The National Industrial Court sitting in Akure has adjourned the case filed by the disengaged staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) against the company.
The ruling on the matter was postponed till October 18, 2016, after the court heard from counsels of both parties on Wednesday in Ondo State, southwest Nigeria.
The electricity employees were led by the President of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Ondo State chapter, Clement Daudu.
The staff, numbering 75 were in court to challenge their alleged disengagement since 2013 without following due process and non-payment of their severance packages.
Joined in the suit as second, third and fourth defendants were the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and the National Electricity Liability Management Company (NELMCO).
Some electricity workers under the aegis of NUEE have staged a protest over the non-payment of severance packages of their colleagues by the Transmission Company of Nigeria.
The members of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) on Monday barricaded the gate of the headquarters of the electricity company in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
According to the Senior Assistant General Secretary of NUEE, Cyprian Ndubuisi, at least 3,000 workers of the then Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), who were disengaged before privatisation, have not been paid their severance packages.
The union also barred workers from entering into their offices while they called on the Federal Government to resolve all lingering labour issues concerning their welfare.
Severed workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), are protesting ongoing plans to liquidate the company’s assets amidst pending labour issues including outstanding severance benefits of nearly 5,000 workers.
The protest was led by the Chairman of the FCT Council of Electricity Employees, Mr Wisdom Nwachukwu on Monday.
The workers demanded that Federal Government put the liquidation on hold and investigate the rushed process by the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the engagement of a law firm, J.K Gadzama as liquidator, contrary to the provisions of the law on assets liquidation.
They said that 10% equity and 7.5% RSA owed over 50,000 workers by the Federal Government, 16 months outstanding benefits and other outstanding issues in the sub-sector should be concluded before the winding down of the corporate headquarters of the PHCN, as agreed between the Power Sector Labour Union and the Federal Government in 2012.
The Nigeria Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) on Thursday, urged the Federal Government to suspend the planned liquidation of the unbundled PHCN.
The General Secretary of the Union, Mr Joe Ajearo, made the call during a protest by the workers in Abuja.
Mr Ajaero said that the planned liquidation must not take place without settling outstanding major labour issues in the sector.
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has ruled out the abolition of fixed charges on electricity tariffs, as recently directed by the Senate.
An official of the regulatory body said that the directive undermined the electricity laws enacted by the National Assembly.
The Chairman of the NERC, Dr. Sam Amadi, told reporters on Monday that taking such a decision without appropriate consideration could cause a collapse in the power sector.
Dr. Amadi said that due process, which is currently ongoing, could cause a review of fixed charges to ensure free and reasonable costs to consumers.
He reiterated that the fixed charges were legal and an important part of electricity pricing framework that supports the functioning of electricity generation, transmission and distribution, without which the sector might collapse.
Exploitative In Nigeria
He said fixed charges were part of electricity market globally but tends to be exploitative in Nigeria, as a result of epileptic power supply for which consumers are compelled to pay, a trend he said would change, as electricity generation and supply improve.
Since the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria and the introduction of distribution companies, the power sector has been beset by complaints of outrageous electricity bills and tariffs by different levels of consumers.
On July 11, 2015, the Senate asked the NERC to abolish fixed charges paid by electricity consumers across the country.
To eliminate the negative impact and perception of the fixed charges, Dr. Amadi said the commission had mandated the distribution companies to restructure the charges to ensure that it was proportionate to actual electricity consumed.
Also addressed by the commission was consumers’ concern on estimated billing which the NERC boss said a public consultation would soon be conveyed towards introducing a benchmark for estimations to end outrageous bills.
The Senate has urged the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), to abolish fixed charges collected from electricity consumers.
Federal lawmakers at Tuesday’s plenary session, made the resolution after reviewing the operations of the electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) since the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria.
The Senate urged the commission to advise the DISCOs to end bulk metering as well as halt the practice of making consumers pay for poles and transformers, which by law, are properties of electricity distribution companies.
Most of the Senators, who contributed to the motion, narrated tales of woes on electricity supply and billing in their constituencies, accusing the DISCOs of running fraudulent operations and acts of extortion.
Some of the lawmakers said that while they expected the privatisation of the power sector to guarantee stable power supply, the situation had grown from bad to worse.
In a special report by Channels Television, residents of Karamajiji, a settlement in the Federal Capital Territory, had lamented the outrageous electricity bills which the distribution company hands down to them every month end.
The Senators have now said that consumers should give notice of where they purchase items to the DISCOs and the DISCOs should in turn be entitled to recover their expenses from subsequent consumption of electricity.
As at the time of privatising the now defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, the company’s liabilities stood at about 1 trillion Naira.
The Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Company, NELMCO, took over the management of the liabilities, assets, as well as the management of the pension of electricity workers of the defunct PHCN.
The Federal Government says it is committed to ensuring that the investors in the nation’s power sector do not suffer debt overhang in their bid to provide constant and efficient power supply to the country.
Our guest on this edition of Dateline Abuja is the Managing Director of NELMCO, Dr Sam Agbogun, who speaks on the challenges of managing these aspects of the company.
The managing director of Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Company (NELMCO), Dr Sam Agbogun, says measures have been put in place to prevent new investors in the power sector from suffering any debt overhang.
After privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in November 2013 , there have been complaints of poor power supply in most states, a development blamed on lack of finance to acquire needed infrastructure to boost supply.
Dr Agbogun stressed that the measures would enable the investors concentrate on improving electricity infrastructure for optimum performance and steady supply of electricity to Nigerians.
Addressing a news conference in Abuja Nigeria’s capital on Monday, He said that the heavy debt burden of 752 billion Naira by the company would not deter them from ensuring that Nigerians enjoy steady power supply.
The NELMCO boss also told reporters that pensioners of the defunct PHCN were being verified, with a view to settling outstanding backlog of pension owed the disengaged workers.
Workers were severed after November 1 handing over of the PHCN to the private owners by the Nigerian government.
He also said that pipeline vandalism in Nigeria had contributed hugely to the poor power supply.
“Anybody that vandalises a pipeline may vandalise the pipeline to go and sell crude somewhere thinking that he is making money, but each time he vandalises a pipeline, whether it is a gas pipeline or an oil pipeline, it affects everyone.
“But before we can get to a point where we don’t have to think about power because it is just there, it requires a lot of investment, a lot of capital has to go into that,” he stated.
Mr Cole pointed out that the power sector had taken a new shape with the taking over of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria by private owners, saying that the private companies still have to work with the government and the regulators to achieve realistic results.
“It is a new area and it is expected that laws and relationship between the regulators, investors and customers will be shaped along the way.
“We will begin to see improvement within six months, but improvement in communication is the first thing that we need,” he explained.
According to him, people need to understand the difference between generation and transmission and then the difference between transmission and distribution.
“Most people don’t know what these things are and as far as the customer is concerned, he wants just one thing, power, power, that is all,” the Sahara Group boss said.
Sahara Group is a conglomerate present in over 13 countries with interests in trading, storage, energy and power resources, aviation, farming and real estate.
Some electricity workers in Nigeria have held a protest in Abuja to demand the payment of the terminal benefits of over 25,000 staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) by the Federal Government.
The protest, held on Monday at the former PHCN’s office in Wuse area, followed the expiration of a 14 day ultimatum given by the electricity workers in December 2013. The workers had called on the government to conclude all labour-related issues in the power sector within 14 days.
With placards of various inscriptions, the former electricity workers expressed their grievances.
They say government has not made any genuine effort to implement the agreements reached with the union in the sector.
Issues Of Irregular Staff Identities
Officials of the union say over 25,000 PHCN workers have not been paid their terminal benefits contradicting the claims of the Nigerian government.
The Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) said that it had settled the gratuity and pension of 43, 375 former workers of the power holding company of Nigeria.
In a statement which was signed by the head, Public Communications, Mr Chigbo Anichebe, the BPE said the remaining 4.5 per cent of the workers yet to be paid had issues of irregular staff identities and duplication of staff numbers and names.
Mr Anichebe called on the workers to be patient and assured them that the issues would be addressed.
The Federal Government and Organised Labour are expected to meet on Monday to review labour issues in the power sector and the education sector.
Top on the agenda will be the non-payment of terminal benefits for thousands of sacked workers, and alleged victimization of labour leaders in the massive sack of workers immediately after the take-over of the assets of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.
The Academic Staff Union Of Universities, ASUU, would also be meeting on the same day with the leadership of the Nigeria Labor Congress, a day after the union advised parents not to endanger the lives of their children and wards by sending them to their university campuses.
ASUU, which also told its members not to sign attendance registers in their institutions, accused the Federal Government of lack of consistency in its statements on the ongoing strike.
However, the Senate President, Senator David Mark, has pleaded with ASUU to reconsider their position and return to classes to salvage the already battered education sector from further deterioration.
In a press statement, senator mark also urged the Federal Government not to use the sledge hammer on ASUU on account of the lingering strike.
The Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, workers are gearing up for a nationwide strike to prevent the planned Federal Government handover on the grounds that their terminal entitlements have not been fully paid.
The National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, has directed its members to withdraw their services from all installations in the event of provocation by armed military personnel.
A statement signed by the Secretary-General of the union, Mr. Joe Ajaero, said the plan of the Federal Government to hand over the power assets negated the agreement it reached with the union to resolve all outstanding labour issues.
Mr Ajaero insisted that the gratuity payment was only 68% completed and that no member of the union has had their pension contributions transferred into their retirement savings accounts.
He said, “those that retired from service since 2011 have not received their benefits totaling about 19billion Naira. The differences of the shortfall of the terminal benefits from June 30, 2012 till date have not been considered for payment.
The statement further said “the question of 10% equity shareholding (in the companies) by the workers as statutorily provided has not been given attention”.
“While we appreciate and sympathise with the core investors, we ask for their understanding and that of the Nigerian public in our pursuit to ensure a seamless transition. We are resolute on receiving every kobo owed us, as we are sure such liabilities will not be borne by the new investors.”
It will be recalled that the Federal Government had earlier declared that it would go ahead with the physical hand over of the company’s assets to the new owners as scheduled on November the 1st, as announced by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry Of Power, Mr Godknows Igali, after a meeting with Vice President Namadi Sambo, on the power privatisation process.