NLC President, Mr. Abdulwahed Omar
By Ejiofor Alike and Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The Ministry of Power has stated that the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Abdulwahed Omar, was not properly briefed on the issues of the pension scheme of the workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and the deployment of soldiers to guard the assets of the company.
This is coming as the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) has asked the Federal Government to go into dialogue with the electricity workers to prevent a national strike by labour.
Reacting to a threat issued by the NLC president to stop power supply nationwide if the Federal Government did not accede to the demand of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), the ministry of power also advised the NLC President not “to capitulate to the mindless propaganda of the NUEE leadership.”
The ministry said in a statement yesterday that the soldiers were deployed last September in the wake of increasing security challenges in the country.
On the payment of severance retirement benefits to PHCN employees, the statement disclosed that there was no PHCN employee who contributed 25 per cent of his or her salary to the pension scheme or any amount at all to the scheme up to June 30, 2004, when the PHCN was allowed by law to operate an in-house Defined Pension Scheme.
“If there were contributions to the pension scheme by any PHCN personnel at all, they are not reflected in the books or bank accounts of the pension scheme. The trustees of the scheme are officials of the trade unions in the power sector and the PHCN management, who are the sole signatories to the bank accounts. The Federal Government has never been involved in the management of the PHCN Pension Scheme. In other words, if there is any case of fraud or misappropriation of funds, the workers should know those to be held responsible,” the statement said.
The Ministry of Power also debunked a claim by the PHCN trade unionists that as of June 30,2004, there was a total sum of N88 billion in the pension account, adding that the account has never had more than N3 billion.
The ministry also stated that despite the fact that PHCN workers did not contribute to the superannuation fund, the Federal Government had accepted to pay the difference of N85 billion of the amount of money the PHCN workers purportedly contributed to the pension funds up to June 30, 2004.
It also noted that the PHCN, despite being a government agency, was yet to comply with the new Pension Law, eight years after the Act came into effect.
In a statement issued yesterday, the ANPP said in view of the fact that the strike notice by the NLC was brought about by the ongoing privatisation of PHCN, the Federal Government should call the workers to a negotiating table to iron-out all contentious issues.
The statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Emma Eneukwu, the party said the implementation of the privatisation process should be made to have human face.
Eneukwu drew public attention to the action of the staff of the PHCN in Minna who had on Thursday shut down the Shiroro Dam in Niger State to accentuate the labour protest.
According to the ANPP spokesman, the party would want the government to take decisive action against all those involved in the misappropriation of the Pension Fund as a way of restoring the workers confidence in the scheme.
“Our great party believes that it is the right of Nigerian workers to demand their due welfare. This is in view of the fact that the strike notice was inspired by the ongoing privatization of PHCN in which the staff of the national power company feel they are not given their due before being sent away,” he said.