The privatisation of the Nigerian power industry took a step closer to completion on Monday with the handing over of share certificates to 13 investors who had earlier paid for the 14 electricity generation and distribution companies.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who distributed the share certificates to the core investors, said the Federal Government had capitalised the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company to the tune of over $750m so as to ensure the successful operation of the companies by the private sector operators.
However, the handover of the certificates to the investors was protested nationwide by the workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, who insisted that the government had not fully addressed all labour issues.
The government, however, explained that the new owners of the companies would have to wait till November before they would be able to fully take over the firms so as to give it time to settle all outstanding liabilities.
The NBET or Bulk Trader was incorporated on July 29, 2010 to engage in the purchase and resale of electrical power and ancillary services from independent power producers and from the PHCN successor generation companies.
Thus, the company will purchase power produced by the Gencos and resell to the Discos, which have the responsibility to interface with the final consumers.
The responsibility of the NBET is to assure the power producers that the power they produce will be purchased and paid for without any delay; thus, the decision of the government to capitalise the organisation ahead of the takeoff of the private sector operation.
Jonathan said with the scheduled handover of the electricity companies to the private sector operators, things could only get better, adding that the nation had embarked on a new journey that would usher the citizens into a destination of enduring gain and fulfilment.
He said, “Going forward, this administration is committed to providing all elements that are necessary for our private sector partners to succeed in providing Nigerians with uninterrupted power supply.
“To start with, the NBET, the off-taker, has been provided with a capitalisation of over $750m, positioning it to carry out its mandate without financial constraints. Various options are being explored to fund the Transmission Company of Nigeria so that it is able to implement the projects that are key to stabilising and expanding the transmission grid.
“Arrangements are also ongoing to ensure that the Nigerian Electricity Liability Company is adequately funded to assume all of the liabilities associated with the privatisation of the PHCN successor companies as well as other related liabilities.”
The President said the new owners of the Gencos were inheriting signed gas supply and transportation agreements, a new phenomenon in the gas-to-power industry, thereby moving the industry away from the prior status of best endeavour supply and transportation basis.
He warned Nigerians not to expect a power sector revitalised overnight, but added that they should look forward to better times as they had with the liberalisation of the telecommunications and banking sectors.
As the handover ceremony was taking place, workers of the PHCN in different parts of the country staged demonstrations over unsettled labour issues.
In Abuja, the workers gathered as early as 7am at the former headquarters of the PHCN, which now houses the TCN, with placards bearing various inscriptions condemning the handover of the successor companies to the core investors.
The workers contended that it was wrong for the government to hand over the Gencos and the Discos to private operators without paying all workers their severance packages.
At the Oke Afa Business Unit in Isolo, Lagos, the workers gathered early in the morning and sang solidarity songs and prevented customers and other members of the public who had business to transact in the office from gaining access.
In Ibadan, the workers locked all the PHCN offices and accused the government of insensitivity to their plight, vowing to resist the takeover of the company’s facilities by the new investors.
At the head office of the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company on Ring Road, the workers blocked the entrance, refused to go into their offices and carried placards to protest against the government’s move.
The Vice-President, National Union of Electricity Employees, Mr. Alamu Oloyede, said the union was unhappy with the government, adding that despite the cooperation of the workers toward the privatisation of the sector, their entitlements had remained unpaid.
“We have nothing against the Federal Government’s move but until all labour issues are settled, investors are warned not to go near PHCN facilities all over Nigeria,” he said.
In Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, members of NUEE staged a peaceful protest over the non-payment of their entitlements and the inability of the government to regularise the appointments of the casual and contract employees.
The workers locked up the PHCN offices at Challenge and Baboko business units as early as 8am and prevented people from entering the premises.
The Vice-Chairman, NUEE in the state, Mr. Aderinto Adekunle, said in an interview with journalists that the protesting workers were not against the privatisation of the PHCN successor companies, but had vowed not to allow any investor to start business until their entitlements were fully paid.
A similar scenario played out in Akure, the Ondo State capital, where the workers marched through the streets and locked up the gates of the PHCN District Headquarters.
The Chairman, NUEE, Ondo State chapter, Mr. Clement Daudu, faulted the claim by the government that it had paid the workers’ entitlements, saying it was “a propaganda employed by the government to deceive members of the public.”
However, the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, explained in Abuja after the share certificates had been handed over to the new investors that the physical handover of the plants would take place later when the labour issues must have been sorted out.
He said, “This entire reform has been carried out ensuring that the welfare of the PHCN workers was fully taken into consideration. It is in this respect and after months of negotiation that we reached an agreement with the labour unions on all pertinent issues.
“Out of the 47,614 workers who were identified, we have completed the biometrics capture and related validation of 45,156 workers. As of today, the severance benefits of majority of that number have been paid, while others are being processed.
“The payment of severance package and pensions will continue throughout the month of October. The slight delay in completing all the payments is due to the large number of workers, the large sums involved and the need to take all needed caution to ensure proper implementation before the eventual physical handover of the companies.”
Nebo also said 55 Independent Power Producers had applied to the NBET for Power Purchase Agreements. The number is made up of three renewable energy IPPs, one coal generating IPP and 51 gas powered IPPs.
Information from Punch was used in this report.