THE Federal Government’s drive to privatise and commercialise the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, through a massive unbundling into 18 firms has always been greeted with apprehension and threats of industrial disruption and social unrests by the workers of the public-owned company.

PHCN workers are afraid of losing their jobs with the ceding of the power sector to private business.

Labour leaders have threatened electricity workers would not allow the privatisation to go through. They argue that privatisation would lead to massive job losses, and that the 50,000-strong work-force would be thrown into the job market.

Given the grind the workers went through to get their monetisation grants, as well as the ugly experiences of their colleagues in other government-owned companies, that underwent privatisation, the labour union is worried that its members would suffer similarly.

Apart from this, PHCN workers pushing the social welfare argument, argue that selling the large state monopoly is akin to handing over the nation’s wealth to private investors, many of who are likely to be foreigners, thereby denying the state — and the people — their right to assets they owned through the efforts of our founding fathers.
Labour leaders also fear that transferring the power sector to private business owners would expose electricity consumers to the shylock proclivities of private businesses.

In most cases, private businesses are more interested in making maximum profit than in delivering affordable, quality services.

In a recent rally in Abuja, labour leaders said they would embark on a series of sensitisation and public enlightenment campaigns to drum up more support from the people to ensure the status quo is maintained. They are convinced the problems of the power sector are not caused by workers but by government’s insincerity and refusal to do the right things.

Presidential Task Force on Power with world renowned energy expert, Professor Barth Nnaji, as the Chairman, has assured energy sector workers about benefits of the proposed privatisation. In a statement, the Task Force said workers would be allowed to hold some shares of the company in addition to most of them being absorbed by the new companies from PHCN.

“The workers of the private sector investors in the PHCN successor companies will employ the current PHCN workers to run the companies as the power sector deregulation follows a model in which the investors are taking over the PHCN assets rather than setting up new companies. This means that PHCN workers will just be changing employers,” the statement said.

Privatisation of PHCN should be supported, without infringing on the rights of the workers.

If new PHCN companies are properly run, with the high level of demand for electricity, the successor companies will have a high demand for workers, who would be mainly Nigerians, and most of them will be ex-PHCN workers who have been re-trained and re-oriented to higher levels of expertise, work ethics and service delivery.

These are possible if the privatisation is done along the competitive lines of the telecommunication sector. The changes in the telecommunication have encouraged us to look eagerly to a new era of vastly improved services in a private business-driven power sector.

More consultations with the labour union would be required. There is no point in plunging into privatisation without guarantees that the problems former workers of public companies like Nigeria Airways face in being paid their entitlements.

The buyers of the new PHCN companies should provide guarantees about the fate of workers. The alternative is for government to use proceeds of the sales in settling the entitlement of the workers.

One area government should deploy its attention as it privatises PHCN is the cost of electricity. The companies cannot be allowed to charge whatever they like for a service that is essential to the sustenance of modern society.

It is useless to have a service that is available but millions of Nigerians who need it cannot afford it.

Sometimes details of prices of the new services that buyers of public companies are proposing escape the scrutiny of government officials, who appear more interested in disposing these assets as if they are of no value and of no effect on the lives of our people.

A step in this direction could be for government to keep the cost of acquiring the companies low, bearing in mind that the investors would have to acquire new equipment and processes to improve poor supply. Government can make more money on the long run from taxes.

It is the responsibility of government to protect the people. These people include PHCN workers. Government cannot run away from this responsibility to the people under any guise.

PHCN workers should concentrate on securing agreements with government about their future. They are unlikely to enjoy public support in their campaigns against privatisation.

The public is tired of poor services, especially in essential areas like electricity.

Nigerians generate their electricity with millions of generators littering the country, contributing to pollution. The losses poor electricity supply create in all spheres of our lives are too enormous and grossly understated.

A culture of corruption-riddled service delivery, ruled by frequent artificial disruptions, uncertainties and wastes will definitely linger for as long as government continues to operate the sector through an outdated public monopoly like PHCN.

The privatisation should be profound and thorough. Electricity should not only be privatised but there should be a decentralisation of the grids. Each section of the country can pursue the development of electric power at its own pace and in tune with local demands.

PHCN should understand that privatisation of electricity is an idea long overdue; they should be concerned with contributing to the scheme with ideas that will make it work. Most of these ideas reside in the labour union.

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