By Oscarline Onwuemenyi & Kunle Kalejaye
Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji, said at the weekend that workers of the Transmission Company, TCN, should not expect severance pay because the transmission network is not being privatised.
He was reacting to protests by the workers who barricaded the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, corporate headquarters in Abuja, and also blocked a major highway ostensibly to prevent the new managers from assuming duties. The workers were said to have threatened to continue the action until their severance and other PHCN negotiated benefits have been paid.
But Nnaji explained that the government was still negotiating with representatives of the labour unions only in respect of severance and other benefits for staff of 17 unbundled PHCN generation and distribution companies that are being privatised, which does not include the TCN.
“I cannot understand why the workers embarked on protests when TCN remains a government holding company which has never been put up and shall not be put up for privatisation,” the minister said.
He added that rather than privatise TCN, which would require sorting out labour issues, government has approved the employment of an additional 1000 engineers and technicians to plug the shortfall in manpower needed to run the power transmission backbone.
The Federal Government yesterday (Monday), officially handed over management control of the TCN to Canadian firm, Manitoba Hydro International. The TCN manages the nation’s key power transmission backbone, otherwise called the National Grid.
Manitoba is coming with about eight (8) expatriates to run the Transmission Company for a period of three (3) years in the first instance.
According to the Bureau of Public Entreprises, BPE, which recently concluded takeover process, the current managers of TCN will understudy the expatriate managers, acting as their shadows.
In other words, the Nigerian CEO and Executive Directors will still function as the Number Two person in their current positions, to understudy the new managers.
Meanwhile, electricity workers under the aegis of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, last week, took to the streets yet again in protest against the management contract of the TCN by Manitoba.
In a move that has become routine in the process of reforming Nigeria’s despondent power sector, the unionists set up blockades, resisting an alleged scheduled inspection visit of the Minister of Power, Nnaji and officials of Manitoba to the PHCN corporate headquarters, which houses the TCN in Abuja.
The workers were, however, met by several soldiers and policemen deployed to protect the premises against threats of destruction by the workers, a situation which led to stalled activities and massive traffic buildup around the headquaters.
NUEE had alleged that the July 31, 2012 scheduled takeover of TCN management by Manitoba, as contained in the three year management contract between the firm and Federal Government runs contrary to agreements 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 the 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.
Nnaji, had earlier stated that government would not allow the union to box it into a corner in its bid to enthrone and ensure best practice in the management of Nigeria’s transmission network.
According to him, “It is very important to understand that the Federal Government is doing reforms in the power sector and the President is absolutely focused to ensure that its 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, and in due time we would 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.”
Meanwhile, in a seeming show of desperation, the unionists who had prevented smooth flow of vehicular traffic on the Aguiyi Ironsi Way with their staff buses that were used to cordon off a lane of the road resorted to physical assault of the media crew of Nigerian Television Authority, NTA.
A good number of the unionist had descended heavily on the NTA cameraman who was busy filming their activities on the excuse that NTA is a partial government media outfit. The assault was however prevented from escalating further by the Area Commander, Metro Abuja of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, Mr. Odukoya Sunday, who insisted that his team was there to ensure obedience to law and order.