Unsettled severance benefits of ex-PHCN staff

Joe Ajaero

The long wait for the complete settlement of the outstanding exit benefits of ex-PHCN staff five years after the privatisation of the power sector is becoming unbearable and increasingly frustrating. At the point of the initial payment in 2013, the assumption of many Nigerians was that it was wholly and entirely settled. Five years down the line, the bitter truth remains that many were underpaid while others are yet to receive a dime. At that time, there were obvious discrepancies in the payments but the authorities were in a haste to raise vouchers as they consider the in-house unions/employees the major obstacle to the attainment of the privatisation goals. Since then, there was no deliberate or concerted effort by the Bureau of Public Enterprise and the National Council on Privatisation to complete this long overdue exit rights and privileges.

The over 50 thousand Nigerians who are the supposed beneficiaries of the unpaid entitlements have lived from hand to mouth after disengagement from service while their dues are probably cooling off somewhere in private pockets. Many can no longer afford the upkeep of their families. Some are sick with terminal ailments while others have regrettably gone to the great beyond without enjoying fully the fruits of their labour. The ex-PHCN staff have for no fault of theirs joined the league of NITEL staff and staff of other privatised entities on the pathetic and long wait for their deserved benefits and entitlements. The deafening silence on the remaining unpaid entitlements by the authorities concerned for five years running has remained a source of concern to the waiting beneficiaries. Unfortunately, our nation and its leaders are such that pay little or no attention to the deserving benefits of those who served their country meritoriously.

It will not be out of place to mention the remaining unpaid entitlements which government should approve for payment without further delay. These are benefits captured in Hassan Summonu’s Report which formed the basis of agreement between government and employees before severance. Firstly, seven and half percent (7.5%) employer/Federal Government pension counterpart fund. It may interest the general public to know that since 2013, the sum deposited in various Pension Fund Administrators of ex-employees of PHCN was the 7.5% part of the employees only. Those who are pensionable only draw from their 7.5% counterpart payment as government has not redeemed their own part. Secondly, ten percent (10%) equity share meant for ex-staff of PHCN on offer of first refusal. The privatisation programme was designed to bequeath 10% equity share holding of the company to ex-staff where they worked. It was an incentive which offers ex-staff automatic 10% ownership of the company where they worked.

With this arrangement, it was expected that no staff will lose his job considering the fact that they are co-owners of the company. This was meant to spur the employees to do more in sustaining the business which from all indications is theirs to build and nurture. Thirdly, local and foreign exit training workshops and conferences. The training workshops and conferences were prerequisite disengagement process adopted to equip the disengaged staff on life after public service. Allowance was to be paid to all the ex-staff on account that the training was not organised before the disengagement. Fourthly, unpaid sixteen (16) months outstanding arrears. This arose from the unpaid basic allowances for sixteen months beginning from 2012 when the transition period leading to handover commenced. Fifthly, insurance premium totaling over twenty seven (N27) billion.

However, the huge sum found its way into various private accounts of the high, mighty and their accomplices. According to an affidavit deposed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Punch Newspaper report of December 25, 2017, about six billion naira cash, over two billion naira worth of shares in Aso Savings, about 16 houses, landed properties scattered all over the nation and thousands of dollars were recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Unfortunately EFCC had asked a court of competent jurisdiction in Abuja for interim forfeiture of the sum and other properties to the Federal Government. It was surprising that an agency of government which is aware of the true beneficiaries of the fund according to the report should prefer to ask a court to grant an order of interim forfeit of the money to government instead of the bona-fide owners.

Recently, in some newspaper reports, the Secretary General of the National Union of Electricity of Employees, Comrade Joe Ajaero has accused the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris of complicity and delay in the said payment. Ajaero maintained that payment schedules for batches 14, 15 and 36 were on the Accountant General’s table for over six months but he failed to act on it with dispatch they deserved. In a letter to the Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, dated August 14, NUEE through its General Secretary, Joe Ajaero, expressed disappointment over the protracted issue and warned that the union was being pushed to the limit over the unpaid benefits. NUEE letter reads in part: “We want to put it on record that the technical working group (TWG) has since concluded their job and nothing in terms of settlement of the delayed exit entitlement has been recorded so far. The union is unhappy that your organisation has not arranged the update since the TWG was inaugurated in March, 2018.

“It is disheartening to note that five years after privatisation, people are still being owed severance and other exit benefits. Many have gone to the great beyond waiting for these legitimate entitlements. We are tired of the unending wait while the aggrieved and deprived beneficiaries continued to flood our office with their complaints.” It added that “We hope that needful steps will be taken to effect full payments of all the outstanding benefits without further delay.”

Meanwhile, investigation revealed that the Accountant General of the Federation, AG, has been stalling payment of benefits of some of affected staff despite being cleared and the names forwarded to the AGF by BPE with details of benefits. In fact, it was discovered that since August 1, the BPE has sent three letters to the AG detailing individual benefits and total amount needed to pay the benefits of the affected workers and former workers termed ‘batch 14, 15 and 36.” Ajaero’s outburst was a reflection of the growing frustration and haplessness among the generality of ex-PHCN staff who now hung their fate in the Almighty. Government should take this accusation seriously and treat it with the urgency it deserves.

This piece is a passionate appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari and Osinbajo who is the chairman, National Council on Privatisation to as a matter of urgency wade into this matter for a labourer deserves his full wage. “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin.
Eze is a media and communications specialist and the publisher, thenewinsightng.

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Joe AjaeroPHCN
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