It is natural that there are sometimes differences between the government and the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) in the approach to the resolution of national issues, but the strategic objective has always been the same: the development of our dear nation and the improvement of the living standards of all its people.
Like NUEE, the Goodluck Jonathan administration believes passionately in the development of human capital for national growth. In the words of the South Commission Report on how emerging nations of the world could leapfrog developmentally, man is both the means and the end of development. The Report must be right. The difference between developed nations and developing ones is fundamentally the difference in human capital development.
To illustrate, countries and territories like South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan have no mineral deposits, but they are today well developed because they have developed their human capital. Conversely, countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo which have immense natural resources are still not yet developed because the human capital has not been harnessed properly.
In recognition of the critical place of human capital development in national growth, the Federal Ministry of Power decided, no sooner than I was appointed its minister in July, to restore the structured training programme of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) which had been abandoned since 1989. It is also in recognition of the centrality of human capital development in the march of civilisation that the Federal Ministry of Power has decided to transform the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN) into the foremost institute of its kind in Africa and even beyond. A similar institute in India, established in 1965, has trained 1,000,075 electric power professionals from all over the world, including Nigeria.
It awards highly regarded bachelor’s and master’s degrees in different fields of the power sector. So, if India could be a centre of excellence in power training, why not Nigeria? In the not too distant future, NAPTIN will go far beyond conducting short term training courses for only the PHCN staff to providing comprehensive capacity development programmes for all categories of power professionals.
The Jonathan administration is irrevocably committed to the welfare of power sector employees. Within one month of its coming into being in May 2010, it presented to the National Assembly a supplementary budget with a provision of N57 billion for the payment of monetised benefits of PHCN workers which were denied them for seven whole years. At least 99 per cent of PHCN employees have since received their entitlements.
Despite the growing economic challenges facing the nation, President Jonathan has graciously approved the regularisation of the appointments of some 11,000 so-called casual workers of the PHCN with retroactive effect. In the same manner, the president in May 2011 approved a 50% increase in the PHCN staff salary with effect from next month.
He went further to provide a N9 billion grant to the PHCN to enable it to pay for the first three months of the huge increase which ballooned the PHCN monthly wage bill from over N7 billion to over N11 billion. The new wage bill consumes almost the entire monthly PHCN revenue. To sustain the new bill, both the management and staff of each successor company as well as those of the PHCN corporate headquarters need to work harder than ever before; the revenue profile has to improve considerably and soon.
Let it be noted that it is not enough to increase the revenue profile. There are leakages in the system that must be blocked. Among these are issues of over-invoicing as well as reports of PHCN employees cooperating with electricity consumers to defraud the nation of huge revenues through meter by-passing and other sharp practices. Negative practices impede social and economic development everywhere.
Therefore, they cannot be condoned, all the more so by a government determined to transform the country. As far back as early last year, the government directed allministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to conduct biometric verification of all public servants, including ministers. In places where the verification has taken place, the result has been quite revealing, as up to 30% of the workers were found to be non-existent. Put succinctly, biometric data gathering has proved to be a veritable vehicle for the promotion of integrity, accountability, honesty, transparency, good governance and other values which every country cherishes. Biometric data capturing is also important in creating appropriate data bases and in staff planning.
It is in the interest of all that the federal government decided that the private sector should become the main driver of the electric power sector through, among other things, the dilution of the federal government’s stake in the 17 generation and distribution successor companies of the PHCN. The argument in some quarters that these firms be allowed to compete with independent power producers and distributors is, with due respect, not realistic enough.
Nigeria Airways, owned by the federal government, could not compete on either local or international routes with private airlines. It died a natural death. Neither state-owned NITEL nor MTEL could compete with private telephone networks, leading to a situation where the workers have been owed salaries and allowances for three whole years. May this never be the lot of PHCN workers. It is improper to advocate that the nation take once again the very trajectory which led to the collapse of state-owned enterprises and inflicted untold misery on their employees. A paradigm shift is needed in some quarters.
—Prof Nnaji is the minister of Power