- Mohammed suspends TCN’s accounts as workers’ unions fight back
- Fashola may inaugurate NERC board without chairman
Omololu Ogunmade and Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, monday said the decision of the federal government to appoint an African Development Bank (AfDB) official, Mr. Usman Gur Mohammed, as the new Managing Director of Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) was driven by the need to improve TCN operations.
Fashola, who made this disclosure when he appeared before the Joint National Assembly Committee on Power, also said the appointment had nothing to do with Nigeria’s search for $174 million AfDB loan.
Fashola made the explanation against the backdrop of misconception that the federal government had opted to concede the management of TCN to AfDB as collateral for $174 million loan from the bank.
Against the background of Mohammed’s appointment, the federal government had asked the acting Managing Director of TCN, Mr. Atiku Abubakar, to hand over to Mohammed, a move which sparked protest by workers in the power sector and resulted in a petition to the National Assembly.
According to Fashola, the appointment of a new Managing Director for the TCN was above his “pay grade to stop the change having received a presidential directive to carry out the change,” describing the move as a matter of employer-employee relationship and “if government does not want to keep an employee there is nothing anybody can do.”
Fashola who added that political appointments are the exclusive preserves of the president, further disclosed that the invitation of Mohammed to manage the TCN was not a foreign appointment but rather the recall of a Nigerian who had been on a continental assignment in AfDB to serve his country.
He further disclosed that the protracted squabble between Manitoba team and the Nigerian team in TCN led to the departure of the former, insisting that the president has the prerogative to decide who heads the agency.
“TCN does not have a managing director. The man on whose behalf a petition was written is not TCN MD,” Fashola added.
But the committee Chairman, Senator Emyinnaya Abaribe, interrupted the minister, saying the petition was written by the power sector union and not on behalf of anyone.
But Fashola was swift to add that it was mischievous for anybody to suggest that a new appointment was made in the TCN because of AfDB loan.
“There is no MD in the company. What provoked this investigation is the appointment of one person to manage the company. It is the prerogative of the president to appoint MD because there is vacancy. It has nothing to do with lack of capacity. It has to do with the need to improve. I will not sit down here and say that Manitoba team did add any value. They probably could have added more value. There was a lot of in-fighting between Manitoba team and the Nigerian team. There were a lot of petitions.
“This appointment has nothing to do with AfDB loan. We asked for him (Mohammed). The terms and conditions of AfDB loan have been settled. The issue of local content does not arise because we are dealing with a Nigerian who left to go to AfDB. Nobody on the Nigerian side is being asked to go home. This is simply a political appointment the president made. The president can choose the youngest person in the company to head the company. It is a government company,” Fashola insisted.
Meanwhile, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, finally appeared before the Senate committee on Federal Character yesterday to defend 2017 budget of his agency. The committee had turned back the SGF’s representative last week, insisting that the budget would not be considered until Lawal appeared.
The committee had assumed that the stand-off between the Senate and the SGF over alleged mismanagement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) funds was the reason he stayed away.
But the SGF told the committee yesterday that he was not available for the defence last week because he had left Abuja on a condolence visit to the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, who lost his first wife.
Lawal said the funds appropriated for the office of SGF in 2016 budget was grossly inadequate to meet some of the responsibilities of the office adding that only 10 per cent release was made by the Ministry of Finance to SGF’s in 2016.
Drawing the attention of SGF to non-payment of former presidents’ arrears, the committee sought to know if it had been captured in 2017 budget and the SGF responded in the affirmative as the committee threatened to investigate poor release to SGF’s office in 2016.
Meanwhile, the interim Managing Director of the TCN, Mohammed, has temporarily suspended all payment accounts of the TCN with immediate effect, saying it was necessary to tighten controls on the company’s payment systems.
According to an official circular distributed to heads of the various departments of the company and which THISDAY saw, Mohammed reportedly took this decision on February 3, 2017, the day he was confirmed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Power, Mr. Louis Edozien, as TCN’s new head.
He, in the circular, directed that all payment obligations of the TCN to contractors for capital projects through the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), Remita payment platform on the Treasury Single Account (TSA) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), as well as payments through CBN’s foreign transactions accounts for TCN be suspended henceforth.
Signed by him, the circular however stated that only payments for operational activities approved by him would be allowed while the suspension could be lifted after about a week from the date it came into effect.
The circular equally indicated that the TCN would not issue out any contract awards, Local Purchase Orders (LPO), work order, and letters of intent within this period as it pushes to improve transparency and efficiency in its operations.
However, the circular was greeted with yet another round of condemnation by workers of the TCN who were led by their two labour unions-the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC) to continue their protest against his appointment by the federal government yesterday in Abuja.
The unions, at a press briefing to bring journalists up to date with happenings at the TCN following the government’s replacement of its former Managing Director, Dr. Abubakar Atiku, with Mohammed, insisted that they would not recognise or welcome Mohammed to the TCN.
They alleged that his announcement as the new head of TCN last Friday by Edozien, was done regardless of the directive of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Power that the ministry should revert to the status quo as regards the power struggle at the TCN.
The committee also reportedly invited the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, to appear before it yesterday with all relevant stakeholders on the issue.
Speaking to journalists, NUEE’s state chapter Chairman for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Wisdom Nwachukwu, alleged that the unions were also snubbed by Edozien when they made efforts to dialogue with him on the development.
He said the unions would not recognise Mohammed, and asked the government to manage the situation with tact to avoid possibilities of an industrial action that could affect power supply.
“We are therefore calling on well-meaning Nigerians to impress it on the government and its cohort to please stop this ugly push that will slow down the progress already made in the power sector.
“The National Assembly has advised for this ungodly move of removing the MD to be put on hold, yet the permanent secretary went ahead. Mohammed has since allegedly issued circular stopping all forms of transactions including payment of any form by TCN management,” Nwachukwu said.
He equally alleged that Mohammed was at the TCN to help the government perfects its plan to privatise the TCN.
When THISDAY contacted Edozien to respond to the unions’ claims on telephone, he did not respond to our correspondent’s calls or text message as at the time of filing this report.
Meanwhile, Fashola may today inaugurate the six commissioners of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) who were screened by the Senate but without a chairman.
Without Akintunde Akinwande, a professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who rejected the offer to be chairman of the board and was subsequently not confirmed by the Senate, Fashola, according to a notice sighted by THISDAY, would be expected to inaugurate Musiliu Oseni, Dafe Akpeneye, Okafor Nwoye, Sanusi Garba (Vice Chairman), Nathan Shatti, and Moses Arigu.