The over 40,000 workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) have a grudge with the federal government. The grudge is based on the announcement and plans of the federal government to privatise over 80 percent of PHCN, and the rest be concessioned.
The workers believe that the privatization process will leave them without work. The workers assume that new owners of these companies, mainly generation (Gencos) and the distribution (Discos) will sack them and replace them with another set of workers.
The current agitation also follows the government preparedness for the privatization process by the release of money for the payment of all entitlements to these workers. It has been reported that the government has paid about N53 billion owed the workers. The government has also promised that N130 billion for the workers’ severance package will be included in the 2011 budget. The representative of the workers under the aegis of the Senior Staff of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC), however said the government has not carried them along in the process. They alleged that the payment of entitlements is not same thing as being carried along and protested that their subsisting conditions of services are currently being trampled upon by the federal government.
It is important that the workers agitation and rights are very clear. We believe workers should be maintained. All the rights of the workers should be maintained by the government. However, that right does not include the right to determine whether the government should continue with privatization or not. We are glad that the federal executive government is determined to continue with the planned privatization process. This position is also supported by the National Assembly. Senator Ayodele Arise, for instance, said the “planned privatization will continue”.
The workers also allege that the privatization process will mean the transfer of the nation’s assets to private investors, most of whom they believe will be foreigners. In a massive exercise such as the government is embarking on, it is unlikely that foreigners will not be among the ones that will buy the assets. However, the assets are virtually “worthless” as they are because PHCN is not providing the power the assets were meant to deliver. The whole of the privatization is the delivery of power to the country at a cost much less and in a more efficient manner than country currently delivers power. In the process, if some foreigners are able to bring in their expertise and capital to do so, it should be welcomed by everyone, and it does not mean the nation’s assets are being transferred to foreigners. There are many foreign companies doing well in Nigeria, many employing people and providing services. More should be welcomed.
It is important for all the staff of PHCN to understand that they have lost the public trust, even if most of the blame should be directed to successive governments. It is in the context that the we believe the staff should welcome new owners that will invest in the companies and in them. The new owners will require the skills of existing workers, and in matter of few years, the workers in the industry should rise in number and quality. It is this level of transofromation that the workers should expect and be proud of.