The news that the Federal Government has begun the payment of 408 active staff/next-of-kins (NOKs) of the defunct Power holding company of Nigeria (PHCN), has generated mixed feelings in the power sector. Already, the members of the National Union of Electricity Employees have disagreed with the number of beneficiaries, saying there are more than 2,000 workers that are supposed to benefit from the scheme.
They argued that 408 beneficiaries as claimed by the Federal Government are just about 20 per cent of the entire active staff and retirees/NOK, noting that about 1600 ex-workers are yet to receive their benefits.
The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), had on Thursday last week, issued a statement that the 408 active staff and retirees / next - of kins (NOKs) of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), who have been computed and audited by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) have started receiving payment of their entitlements amounting to N 1, 053,402,476. 03.
The privatisation agency, through its Director General, Alex Okoh, expressed delight that following the approval of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), chaired by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, the implementation is leading to the resolution of "this outstanding labour issue in the power sector privatisation."
He said the current milestone in the resolution and settlement of the outstanding labour liabilities became possible after the Bureau on March 27, 2018, constituted a technical working group comprising the OAG, PENCOM, NELMCO, NUEE, and SSAEAC and NUP which worked assiduously culminating in a meeting between the DG of BPE and the OAGF on August 1, 2018 to finalise the payment process.
However, given the fact that not all the active staff and retirees /NOKs of the defunct PHCN were verified, the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) at its meeting of April 16 , 2015, directed the Bureau to continue with the process of verification and payment of outstanding cases until a final resolution was achieved
The statement added that following the NCP directive and approval, the Bureau conducted the final verification for staff and retirees /NOKs of the defunct PHCN in six geo - political centers from October 3 - 14, 2016, resulting in the 408 beneficiaries who are now being paid.
The Guardian spoke to some of the labour leaders in the sector, given the fact that BPE claimed that it is the final payment for defunct PHCN workers, as well as they are the last batch of the verification, who were not captured in the initial exercise.
The General Secretary of NUEE, Comrade Joe Ajaero, said government is not serious about the payment process, stating that the number of beneficiaries given by the BPE is not accurate and should be ignored.
According to him, BPE has a technical working group (TWG) of which there are three batches and this is one of the batches.
He said he disagrees if BPE says the 408 beneficiaries are the final verification exercise and last batch.
"When TWG finish their work, they will send to BPE who falls in the accountant general office (OAG). For the past five years, the OAG have not been paying, so whose batch is this because there are about three batches after the verification exercises that are still pending. So this is just one batch of the number.
"They can't say that this batch constitute the final payment, because I'm aware that those waiting for final payment and NOKs are up to 900 alone, and we are talking of about 1900 or thereabout, those with short payment and those that were not paid anything at all. If they say that is the final verification, they are liars."
"Saying it's the last batch is not true. They should call another verification exercise and call all Nigerians to come and witness and see who is telling lies. Nobody's money should be mismanaged. The statement sent by BPE is a batch pay and not final verification pay.
They must pay the last person. 1600 PHCN workers are yet to receive theirs."
Similarly, a strong member of the NUEE, who craved anonymity told the Guardian that the fact that government released N1bn to 408 active staff and retirees/NOKs, the people that are supposed to benefit from it are over 2000 workers.
He said government is only playing 2019 politics, just to tell Nigerians they are trying, noting that the actual number of workers owed is a far cry to those been paid.
"The 408 are a small percentage of the whole figure. Government cannot claim they have made any significant impact if it is something they ought to have paid about four years ago. If you are paying about 20 per cent of the entire number, how can they say it is the final verification?
"Government is only playing 2019 politics, just to tell Nigerians that they are trying, but we know that the number has not gone far let alone the final."
"Government cannot say it is the final verification, they have the number and we also have. The people remaining are our workers, they are our members and they are alive, the records are there, it's not something you wash away.
"Government have to pay for the remaining ex-workers and very soon we will begin to demand interest. From the amount released for the 408 beneficiaries, we have remaining of over1600 workers and we are still waiting."
Recall that the NUEE has on several occasions decried nonpayment of severance benefits to former workers of the defunct PHCN, close to four years after the sale of PHCN assets. The union contended that cases of staff who have been duly verified but not yet paid their severance benefits include cases of under-payment of severance benefits, unpaid severance entitlements and pension deductions of all PHCN staff covering 16 months - July, 2012 - October, 2013.
It stated cases of staff that statutorily retired from service but yet to be paid their respective gratuities preceding the privatisation exercise. Cases of staff yet to receive the pension components of their entitlement and death cases still awaiting payment to the Next of Kin.
The union added that also pending was the refusal to conduct pre-retirement training for PHCN workers as required by the negotiated agreement.
The union, who had disclosed that the over 2,000 workers have not received any severance package since four years ago disclosed they are already wallowing in perpetual hunger and suffering with their family members.
They also called on the present administration after three years in the saddle to critically review the privatisation of the electricity industry. They noted that the status quo has rather deepened even as the nation suffers increasing gaps in electricity supply as more households wallow in darkness.