Following the federal government’s failure to pay them their entitlements before handing over the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to the private investors, members of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) in Ondo and Edo States yesterday staged a peaceful protest to express their grievances.
The workers, who locked the gate of the PHCN district headquarters in Akure, warned the private investors not to enter into any agreement with the federal government until their outstanding entitlements were paid.
The situation was not too different in Benin City, as the protesting workers, under the aegis of the Nigerian Electricity Workers Union (NEWU), with different placards, marched through the streets of the state capital, chanting solidarity songs.
This came as a human rights group, the Committee for Democracy and Rights of the People (CDRP) expressed its solidarity with the electricity workers (NUEE) and Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSEAC), urging them to resist the federal government’s attempt to intimidate them.
However, it was gathered that the protesting workers in Akure, who were armed with placards of various inscriptions, faulted the claim by the federal government that their entitlements had been paid.
They described the federal government’s claim as a propaganda employed to deceive members of the public, arguing that the gratuities of some of their colleagues, who retired in 2011, had not been paid.
The Chairman of Akure chapter of the union, Mr. Clement Daudu and the Vice-President, Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC), Mr. Neke Nwanchukwu, said the members would not resume work until their entitlements were paid to them.
“We are not against privatisation of PHCN but we want the federal government to pay our entitlements. We are not going to resume work until our entitlements are paid. We are warning the investors to steer clear of the agreement for now because if they go ahead, they are going to pay dearly for it,” he said.
While the protest was ongoing in Akure, their counterparts in Benin City carried some placards, which read: “Wayo Government”, “No Settlement No Takeover”, “Steer Clear of PHCN” among others.
Speaking to journalists, one of the protesting workers, Mr. Gabriel Amiji, accused the federal government of reneging of the tripartite agreement of settling the workers before handover.
“But now government have gone ahead to handover without giving the workers all their entitlements,” he lamented.
Also speaking, Patricia Akpan, said government’s claim of settlement was just a minute number of the workers.
According to her, out of the 40,000 workers bill for settlement, only 415 have received their severance pay, yet government claimed to have settled everybody, vowing that all labour issues should be settled as agreed otherwise all PHCN facilities would be shutdown including offices.
To make good their threat, all facilities and service centres in Benin City remained under lock and key including service centres where customers go to buy recharge card for their pre-paid metre.
However, CDRP, in a statement signed by its acting National Coordinator, Mr. Saka Waheed, and made available to THISDAY yesterday, noted that: “It was unfortunate and sad to remember that we are having a replica of 2012 fuel subsidy removal when Jonathan administration gave Nigerians an unwanted New Year gift.”
He remarked that again Nigerians are today given on the eve of Nigeria 53rd independence anniversary gift by handling over the power sector to private investor at the expense of helpless workers and citizen.”
Waheed said the privatisation of the power sector for private investors to take over was another trick by some few individuals in the corridors of power to enrich their cronies at the detriment of Nigerians.
He noted that the poor masses on the street have continue to receive arbitrary bill for bad service delivery, yet, the only song that Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) sing is the privatisation of power sector, ignoring the plight of workers and Nigerians.
“What further irked CDRP”, according to him, “is the deliberate misinformation and claim that PHCN workers have been paid their severance allowance and exit package whereas available fact shows that less than 30 per cent of the affected workers have been paid which means all the privatisation of power sector is shrouded in dishonesty and lack of political will by President Goodluck Jonathan-led government, which make his much publicised power sector reform a ruse.”
Waheed, while expressing dismay over a statement allegedly credited to President Jonathan that the federal government cannot close all other departments to resolve the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) crisis, noted that, “this indicated lack of sense of responsibility on the part of president which also contradict the president statement that the federal government is not broke.”
Information from This Day was used in this report.