31 August 2014, Abuja – The Director-General, National Power Training Institute of Nigeria, Mr. Reuben Okeke, says, in an interview, that with about 75 per cent of the sector’s personnel due to retire soon, the current efforts to ensure stable electricity supply may be facing another major threat – inadequate manpower. Excepts:
The Minister of Power, Prof Chinedu Nebo, recently said no engineer was employed in the sector for 16 years. What is you view about this?
What the minister said is correct because 1998 was when we had an embargo on employment in the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. That was when the issue of privatisation started and so there was an embargo on employment. But before then, there was no structured recruitment for engineers in the power sector. During that time, the training department of National Electric Power Authority or PHCN would go round to conduct interviews for engineers and other technical officers of the power firm in each of the states.
But ever since then, such structured recruitment did not happen. The embargo of 1998 was not only on engineers but affected all other departments of the power firm. And of course, it affected a lot of things. It became a very big minus to the development of human capital, which is the key for running, operating and maintaining the electricity that you see. The human capital is key and it is number one. So, if there has been an embargo on recruitment and no structured recruitment was allowed, that to a large extent affected the performance of electricity supply across the country. So, how do I feel about it? I feel it’s bad.
What was the reason for this embargo?
The issue of privatisation started that time. That was when the government started talking about the privatisation of the sector. And if the sector is going to be privatised, you don’t need to increase the number of staff. But the privatisation did not take place until last year. The Act that even gave impetus to privatisation was enacted in 2005. But the Federal Government started thinking about privatisation as far back as 1998 and since you are going to privatise, there was no need to employ more hands. So, ever since then, nobody was employing, no structured employment.
Though I was in the field then and in charge of a zone; my colleagues and I could not continue to give electricity without human beings. So, we started taking people on adjunct basis. At a time, around 2002 or 2003, we ran out of people who should distribute the bills, read the meters and we got approval to engage what we called enumerators. Many people were engaged as enumerators, whether you read Igbo Language or whatever, they were engaged as enumerators. Even engineers were engaged as enumerators but that was not a structured engagement.
Now, even though some of those taken on contract basis were regularised before the privatisation, that can never be equated to structured recruitment and of course, there was no training. So, when people say that PHCN or NEPA was not performing, they should know that what I’ve explained was one of the core issues responsible for it. Because without trained hands, you will not get the best performance that you need.
Now that the privatisation of the sector has been achieved, will you say it now has sufficient manpower?
The sector is far from having enough trained engineers to man the huge expansion that we have in Nigeria today. From the manpower planning which we did in 2012, to support 20,000 megawatts of power, you will require nothing less than 6,750 engineers. And you will be looking at 17,441 technical personnel to support 20,000MW. Since the inception of NAPTIN, from 2009 to 2012, we were only training those that were already in the sector, that is, existing workers. But from 2012 to date, we have only graduated 241 engineers. These are fresh engineers right from the university who have completed their National Youth Service Corps.
And we have in enrolment right now 336 and these ones should be graduating by October this year. We have another set supported by SURE-P, 220 in number; they were inducted in April this year. They will graduate by March next year. We have about 520 engineers recruited by the Transmission Company of Nigeria. So, if you check these figures that I have given you, we will only have about 1,140 plus. And the existing personnel, I mean those who are making these things to work now, the old engineers among them, are less than 1,500 across the country. And in the next three years, 75 per cent of them will retire due to age. Now, if you sit down and look at what I am giving you, you will see that the sector does not have even up 50 per cent of what is required.
What then is the way forward?
The good news is that the Federal Government is about to sponsor 7,400 technical workers and they are all going to come to this institute for training under what is called the National Power Sector Apprenticeship Scheme to bridge the gap. It is expected that if that programme runs well, we should be having about 8,000 more hands, but this will be more of the craftsmen because that is where the critical mass is expected. The engineers are needed quite alright, but the low-end workers, the lines men, cable joiners, electrical fitters, are the ones that you see most times. Up to 12,000 of them will be needed to support this huge increase in physical infrastructure that the Federal Government is doing in the power sector.
If 75 per cent core engineers retire from the sector in three years, what are the plans to fill this gap?
When the first 241 people that have graduated and the 336 that will graduate by October and those to be sponsored by SURE-P get into the system, before these core ones retire, the new engineers would have learnt some things. And of course, some of the core engineers that retired were retained on contract. They are still being used on a contract basis and we are trying to do this on a fast track so that these engineers that are graduating will get back and learn from the old hands. By the time the core old hands are leaving, the young ones will take over from them and this is going to bridge the gap of the 1,500.
What is the guarantee that these trained engineers will be gainfully employed?
There is no need for any engineer to doubt if he or she will get a job in the sector or not, considering the huge manpower gap that I have explained to you. First of all, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission is making it impossible for you to import any skill without getting certificate of no availability from them. This is in line with the local content law. So, if universities are turning out engineers and these engineers are coming to NAPTIN to acquire skills that make them employable, and there is a door that is shut against anybody who is not a Nigerian to come here and work as an engineer in the power sector, so why are you doubting whether they are going to get jobs or not. They will get jobs.
They are going to get jobs because even the people that are in the system now are aged and they must go. It is true that the young is going to grow and the old is going to die, this is nature. When the old ones step aside, somebody must take over from them and you cannot say because you are a technical partner for an investor you will go to India to bring Indians to come and work in Nigeria. It is not allowed and the Federal Government through the regulator is making it impossible for you to do that. You must employ Nigerians and they must be trained.
Therefore, there is no doubt if they will get jobs. Even if they don’t have now, it is just a question of time because we have not been able to tell you that we have trained 6,000 or 7,000 workers to take over the business. We have not. We are still at the very low level. Of course, majority of them are employed already in the power sector and one of the distribution companies just engaged 110 young engineers who just left the university and they are here now undergoing training and are going to be with us for one year.
– Okechukwu Nnodim, The Punch