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Problems, deceit, realities of Nigeria’s power sector-Labour

Victor Ahiuma-Young & Ebele Orakpo
Government has continued to approve mind boggling sums of money towards its 6000MW December’s target, even as  facts on ground, on the other hand, contradict impact of such approvals on the sector.

Joe
Joe

In an interview with Victor Ahiuma-Young & Ebele Orakpo, General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Comrade Joe Ajaero, whose union has continued to insist that the 6000 Mega Watts December target is a mirage, brings to the fore the problems, deceits and the realities on the nation’s power sector and challenged government officials to prove the union wrong on the government’s target.Excerpts.

In recent times, the power supply across the country has gone down drastically. In most cases where people were getting light for  hours a day, it has reduced to one hour , 30 minutes and sometimes people do not even see light at all for days or even weeks. What is really the problem?

I think there are a lot of problems associated with this. I think the generating capacity has dropped. That is the only thing. Probably because of lack of gas and may be the hydro stations are doing their best which has not been able to sustain the power situation.

That is one. If there is no gas and we have majority of the power stations that are gas-dependent, it presupposes that there will be no generation. And if there is no generation, even if we decide to beat up the whole people that work there, they will not use their blood to generate electricity.

But the Nigeria Gas Company  is saying that PHCN is not paying the right price so they would rather supply to those who will pay the right price because it is  not a charity organisation?

I think this is a matter of patriotism. I would not know whether when they were given licences for oil exploration, whether the gas component was part of the deal. If it was not part of their licence, then they have been defrauding this country by exploring gas in addition to other products.

People have been exploring petroleum and other products and they are making their millions and the gas aspect of it is an addition and they have refused to supply to us what we need for domestic use. If I were the president of this country, I will compel all of them to provide what we need for domestic use unless the licence they got also covered gas. I will not allow any of them to export gas because what they are doing is that they are giving it to their home countries where they feel the need is more.

That is the plain fact about it. On the issue of pricing, if you ask PHCN to buy at market price, they will buy but you will pay your bill according to market price.  It is not a question of not knowing what to do, even if they have to go and take loan, they will add their own profit on top of it.  If you watch the tariff all this while, it has almost remained the same even with all the increases in the prices of gas and other things because government has been mediating to a large extent. If you leave it open, PHCN buys,  Nigerians may not be able to pay. That is the disadvantage of this market price they are talking about.

If I buy PHCN tomorrow, these oil companies cannot give me at that price. But they will sell to me at market price and I will make profit, and I want you to think of the consequences on Nigerians. But you see, it will take a political will for the presidency to say; “Look,  you oil companies,  this is what we need for domestic use.”

The Federal government through the Power ministry is still insisting that they will be able to achieve the 6,000mw target at the end of this year despite your position that it is not achievable.  Have you seen thing on to make you have a change of mind?

Well, we will not eat our words. I have received subtle threats, et me put it that way. But some of us are swimming in murky waters but I think they should concentrate in putting some of us to shame by generating 6,000mw. If we say they can’t do it, and we started early enough to say they can’t do it, I think it is a question of sitting down and saying: “today we are going to put these guys to shame. We are going to generate 6,000mw.

” Like you noted that the power situation is going down, yes, we are not doing 3,000mw today. And part of the analysis in the blueprint we submitted, I happen to have worked with Dr. Rilwanu Lukeman and the current minister of power when we worked in the Power sector reform committee.

They were not ministers then anyway. We agreed on a master plan on how to achieve 7000mw and we said depending on the availability of resources, and 1,2,3 factors including gas, and security in the Niger Delta, that one, between October 2008 and December 2008, we should be generating about 4,000mw comfortably.

That is our short-term measure. Then we looked at short-term, medium term and long-term measures and that achievement of this short-term measure will enable us to go into the medium term measure which is 6,000mw. And I am talking as an insider that worked in that committee with these two people that are now saying another thing.

But today, in  2009, we have less than 3,000mw not 4,000mw that we targeted in 2008 and somebody woke up to tell Nigerians that Ajaero and others do not know what they are saying, that in fact, he is going to double this capacity by December. What Ajaero is saying is that please, tell Nigerians that by December you can give us 4000mw since we are unable to achieve 4,000mw in 2008 and we have not experienced 4000mw stable before in Nigeria so if you give us 4000mw stable by December  this year, Nigerians will be very happy. So there is a difference between somebody talking as a patriot or politician. Can we work on 4000mw by December this year? But if in the process, we exceed it, that will be ok.

There is a difference between installed capacity and actually delivered sustained capacity. As today, we have over 7000 installed capacity, but we are not given up to 3000mw but they are trying to tell us that by December we should be generating about 6,000mw. My argument is this,  we have in-built minimum of 25% distribution losses, and 10% generation losses from the 6,000mw, if you subtract 35%, you have less than 4000mw and that has been the argument. This is barring other conditions that are external to PHCN – vandalism, supply of gas and other factors.

If they do this and we experience all these losses, we come to this. For you to be talking of 6000mw, sustained 6000mw, it is a different ball game. That was why I laughed  at the Delta State governor because I would like some of such people to be brought out on national television  so we can look at these issues. He was talking of target, that it is no longer promise. You see, you do not play politics with a sector as sensitive as power.

He said what they are talking about now is target, no longer a promise. Which target are you talking of? We are talking of delivering 6000mw to Nigerians and you are taking of target which means it may not be up to that. He was trying to eat his words and that is not good for democracy, that is not good for Nigerians. It is easy to achieve 6000mw or even 10,000 or 20,000mw but it must be planned. We have to work towards it. Some power stations are on, some have the capacity to give us up to 4000mw as at today but there is no gas. If they move up to 4,000, the transmission system will collapse because they are not strong. So when you are looking at generation, you should also look at transmission.
I am not aware of any transformer in Nigeria that is not overloaded and there is no relief transformer in all these places even when you have perfect generation and transmission, what about the transformers? These are the issues that some of us felt they should work on. It is not a question of calling names. The   workers are there to work. We need the materials to deliver this 6000mw but given the time between now and December it is not possible.

Besides, I do not know whether the people at the helm of affairs at PHCN have the capacity to do that. If you watch in recent times, the are other distractions. The Executive Director (Operations) whose responsibility is to take care of this was  in the hands of kidnappers for days. This is a man that operations, all the power stations, all the transmission stations fall under his purview.  Even before then, the sector has been witnessing constant changes and the minister must be held responsible because this is not helping the sector. Before now,  we were doing about 3200mw when Suleiman Bello was there and unlike the people that have been invited by the EFCC.

We have not heard that they removed them because they wanted to arrest them with EFCC or that they stole. My view is that when you remove a man, you bring another man that is better than him. They were doing about 3200mw during dry season and it is a record for a long time we have not attained that. It then means those people must have preserved water at the hydro stations. This means if you allow such people, during rainy season when there will be enough water, the situation could have moved up to 3800 or even 4000.

But you and I can find out where we are today even when the rains are here. My view is that you should bring people these new people might equally come with their policy but it will take time for their policy to blend before it starts yielding result.  Before it will start yielding result, you remove them again. That can never affect the sector positively. It is not a sector where you play politics and that is where I disagreed and since that time I have continued to disagree This is policy inconsistence which is either because of personality clash or so, you remove A and bring B.

It is affecting us. Even the people you bring are saying that they need time to understand the terrain and to perform and Nigerians do not have that patience. There is need for massive procurement of transformers. That is part of the 6000mw agenda but if you do not procure these transformers even after you finish generation and transmission, the problem will still be there.  It is not a question of bad eggs alone it is a question of not having enough transformers. Even when you have enough transformers everywhere, you still need to have enough in store.

Since the story about NEPA II in the second edition of Sweet crude, the public has been asking to know more about the activities of the people and their modus operandi.  Could you explain in detail, who are they and how the operate?
Well, it’s a phenomenon that has equally affected the image of the organisation extensively.

Just like touting in the airport, motor park, local government offices or licensing offices, we have witnessed it for a long time but most importantly, are some of the side effects of their proposed reform plan where you say,”within this period we are reforming. We are not going to engage new hands and if you fail to engage new hands for a period of about eight to ten years, and that is an active set of people, those people that climb the ladder. At a certain age in your career, you may not be as efficient in climbing as you were, and we are having an aged workforce since new hands are not coming in.  You do not expect this aged workforce to perform certain duties like climbing of ladder. Some of them are now going for supervisor and managerial levels.

It presupposes that you must get new hands to do the job but in the absence of that, you have to make do with all the people you are picking along the roads and this has affected the image of the organisation. So if the organisation is serious, I think there is need for us to sanitise it. First and foremost, those of them that they have been using and know that they are very useful, they should regularise their appointment rather than engaging them as casuals or on contract whereby they work and go.

If you do that, they will have a stake that if I bring Mr. A to your office, that you did this and he knows that he is going to lose his job, the tendency for him to commit fraud will not be there or minimise, but when he knows that he does not have any stake, in fact, he will not even come to the office because he does not have one.

If he now comes to a community to ask them to contribute money, after contributing money (there are one or two cases like that; people went to a community and asked them to contribute money and some people petitioned and we said ok, we had to do this parade of all the PHCN staff in that area and they could not identify the people that asked them to contribute money). That kind of arrangement seems to be giving us problems.

But the communities know them as those people who have been climbing the poles, fixing their lines, disconnecting them etc. That is the problem.  Today in some places, one marketer services over one thousand people so what do you expect him to do? Some even engage hands to assist them because they cannot cover their assigned areas  alone. The facilities are not there

. It is not like they have motorcycles or bicycles. So I think it’s a menace we must all fight to remove. You see, if we do not remove that menace when it is a necessary evil because if you remove it, who will do that job? So, my own suggestion is that we engage those of them that we could manage, give them responsibilities and identity cards so that they could be identified. If they commit offence, you can deal with them. But if they are not under your control, you cannot deal with them.

How do your respond to the allegation that communities now contribute money for transformers and other facilities to provide electricity for themselves:

The issue of contributing money is becoming common now because some community leaders and others  are feeding fat from it. Go and find out, ask them to mention which PHCN staff that has asked them to contribute money, to bring wire. I am not saying if they have problems and bring wires on their own because probably PHCN has no wire and they get connected. But PHCN cannot ask them to bring wire for them to service them.

If they do not have wire, it is possible they might have told them they have no wire.  I am not holding brief for PHCN. If they have wire and were just trying to extort money from the people, I do not know,  but it is possible. But if they say they contributed money, these community chairmen and leaders collaborate with some bad eggs to even create faults where there are none because the more the faults reported, the more money for the chairmen or community leaders. They might tell you that for this transformer, we need about N1 million.

PHCN does not sell transformers in the first place. Assuming PHCN does not have all the necessary wires or whatever to energise the transformer, they will not ask you for money but if you buy those things, you are not going to spend even a N100,000 or N200,000. Even when they go with some PHCN people, assuming they go with them to purchase those things, you see that it will not be even one third of the money they contributed and they are not going to declare this money to PHCN. So what I am telling you is a thriving business.

While not exonerating PHCN people, but there are people in-between now who are asking people to contribute this money. Any PHCN man that comes to say contribute money, I think the is putting his job on the line and he will pay dearly for it.

On the issue of supply, it’s unfortunate if for instance the station there did not know there was no supply but even if there is no supply in your area, that does not mean you will not pay bills for that month, at least for what we call metre maintenance. That one is in-built.

If you watch your bill, you will see that a certain amount of money for metre maintenance and VAT and so on because even the Board of Internal Revenue or Inland Revenue must collect VAT and other charges so all these other ancillaries do not mean that the bill will not come for that month but you cannot give bill for light not used but the bill must come. They may even hold on to that month and bring two months’ bills.


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