Minister of Power, Bart Nnaji
Ejifor Alike, Adibe Emenyonu and Hammed Shittu
The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) has threatened a nationwide blackout should the negotiation between Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Federal Government slated for today over the withdrawal of the pension contributions of the workers by the management fail.
Issuing the threat while briefing journalists in Benin Tuesday shortly after a meeting of the members of the union, Zonal Organising Secretary 1 of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Edo/Delta Zone, Comrade Joseph Ndem, said that the electricity workers were prepared to withdraw their services should the intervention by the NLC fail.
The threat to go on strike coincided with the record peak of 4,307.7 megawatts (mw) in power output attained by PHCN yesterday, plus another 170mw serving as spinning reserve, bringing total electricity generated by PHCN to 4,477.7mw.
Ndem, who appealed to Nigerians to understand the reason for their decision to down tools, insisted that the Federal Government through the Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, was short-changing them on their entitlements.
He said the workers were prepared to withdraw their services from the PHCN if all their entitlements are paid to them, adding, “We will not stay a day longer in the establishment.”
The Zonal Organising Secretary 1 lamented that despite workers concession to government in several areas and giving the government a soft landing, the Minister of Power has continued to ensure that the electricity workers are deprived of even their entitlements by misadvising the government.
On the sudden deduction of the seven-and-a-half per cent pension from the workers, he disclosed that in the past, “we had a compact system that you hardly discovered fraud in terms of pension deductions. The 25 per cent that was taken from the salary, the record is there and that is always accounted for”.
“That is why we also keyed into the investigation of the 25 per cent account and how the money could not be found, and that is why they have now decided to pay us 15 per cent when the minister said so.
“We are happy that the committee has commenced sitting today and the first persons that would testify are the unionists,” he said.
Ndem described as laughable the story credited to the minister that electricity workers did not deserve the payment of their gratuity, saying that workers wherever they have worked are entitled to their gratuities.
“They are only trying to short-change workers. They know actually that if everybody has to be paid their entitlements, the Federal Government will not have the money to do so. And that is what they are looking for,” he stressed.
The threat to go on strike notwithstanding, for the first time in history, power generation peaked at 4,307.7mw, plus 170mw which serves as spinning reserve, bringing the total quantum of output to 4,477.7mw.
A statement issued by the Special Assistant (Media) to the Minister of Power, Ogbuagu Anikwe, said that the new peak exceeds the record level of 4,237mw achieved on Monday, August 6, by 240.7mw.
“The good news is that all electricity generated is wheeled comfortably,” said Nnaji, in an email message to the staff of the ministry and agencies.
In August 2010, when Nigeria generated for the first time 3,800mw, the system collapsed within a few minutes because the transmission infrastructure was poorly maintained.
According to Mr. Simeon Atakulu, a former PHCN executive director and erstwhile Chief Executive of the Egbin Power Station in Ikorodu, Lagos State, “It is significant that the new record in generation has been set even with the 1,200mw Egbin plant, the nation’s flagship power generator, doing only 600mw because it is undergoing routine maintenance. This means we have spare power capacity of over 300mw.”
The statement said that increase in output came from the 600mw Shiroro Hydro Station in Niger State, which ironically a section of the media falsely reported at the weekend to have been shut down by a group of junior workers over controversial pension claims.
Disclosing that the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), has been increasing gas supply to power stations in accordance with the directive of President Goodluck Jonathan and Petroleum Resources Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, the Power Minister said the quantum of power available to Nigerians would increase further before the month runs out.
Nnaji stated that one unit of 112.5mw at the Omotosho plant of the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) in Ondo State will start to run this month, adding that he would soon travel to Ugheli in Delta State in preparation for the addition of 200mw from the Delta Power Plant later this month.
One unit of 112.5mw will be commissioned next month at the NIPP plant at Ihonvbe on the outskirts of Benin, Edo State, with another unit of the same capacity scheduled to start power supply in October; the same month one unit of 112.5mw of the second phase of the Geregu plant in Kogi State will be commissioned.
While praising the staff of agencies under the ministry for “their hard work, commitment and patriotism even in the very challenging circumstances many Nigerians may not fully appreciate now,” Nnaji asked them not to rest on their laurels yet because power development still has a long way to go in the country.
Comparing the two largest economies in Africa, the minister noted that South Africa, with a population of 47 million, produces 40,000mw while Nigeria, with some 167 million people, generates less than 5,000mw.
He advised both PHCN and NIPP staff members not to be carried away by public adulation in the wake of the remarkable improvement in electricity across the nation since last month.
“The only time any of us can rest,” he asserted, “is only when the 167 million Nigerians can take constant and quality power for granted, as it is the case in many countries of the world.”
In a related development, the Northern Union (NU) yesterday warned the leadership of the NLC and PHCN to stop their threat to embark on strike over the payment of the entitlements of workers of PHCN.
The union queried the NLC as to where it was when electricity supply was being increased in the country before threatening the Federal Government on the strike action over the delay in the payment of entitlements of PHCN workers.
In a statement issued in Ilorin by the youth wing of the NU signed by its National Coordinator, Mr. Kolo Jerry, and publicity secretary, Mr. Muhammed Kotun, the group said: “Any strike at this moment will be seen as selfish because it will not enjoy public support and sympathy.”
According to the NU, “NLC and its allies must know electricity power is an essential service that runs the economy for the benefit of the masses as it largely does not affect the government and elite that use generators to get power supply.”
The union advised the NLC to understand the feelings of Nigerians with regard to PHCN and will be shocked by their response on the matter.
The NU observed that there is a high rate of corruption perpetrated at PHCN and that the effort by the government to privatise it will go a long way in sanitising the system.