector reform, the Nigeria Bulk Trader Company, NBET, off-taker has been provided with a capitalisation of over $750m to position it to carry out its mandate without financial constraints.
The President also disclosed that arrangements were ongoing to ensure that Nigerian Electricity Liability Company, NELMCO, was adequately funded to assume all the liabilities associated with the privatisation of the PHCN successor companies and other related liabilities.
Vice-President Namadi Sambo described the privatisation of the power utility as unique and different from previous programmes in the country as it was driven by the need for efficiency and investment rather than optimisation of proceeds to the government, adding that only bidders’ technical ability and financial capability influenced the outcomes.
Sambo said the new owners of the generation companies were expected to build up capacity from the present levels of performance to additional 5,000MW within five years. He noted that the promise had been stated in the performance agreement the new owners had with the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, and which would be monitored by the regulator. He said: “There are myriad investment incentives available for investors in the privatisation and electricity utility.
“They include duty exemption for equipment for gas-fired generating companies, five-year tax holiday, resolution of labour liabilities; the Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Company, NELMCO, to takeover outstanding liabilities, and World Bank’s securitisation to protect the investors.”
Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, stated that all conditions precedent essential for the declaration of the Transition Electricity Market, TEM, are substantially in place and are currently subjected to quality assurance review by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, as required by law. According to Nebo, biometrics capture and related validation of 45,156 PHCN workers have been completed out of the 47,614 workers identified, adding that the severance benefits of the majority of them have been paid while others are being processed.
However, the NUEE President, Mr. Mansur Musa, said yesterday that the workers would insist on their full several package before any final handover could be done He said the payment of the terminal benefits was yet to rise up to 50 per cent for the eligible workers, “a development that excludes even the payment of retirement savings fund to the workers’ Pension Fund Administrators, PFAs.” Musa said as at the time the protests commenced, no efforts had been made to commence payment, saying that the PFAs could attest to this.
According to him, the BPE was yet to remit two per cent union deductions from the severance benefits and nothing had been heard from the privatisation agency or the vice-president on the matter. He explained that contending issues cannot be jettisoned by the workers to allow any takeover to happen, saying it behoves on the union to advise the vicepresident and those “misguiding” him not to toy with the lives of PHCN workers, their families and other Nigerians who depend on them for their livelihood.
“We are set to take our destiny in our hands, but because of Independence Day ceremonies, we would be patient to allow for full celebrations. We hereby urge Nigerians to bear with us if after October 2, the government goes ahead with her illicit handover to the investors and forceful takeover; the implication would be that the workers have technically been asked to withdraw their services and we may not be able to guarantee smooth operations.
Consequently, if after October 2, the Office of the Vice-President fails to correct this misleading information, we shall not guarantee supply of electricity in the country.”
Source – National Mirror.

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