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Why PHCN workers don’t want electricity

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By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
The current impasse over the takeover of management of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, by the Canadian firm, Manitoba Hydro International, has brought into sharper focus the challenge of implementing power reform that would ensure provision of adequate and stable electricity for millions of Nigerian businesses and homes.

Electricity workers under the aegis of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) have vowed to resist the takeover of power installations by private management interests, and last week took to the streets yet again in protest against the management contract of the TCN.

In a move that speaks to their determination to resist change in the country’s despondent power sector, the unionists had set up blockades, resisting an alleged scheduled inspection visit of the Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji and officials of Manitoba Hydro International to the corporate headquarters of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) which houses TCN in Abuja.

The workers were, however, met by several soldiers and policemen deployed to protect the buildings against threats of destruction by the workers, a situation which led to stalled activities and massive traffic buildup around the headquarters.

NUEE had alleged that the July 31, 2012 scheduled takeover of TCN management by Manitoba as contained in the three years management contract between the firm and Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) runs contrary to agreements as reached in their series of dialogue with government as overseen by the Hassan Sunmonu-led negotiation panel.

According to the Zonal Organising Secretary North-Central of NUEE, Mr. Temple Iworima, government is failing in its agreement which stipulates that no one will be allowed to take over any of PHCN successor companies until all outstanding labour issues have been sorted out by both parties.

Iworima explained that the imminent assumption of TCN management by Manitoba is a clear indication that government is shortcoming in fulfilling its own part of the bargain, adding that issues surrounding payment of their severance packages were left unsettled while government is forging ahead with its deal with Manitoba. Iworima reiterated the resolve of the union to resist such development to the latter.

The Minister of Power, Prof. Nnaji, had earlier stated that that government would not allow the union to box it into a corner in its bid to enthrone and ensure best practices in the management of Nigeria’s transmission network.

According to Nnaji, “It is very important to understand that the Federal Government is absolutely focused to ensure that its power reform is successful.

Reform by its very nature is positive but if anybody is against it, then the person has to stand aside; government really shouldn’t be running power facilities but setting policies, doing research that will ensure system growth.

“Everybody will tell you that if you have enough generation and cannot wheel out power, that is failure and that’s where we have technical and commercial losses, so we want a stable transmission network and that’s why we are bringing experts.

We are not here to replace all the workers of TCN and its only eight officials of Manitoba Hydro that will be here; we need Nigerians to man the business in due time because we like to have TCN international so that we can go to other countries and sell the business.”

The minister further explained: “It is unpatriotic for anybody to say that they do not want to learn how the system will work better because this has nothing to do with privatisation and we will not have it, we’ve had private management of the core jobs of PHCN in the past and it had worked so we will not allow people to prevent us from moving forward in our desire to put best practices.”

The high stakes drama in the nation’s power industry recently culminated in the sack of some executives of generating companies by the Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji.

The action by government had come after vast amounts of the country was cut off from electricity supply for more than three weeks, a situation that was particularly shocking even for a country that has grown so used to the epileptic nature of power supply.

The Minister was reportedly out of the country on holiday when the power outages took place, and upon his return was summoned by the President to explain the power situation.

In what therefore appeared like a rare moment of decisiveness, the Federal Government brought down the hammer on three top executives in the sector when it announced the immediate retirement of the Managing Director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Engr. Akinwunmi Bada, and the Market Operator, Engr. Uzoma Achinanya as well as the Executive Director, Human Resources of PHCN, Mr. Olushoga Muyiwa.

In announcing their sack, Prof. Nnaji, stated that government’s action was not unconnected with the drastic decline in electricity supply over the past few weeks, which has greatly impaired the Federal government’s desire to bolster power supply for industrial and domestic use in the country.

The embarrassing epilepsy in power supply happened when government was busy trumpeting its achievements or milestones in power generation across the country.

“We decided to take this action because of what has been happening in the last three weeks in the power sector. As all of us will remember, in January we experienced recorded highs for power ever in the history of this nation but then a number of issues led to reductions in availability of power and these issues, some of them are things we cannot do anything about like nature and some we absolutely have the capacity to control,” Nnaji said.

The Minister’s fury was palpable when he said the changes became necessary as part of renewed efforts towards achieving adequate and effective power supply in the country.

Sources revealed to our correspondent in Abuja that Federal government’s actions was not unconnected with attempts to get to the root of suspicions of acts of sabotage by certain elements said to be opposed to the liberalisation of the power sector. Security agencies were said to have discovered that the current nationwide reduction in power supply is the handiwork of saboteurs working against reforms in the sector.

The sabotage allegation was further heightened by an explosion which occurred at 4.15am on Friday, March 23, 2012 at the Benin station of the TCN; the explosion and fire outbreak subsequently re-occurred on Sunday, March 26, on the same facility; thus, leading to power outage in most parts of the country.

According to the Minister, “This other issue is what one could characterise as sabotage in the system and we really don’t want to think that there are people who wouldn’t want progress of the country but we have to manage those set of issues. As a result of this, we are making some adjustments in the management of PHCN successor companies and system; I want to tell you that we have no choice than to do this because the country must improve in electricity supply and the key to having it will be you and it is how such a quality of management that you bring to bear that will determine that.”

He said henceforth, the country will not tolerate frequent swings in the power supply systems, adding that there must be some level of predictability in the amount of power available for distribution to Nigerians.

Nnaji noted that, “On the business of ensuring that we have reliable power supply, we cannot afford to have swings in the system; today you get certain amount of power, tomorrow there is another amount, there  is need to be predictability; Nigerians need to know what they are getting and we must insist that we do it this way, it’s not going to be anymore however you decide to manage.

“For now, what we want to communicate here is that we are going to vigorously pursue any hindrance to power supply and ensure that we clean out the system. We have to make sure that we deliver more reliable electricity to the country. It is just a few people that internally tried to tinker with the system but we are in a good shape and we are moving forward from there.”

Nnaji, however, also noted that while some of the reasons for the decline in the power situation are within management’s capacity to control, some are cause by nature which is beyond human control.

 

But the mere allegation of
sabotage to government’s efforts to provide electricity to long-suffering Nigerians ordinarily begs the question: who is behind the sabotage, and what do they plan to achieve by such nefarious acts, which would certainly be to the detriment of the entire national economy? More critically, it brings to mind the widespread agitations by electricity workers which greeted the current Minister of Power upon his appointment to the position in June 2010.

The angst against Nnaji prior to his appointment indeed marked a watershed in the history of the country because of its uncommonness in our society. Rarely in this clime does one see a group of workers carrying placards and shutting down operations in protest against a potential employer.

However, when President Goodluck Jonathan announced his choice of Prof Barth Nnaji as the Minister of Power, not a few applauded the appointment and described it as not only courageous but as one of those rare round-peg-in-a-round-hole moments in Nigerian public administration. Across a broad spectrum of Nigerians, it was generally agreed that Prof. Nnaji’s acceptance to serve was indeed a demonstration of the kind of love for country that only true patriots possessed. He promptly reported for duty, rolled his sleeves and got busy with the mandate he was given.

Prof. Nnaji has since taken up his gauntlet with equal determination and zest, and as shown by the widespread reforms of the past couple of years, and specifically the events of the last few weeks have proved, he may indeed be the right man to tackle the hydra-headed monsters of corruption and sabotage to what is arguably the most vital sector in the nations quest to join the community of industrialized nations by the year 2020.

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