…Striking workers lay siege to Power Ministry, ministers locked out
…Labour Minister wades in
By Udeme Akpan, Victor Ahiuma-Young, Egufe Yafugborhi, Obas Esiedesa & Ediri Ejoh
Striking workers of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, yesterday, shutdown the electricity national grid, throwing the nation into total blackout.
The strike by the workers, under the aegis of National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, and its Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies, SSAEAC, counterpart, was triggered by the directive of the TCN Board that all Principal Managers in acting capacity must undergo promotion interviews.
The directive, NUEE said “is in contravention of our conditions of service and career progression paths, unilaterally done without relevant stakeholders.”
The strike was, however, suspended after the minister of Power, Abubakar Yusuf, promised that issues raised by the workers would be addressed in two week.
Another grievance of the workers is perceived “stigmatisation of staff from the office of the Head of Service, HoS, of the federation from working in other areas in the power sector, and the refusal of the market operator to fund the payment of entitlement of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Ex-PHCN, staff as agreed in December 2019 agreement after an industrial action by the union
However, the impact of the strike began unfolding at 10am yesterday when the grid dropped from 4,149 Megawatts recorded at 6am to 2,600MW.
The grid capacity continued to drop as more workers at transmission stations withdrew their services and joined other colleagues in the industrial action.
It fell further to 939.4MW by 3pm and finally zero generation at 4pm.
The protesting workers had blocked the entrance to the TCN headquarters building in Abuja, when Vanguard visited.
Similar action took place in other TCN offices across the country.
The Abuja TCN’s head office houses the Federal Ministry of Power where the Minister of Power and the Minister of State, Power have their offices.
The striking workers locked out staff of the Ministry as well as both ministers and their aides.
NUEE General Secretary, Joe Ajaero, had in a letter calling out the workers for strike, said the directive for the promotion interview was in contravention of the workers’ condition of service and career progression path.
He said it was unilaterally done without the relevant stakeholders.
NUEE also decried the “stigmatization of staff from the office of the Head Service of the Federation from working in other areas in the power sector.
“Refusal of the market operator to fund the payment of entitlement of ex-PHCN staff as agreed in December 2019 agreement after an industrial action by the union”.
The aggrieved workers made good their threat to down tools and commenced indefinite strike if their grievances were not addressed by yesterday morning.
This was sequel to the desperate attempt by the Minister of State Power, Goddy Jedy-Agba, to sway the workers to shelve the strike and sought a two-week grace to allow the government to address the issues raised by the workers. It also followed the reversal of the TCN Board on the promotion interview directive.
Speaking to Vanguard, the FCT Branch Chairman of NUEE, Godfrey Abah, said the action would continue until their demands were met by the government and the TCN management.
Abah noted that though the workers were not happy that the nation had been left without electricity supply, the embarrassment was on the Federal Government.
‘’As citizens and as a union, we want supply of power everywhere but you know that the only weapon we have is to withdraw our service and that is what we have done.
‘’We have withdrawn our service to enable the government attend to our needs and do what is right.
“The ball is in the court of the government and they know what to do. We have just received an invitation for tomorrow (today) and before the close of business today (yesterday), we will know if the meeting will be held. We are ready for the negotiation.”
Also speaking, the Zonal Organising Secretary of NUEE (Liaison), Engr. Ayodele Kolade, said workers would remain on strike until the issues were resolved.
“The government is aware of our decision to embark on this strike. As you can see, no one is working and everyone has gone home. There is no electricity anywhere in Abuja and Nigeria as a whole and it will continue until our demands are met. Failure to do this will make Abuja and Nigeria remain in blackout.”
PHED laments strike
In Port Harcourt, Rivers, the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHED, said the industrial action had disrupted its ability to supply power to several customers as its feeders and locations were shut down by the striking NUEE members.
PHED in a statement by John Anonyai, Head of Corporate Communications, said: “Due to the industrial action by NUEE, some of our feeders/locations have been shut down by the union, so we are unable to supply power to our esteemed customers from such feeders.”
Deputy General Secretary South-East and South-South Zone SSAEAC, Innocent Lord-Douglas, said members were directed to shut TCN operations over interference of board members.
He said: “We got directive from our national secretariat that all offices of TCN be locked up. And the reason is that the board that was recently set up is intervening in the administrative workings of the company.
‘’The board has its role, but it is now coming into the administrative section of the company, trying to organise promotion and promotion interviews.
“In the condition of service with the TCN, when one rises to the position of Principal Manager, you cannot write a promotion interview because whatsoever promotion one gets after then turns out to be an appointment. That is in our condition of service but the board does not want to listen.
“They want to humiliate and insult our members. We said no as we have a working document that guides management and the unions in charge in the industry. And the board has refused. We decided to shut down the industry to get back to where we are supposed to be.
“TCN is the aspect of the electricity sector that transmits the generated energy to distribution. If the grids are shut down, there would be n supply anywhere. We have given them two days to correct their anomalies. If the board does not comply, we are going to shut down this system.”
TCN confirms shut down
Confirming the shutdown of its operations, TCN General Manager, Public Affairs, Ndidi Mbah, said the striking workers shutdown 33kV feeder lines across the country.
She said: “Following the industrial dispute declared by the two in-house unions at the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, the national electric power grid has been shut down by union functionaries – even as unfettered effort was being made to resolve the issues upon which the action was called.
“The incident occurred at 15:01hours today (yesterday) after several 330kV transmission lines and 33kV feeder-lines across the power system network had been switched off by the union members, resulting in generation-load imbalance and multiple voltage escalations at critical stations and substations.
‘’Regrettably, this is coming weeks after we had emerged from hectic grid management regime, precipitated by paucity of generation, which we grappled with for a couple of months.”
DISCOs lament, apologise to consumers
Reacting to the strike , many DISCOs, yesterday, apologised to their customers, explaining that the situation was beyond their control. Specifically, Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EKEDC, said its network was completely out of power.
Spokesman of the DISCO, Mr. Godwin Idemudia, said: “There has been a system collapse at 15:01hrs, all parts of our network are completely out of power supply.”
Similarly, the Abuja Electricity Distribution Plc (AEDC), said: “We wish to inform our distinguished Customers that the interruption of the power supply being experienced across our franchise areas is due to the ongoing industrial issues between the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).
“We will like to assure our valued Customers that all stakeholders are working hard to ensure that a mutual and amicable settlement is attained and power is restored forthwith.
Also, in a statement obtained by Vanguard, the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company PLC, EEDC, noted that its operations were completely disrupted.
It stated: “Following the industrial strike action embarked upon by the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, at the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, power stations, operations across the franchise area of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company PLC, EEDC, have been disrupted.
“As a result of this development, all our feeders are out of supply and this has affected supply to our esteemed customers in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states.
“Consultations are ongoing among critical stakeholders in the power sector to address this issue and possibly restore supply.
“The management of EEDC hereby encourage customers and neighbourhood associations to be vigilant and protect the electrical installations within their environment against elements who might take advantage of this outage to vandalise these installations. “We, therefore, appeal for continued patience and understanding while this is resolved.”
Fielding question on the strike after the Federal Executive Council, FEC, yesterday, the Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, said the protesting workers have no grudges with his ministry but the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan.
He said: “The issues they have is not particularly something to do with us, but with employment issues with the Head of Service.”
He disclosed that the Minister of State for Power, Minister of Labour and Employment and the Head of Civil Service of the Federation were absent from the FEC meeting to resolve the crisis.
Shutdown dangerous for Nigeria — NECAN
In a telephone interview with Vanguard, yesterday, the National Secretary, Nigerian Electricity Consumers Advocacy Network, Mr. Uket Obonga, said the situation was not properly managed before degenerating to this stage, adding that it was also very negatively impacting on the nation’s economy.
He said: “It is very sad that what could have been well-managed was allowed to degenerate to this sad level. It has affected our economy in many negative ways.”
Decentralize national grid now — CPPE
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, CPPE, Dr. Muda Yusuf, called for the urgent decentralization of the country’s national grid.
He said: “The impact of this crisis is very obvious and you know right now, energy cost has got to a level that is now almost unbearable. Both industry players and households are suffering.”
Labour Minister wades in
Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, yesterday waded into the matter and summoned officials of Power Ministry, TCN and leaders of the striking to an emergency meeting in his office in an effort to resolve the issue.
President of NUEE, Engineer Martins Uzoegwu, who spoke to Vanguard before 4 pm, said he was on his way to attend the meeting.
He said: “Our demands are clear and we have been on these issues for months. If the appropriate government officials had done what were expected of them, we would not be in this situation. We are not averse to meetings. These issues are resolvable if government decides to do the needful.
“As far as we are concerned, it is a simple matter, address over grievances, we will return to our duty posts. We will drive this action as long as it takes government to address our grievances.” As at 7 pm, a source from the Labour Ministry told Vanguard that “the meeting is ongoing.”
After a marathon meeting, General Secretary of NUEE, Joe Ajaero, informed the anxious citizens that an agreement had been reached, saying the two in-house unions would meet to take a position on the strike.
“Promises and upon promises were made that we should give the government two weeks to address our demands. Two weeks is not eternity and for the electricity consuming public, we have accepted to give the government two weeks.”
As a prelude to the total withdrawal of service, Abuja TCN’s headquatres and its offices across the country were picketed Tuesday by the aggrieved workers.