Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, highlighted the frantic efforts being made by government to settle PHCN workers’ outstanding severance benefits and the ministry’s new role in the post-privatisation era. Chineme Okafor presents the excerpts:
What is the status of payment of PHCN workers severance benefits in view of labour’s recent threats?
Every effort is being made to make sure that payments to the erstwhile staff of the PHCN in all the distribution companies (Discos) and the generation companies (Gencos) are made and we do hope that within the next few weeks, these payments would be concluded.
We have handed over certificates for 100 per cent payments to all of these companies who bought the Gencos and Discos but you will realise that the licences for the Gencos were not actually issued on that day; that will be issued in a couple of days and like I said, this is the beginning of the handing over process.
So, when will the handover process be concluded?
The handover will be done when labour is fully paid and that is substantially paid because there is nothing you can do if you have about two to three per cents of workers that were not accurately captured in the process, which will not be called a failure at all. But we are hoping that over 95 per cent of the people that were biometrically captured and have no problems will be paid soon.
What have been the challenges in meeting up with the payments?
Parts of the problem that came later were the opening of the Pension Fund Accounts (PFA) of these workers. Like in the north, many people answer their names and the city they were born and so, when they go to open an account, they may not remember that they came into the job with such two names and they will open with three names and some who came in with three names will open with two names and at the end of the day, there will be confusion because the computer will dump any profile with a mismatch and these are the people that we are not able to totally validate. They are about five per cent of the workers but we hope to clear this.
We want to put the money in their PFA account so that they will be sure of our intentions because people are expressing fears over government’s possible renege on its promises, but people should know that this government has always been forthright with regards to due process and issues of legality. We are doing everything possible to make sure that all that money is paid and once we are sure that we have substantially done that, the physical handover will be done.
But have you been able to resolve the contentious pension payment framework?
We cannot resolve issues that are extra constitutional and out of sync with the law. The 2007 Pension Act must be obeyed because it is a law and applies to everybody, otherwise some people in the same unions will take us to court for breaching the laws of the land and not following the Pension Act.
We cannot treat PHCN staff differently from the way the entire labour force of the country is being treated as regards pension remittance. We cannot be changing the goal post within a process; the situation is that we have gone so very far and wouldn’t want to sustain any argument that are not constitutional and part of the set of laws of the country.
Let me state that the generating companies have not even taken over but they have perfected plans to ginger up generation in the country, that is very encouraging and we are working to make sure that we have a robust transmission company that will be able to wheel out the generated power.
It is often thought that the power ministry will have very minimal role to play in a private-driven power market, how do you view this?
Upon handover, the ministry will continue to give direction to the sector as regards expansion of the sector and other issues such as integration of rural electrification into the national grid. You must also understand that further expansion in terms of adding to the megawatts capacity of a plant will require licensing from the NERC, we will be there to provide advice on this.
What happens to renewable energy when we start generating by solar, sun, biomass and when more hydropower that are coming are being concessioned, how are they going to be integrated into the national grid? So, the ministry will continue to give leadership to ensure that a level-playing ground is achieved for all but together with the regulatory authority, which will play a more significant role now.
It must however be stated that the regulator is still under the supervision of the minister of power; they are not just out there doing their own thing without reference to government, they are regulating policies that government has established, they don’t establish those policies themselves and it is what the law of the country says they do that they do.
You will see the ministry working more to provide power to those that are off-grid because to get every community in Nigeria connected to the national grid, the government will have to spend scores of billions of money and no country can afford that.
One of the key things we will do is to launch the National Council on Power so that everybody- federal, state and local governments- will come in to synergise and be able to make the local government know that it is also their responsibility to make sure that all the necessary data needed to bring power to every community is available and they also play their roles as well as other tiers of government.
There is an initiative that we would be launched soon in addition to “Operation Light Up Nigeria”, which will be padded with “Operation Electrify Rural Nigeria” because unless you electrify rural Nigeria, farmers will continue to produce for spoilage as there are no means for preserving their produce.
We must make sure that somehow, we take electricity to the rural areas so that the hospitals, dispensaries and maternities that are there will have power and we can only do that by renewable because we cannot latch every communities on to the national grid.
The farmers need electricity to preserve their food and reduce spoilage; these are things we will continue to address as a ministry and make sure that everybody is doing what they are supposed to be doing to achieve government’s overall goals in the sector.
The regulator, NERC has expressed disquiet with your establishment of the Electricity Management Services (EMS). Is that establishment in sync with extant laws?
We will discuss that because the EMS was established by law and we will have to go back to find out if that establishment has a proviso that NERC will license it, otherwise, what we did by hoisting the EMS is that there is a provision in the law that it should be established and so, we went ahead to do that.
If we didn’t do that, a lot will be happening in the sector, NERC can never muster the muscles and expertise to do the technical work that EMS is going to do because we are going to be using mostly people from inside who have been doing inspectorate work all over the country and have the capacity to inspect things, equipments and materials to be used in the sector; we don’t want a situation where the tail will be wagging the dog, it is usually the dog that wags the tail and we must understand that.
Information from This Day was used in this report.