04 September 2013, Lagos — Comrade Bede Opara, President-General of the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies, SSAEAE, says the ongoing privatisation of the power sector would not bail out Nigeria from darkness. He also speaks on other issues in the nation’s power sector.
How far has the federal government tackled labour issues in the ongoing privatization process of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN?
I guess you know up to the point that we have concluded negotiations and signed agreements. Our technical committee and its government counterpart have tidied the figures; what the figures should look like; what is coming to individuals. I want to assume that you know as far as that.
We are at the level of implementation. At that level, we have both the General Secretary and the President-General of SSAEAE in the implementation committee as well as the General Secretary of NUEE, our sister union and its president. Four of us are in the implementation committee. We also have two members each from the two unions in the technical committee who did the calculations. That is where we are and government has started paying the severance benefits that should come to the workers. But government is only paying the cash component. There is still another component that should go straight into the retirement savings account. The much we have heard is that they have not started paying the retirement savings account component of it.
So far, a little more than 25 per cent of the total fund – that is, money that should come to the workers – has been disbursed. There is still much to be paid. Going by our interactions with the BPE, the payment is on-going and we are seeing it. So, we cannot complain now since government is within the time frame we agreed with them to make the payment. We will only complain if the time elapses and the payment is not completed.
What is the fate of PHCN casual workers in the settlement process?
The issue of casual workers has been settled, despite the fact that there are few cases that we are still getting feelers that have not been regularized. But the ones captured, or cleared by government have been regularised. There are a few other cases which are being handled internally. In terms of the severance package, they are also being carried along.
How many PHCN workers are benefiting from the payment?
The entire workforce in the power sector and the figure is between 46, 000 and 50,000 workers. About N120 billion has been disbursed so far.
Now that government has acceded to your demands, are you convinced that the new companies coming into the sector can permanently address the problem of unsteady electricity supply?
Our position on that has not changed. Our position is that privatisation will not give us an answer to our power problems. But we do not want to rule out that the new companies will come in and turn things around. They have that capability, if they are credible companies. I use the word “if” advisedly because we have not tested any of the companies. And most of the companies involved, we have not seen where they have performed in the power sector. And as such, we only have to keep our fingers crossed. As I said, we have not seen them perform in a network that is as big as Nigeria. We may not probably look at a company that has operated in Liberia, for instance, because the country’s entire power sector is not up to one transformer in my office. Liberia’s total generation is about 40 megawatts. As I said earlier, we can not use companies which operate in such environment, to compare with what is happening here.
Let’s also say that if the new companies coming to take over PHCN apply state-of-the-art technology, in the power sector, they may do well if they have the fund. We do not know about their capability because we cannot say this is the place we have seen them perform; there’s no pedigree we know of. But since so many of them are employing some of our people including some of our retired engineers; yes. So many of them – the major workforce they have are retired engineers from PHCN and our people know what the problems are. I believe that if they have the will to perform, they can do well. It’s the feeling and that is why we are keeping our fingers crossed.
How are you repositioning your association and members for the challenges of post privatisation and what is the total emolument coming to your members after the exercise?
On the total emolument, I just want to say that there are a lot of fluctuating tendencies. A lot of things are changing. A lot of people are retiring statutorily. A number of people have retired from the last time we negotiated. That, not withstanding, we are looking at N400billion; out of which N120 billion has been paid.
Talking about SSAEAEC, when we started talking about privatization, in 2003, 2004 and thereabout, that was when we decided to register SSAEAC as a full fledged trade union. And in that registration, part of our constitution says that we should have branches in every successor company or allied company. We had already prepared ourselves for privatization; our branch chairman and secretary respectively, will oversee what goes on in these companies; vis- a- vis, workers’ welfare.
We have mandated the various branch executives of our union to get prepared to negotiate new packages because new companies are coming to take over.
What are the realistic power generation Nigeria need to drive the economy?
We are around 4,500 mega watts now. But if , for instance, we generate 20,000 mega watts today, by tomorrow morning, we will consume all. We shall leak up the 20,000 mega watts. Why do I say so? Its because we have a lot of suppressed loads. Let me explain what I mean by suppressed loads; the loads are existing.
But we cannot feed them now because there is no power to feed them. That is why we do a lot of load shedding or rationing, in other words, we ration the little we have. When ever we are generating 4,500 mega watts, we normally give Lagos about 1,000 mega watts. When that happens, it is not unusual to hear many people saying the light is improving -not that they have enough. Even at that, it will not serve Lagos beyond ten hours on the average. The moment people see more light, they connect more equipment. Those running their generators, for instance, will switch off their generators and connect into the system. The loads they were carrying with their generators are called suppressed loads. The moment power comes; they will leave their generators and come into the load again. Nevertheless, I think that if we can make up to 10,000 mega watts, Nigerians will be happier, but it will not be enough.
Our population is 160 million. South Africa has a population of 46 million and that country is generating 40, 000 mega watts. Against this backdrop, therefore, it will not be out of place to suggest that we also need to generate 160,000 mega watts to fully stabilize our economy. But it is not realistic for now. I want to say that if the projects on ground, like the NIPP stations that are coming up, some others stations that are undergoing rehabilitation, if they can be completed on schedule, between now and December as scheduled, may be by December, we will be close to 7,000 mega watts. The question is will they be completed on schedule? Those that failed to meet their mandate, that is, completing the projects on schedule, were they sanctioned? We cannot be sure of what they are going to produce by December because there is no sanction for those who defaulted in the past.
– Mohammed Soshanya, Daily Trust