In Bid to Avoid Promotion Interview, Electricity Union Throws Nigeria into Total Blackout
•Action triggers collapse of national grid
•NUEE suspends strike for two weeks after meeting with FG officials
Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja
Power sector workers yesterday made good their threat to embark on a nationwide strike, shutting down power stations countrywide and setting off another electricity grid collapse around 3pm.
But after throwing the entire nation into a total blackout for several hours with its attendant loss of productivity which may have run into billions of naira, the workers suspended the industrial action by two weeks.
It came after a four-hour conciliation meeting between the federal government and the striking electricity workers in Abuja with the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, representing the government.
The electricity workers under the joint auspices of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEC) were in attendance at the meeting.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting, NUEE, through its Secretary General, Joe Ajaero, expressed hope that the federal government would act in good faith on the issues in dispute which have lingered for years.
He said they would pause the industrial action and wait for two weeks as agreed in the meeting for the government to address their grievances.
The President of SSAEC, Chika Ben, assured the nation that the matter would be nipped in the bud before it escalates, adding that there would be no further blackout in any part of the country.
Also speaking, Ngige said that after exhaustive deliberations on the issues in dispute, they agreed to constitute a bipartite committee to look into the grievances of the electricity workers and report back in two weeks.
According to Ngige, the members of the bipartite committee include the Minister of State for Power, Giddy Jeddy-Agba(Chairman), Permanent Secretary, Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Permanent Secretary, General Services, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, representative of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and two representatives from NUEE and SSAEC. The Minister said the committee has two weeks to report back to the whole house.
He said the meeting afforded the parties the opportunity to thrash out all the issues in dispute, adding that his ministry has apprehended the dispute.
But earlier, several videos emanating from the workers’ action showed the officials gleefully shutting down several transmission stations nationwide despite its security and economic implications and the authorities’ cancellation of the proposed promotion exam.
The workers said they were protesting a directive by the board of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) mandating principal managers in acting capacity to appear for a promotion interview.
Ajaero insisted that the directive was in contravention of the workers’ conditions of service and career progression paths, adding that “it was unilaterally done without the relevant stakeholders”.
The group also complained about the failure of the authorities to pay the entitlement of former staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) since December 2019.
The shutdown of the power assets triggered a national electricity grid crash, crumbling from over 4,000MW to 762MW and finally to zero generation at about 4pm.
Information from the Independent System Operation (ISO), a section of TCN, power generation on the grid was 4,149.40MW as of 6am from 21 power plants on Wednesday but drastically dropped to 1,635MW from 17 plants when the protesters started shutting down.
It deteriorated as of 12 noon, crashing to 1,246.40MW as three power plants went off, and by 1pm, the grid dropped to 762.30MW with just 13 plants active before falling to zero. This was against the peak generation achieved on Tuesday, which was 4,829MW.
Minister of State for Power, Goddy Jedy-Agba, had Tuesday appealed to the union for time to resolve the issues, while the Managing Director of TCN, Sule Abdulaziz, also wrote the workers intimating them of management’s suspension of the said proposed interview.
Concerning the other issues relating to the Head of Service (HoS) on stigmatisation of the defunct PHCN staff and payment of entitlement of ex-PHCN staff by the market operator, Abdulaziz said the management had contacted the Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, for further action.
But in a response, the workers insisted that the protest would continue, faulting the authorities for not resolving the promotion issues for three years and stressing that memos addressed to the HoS’ office had gone without even the courtesy of an acknowledgement.
But as the workers commenced the nationwide action yesterday, the Distribution Companies (Discos) announced in their various jurisdictions, the shutting down of operations, asking for understanding from their customers.
The Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) issued a notice telling customers the outage was due to the withdrawal of services by TCN workers who transmit bulk power from plants to Discos’ stations.
In the same vein, Ikeja Disco issued a notice saying the nationwide picketing affected most of its stations and disrupted power supply.
In a statement on Wednesday via its verified Twitter handle, @IkejaElectric, the Disco announced the shutdown of operations, urging customers to be patient as it awaits an amicable resolution by the relevant stakeholders.
“Due to the ongoing nationwide picketing of transmission stations by the NUEE, we are currently experiencing disruption of power supply as most stations within our network have been shut down,” it stated.
In the regions, members of NUEE also withdrew their services. At the Kaduna Regional Headquarters of the TCN and in line with the directive of the union’s national leadership, the regional station which covers four north-western states, Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara, said they hadn’t had any supply.
In the morning, union officials had picketed the Mando TCN Station in the Kaduna state capital, shutting down operations and forcing workers out of the company’s premises before locking the gate with their own keys.
Also, blackouts were recorded across the South-east, with the spokesperson of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) Plc, Emeka Ezeh, saying that all feeders in the five south-eastern states were out due to the situation.
“‘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 the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company PLC (EEDC) has disrupted supply.
“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,” he said.
In addition, Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC), through its spokesman, Godwin Idemudia, announced that its network was completely out of power.
“There has been a system collapse at 15:01hrs, all parts of our network are completely out of power supply,” he stated.
To drive home their point, the protesting workers had earlier blocked the entrance to the TCN, headquarters building in Abuja, which houses the federal ministry of power where the minister of power and the minister of state, power have their offices. Their action locked out staff of the ministry as well as both ministers and their aides.
Branch Chairman of NUEE in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Godfrey Abah said the action will continue until their demands are 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 should be on the federal government which allowed the matter to linger.
Meanwhile, the TCN, in a statement by its Manager, Public Affairs, Ndidi Mbah, confirmed the shutdowns yesterday.
“Following the industrial dispute declared by the two in-house unions at the 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 15:01Hrs, today 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,” the TCN stated.
The TCN recalled that in tandem with the initiative of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) on partial activation of contracts – coupled with the stream of interventions by the ministry of power and other stakeholders in the value chain – grid generation (at peak) had reached 4,830.69MW as at the 16th of August, 2022.
“In spite of this setback, we are set to restore the grid as quickly as possible. The ministries of power and labour & employment are currently meeting with the union officials in order to resolve the issues.
“The Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) appreciates the understanding of our customers – within and outside the country. Enduring mechanisms are being instituted to avert a situation of this kind, going forward,” TCN concluded.