Nigeria: Jonathan Promises Stable Electricity by 2012 - FG Hikes Tariff

With an eye on the vote next year, President Goodluck Jonathan hit the ground running on Thursday with a promise that Nigerians will enjoy an uninterrupted power supply by 2012, in what looked like a campaign promise despite his keeping mum on the battle for the Villa.

He made the pitch in Lagos, the country's commercial hub and largest consumer of electricity and fuel, amid total blackout in several states occasioned by the strike by the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE).

He said Abuja is addressing the N57 billion benefit arrears for electricity workers, the cause of the strike, which has since been called off.

Jonathan disclosed his approval of the disbursement of N300 billion from the N500 billion ring-fenced for power intervention at the official launch of the roadmap for power sector reform, accompanied by a handful of Governors and Ministers, as well as by Barth Nnaji, the Professor of mechanical engineering in the United States, who chairs the Presidential Power Task Force.

Others at the event held at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, were Governors Babatunde Fashola (Lagos), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Gbenga Daniel (Ogun), Adebayo Alao-Akala (Oyo), Ikedi Ohakim (Imo), Ali Sheriff (Borno), and Patrick Yakowa (Kaduna).

Others included Ministers Diezani Alison-Madueke (Petroleum), Olusegun Aganga (Finance), Jubril Martins-Kuye (Commerce and Industry), and Nuhu Wya (Minister of State, Power).

Jonathan said Nigerians should expect a new electricity tariff regime, which would encourage investment in the sector and help improve supply.

"By God's grace by December 2012, Nigeria will not only celebrate one day of uninterrupted electricity supply but we would celebrate one week, one month and so on of uninterrupted electricity supply," he promised.

"A key factor to realise the goal of stable power is appropriate tariff. The present tariff regime is indeed very low compared to many countries and it would be readjusted in a way that will not affect consumers."

The power sector reform has reached a point of no return, he stressed, adding that his administration, will next Monday send to the National Assembly (NASS) the names of the new Commissioners for the Nigerian Electricity Regulating Commission (NERC).

Fashola said only explanation the public needs now is stable electricity that will rescue them from the jaws of poverty - and "we only want the President to tell us when the people will start to enjoy stable power supply."

Alison-Madueke replied that Abuja is determined not to look back until the nation gets out of epileptic power generation and supply.

She noted that the thermal stations have for the first time been given sufficient gas supply.

"Parts of the on-going achievement of the government is the gas-to-power project. Through this effort the gas supply to the thermal stations for power generation has reached an all-time-high," she stressed.

Wya added that unstable power supply is the result of inconsistencies in policy implementation, and the government has since realised that "budgetary provisions alone cannot resolve the issues in the Power Ministry.

"It is our agenda to see that this reform is given a logical point of no return."

Jonathan, visiting Lagos for the first time since he became President on May 6, arrived the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) at 10.15 a.m. on board Air Force 001 Presidential jet marked 5N-FGT.

He was cheered by a crowd of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) supporters, and entertained by Weird MC and her musical band, hip-hop artiste Sasha, traditional drummers, and Eyo masquerades.

Some of the banners held by the PDP supporters reads: "You must contest," "We welcome you to Lagos State," and "We are solidly behind you."

He later unveiled at Eko Hotel plans to scrap the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and welcome private investors to take charge of electricity generation and distribution.

"I've declared that on the attainment of stability in the sector, the government will disengage from generation and distribution of electricity. It will encourage private sector participation in these areas.

"Therefore, as articulated in the Electric Power Sector Reform Act, the private sector will be responsible for generation and distribution, while the government will still own the transmission grid, but with private sector management," he explained.

On the strike by electricity workers, Jonathan said his administration has demonstrated "sincere commitment" to meeting obligations to PHCN workers and have paid due attention to the concerns raised by the NUEE.

"In this regard, we have provided through a supplementary budget, the sum of N57 billion required to address the arrears of monetised benefits of PHCN workers, which has been outstanding for over seven years."

He added that funds have also been provided to pay the workers' severance package, pension, and gratuity upon the privatisation of the PHCN.

However, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) President, Abdulwaheed Omar, declared that the lack of human resource management ability of government agencies to respond to strike, which could have been avoided, plunged the country into darkness on Wednesday and Thursday.

He explained in a statement issued in Abuja that the NLC is pained that once more the nation was subjected to an avoidable discomfort.

His words: "Management teams of these new government vehicles for service provision are constantly peopled by so-called technical expertise with no thought being spared for human resource management expertise nor component, even though it is common knowledge that human beings, albeit Nigerian workers, are the tools that will be used to achieve whatever lofty directive might be on paper on computer slide presentation.

"The sad aspect of this situation is that even where indigenous technical experts are at the driving wheel, the impression given is still that of the workforce being more of a slave force.

"We, therefore, urge a conscious and careful effort to bring back to the care of formulation and execution of the mandate of these new government agencies, the critical concerns of the workforce."

Omar said this is the time for Jonathan to give prime place to Labour relations issues in the march to achieving the goals of reform, and further delay "is only postponing the doom that is to follow such informed approach to the sector's repositioning.

"A system that encourages casualisation of workers right under the watch of Mr. President must be decried."

The NUEE and the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied companies (SSAEAC) have maintained that the strike was suspended to give Abuja a final opportunity to implement agreements reached.

SSAEAC National President, Bede Opara, said the two unions took the decision after a meeting with Wya and the Labour and Productivity Minister, Chukwuemeka Wogu.

"We asked the workers to resume work by 9 a.m. (on Thursday) and now normalcy has been restored in the energy sector," Opara stated.

NUEE General Secretary, Joe Ajearo, added that the workers have the interest of Nigeria at heart, and the "government has agreed to pay up the arrears and harmonise all other grey areas as promised and we are hoping that (it) will not renege on its promise this time around."

Gbenga Ogunbufunmi, Sylvester Enoghase Adeola Yusuf, Abel Orukpe, Ekene Okoro, Daisy El-Edoamhen (Lagos) and Innocent Oweh (Abuja)

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