Power: N200m investment desirable for technical staff deficit

The power sector is battling with chronic technical staff deficit and ageing population of skilled staff, two legacy challenges that require investments of about N200 million, New Telegraph has learnt. Investigations showed that these challenges inherited from the preprivatisation era was created and worsened through the desertion of training in the defunct National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) and Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) for over 16 years.

For 16 years of NEPA and PHCN, the Federal Government, this newspaper can report authoritatively, did not employ technical people and did not provide structured training for 23 years. Most of the people that were employed back then were parttime technical people, which cannot develop the sector.

A legacy staff of PHCN who is now a management staff of one of the 11 distribution companies (Discos), told this newspaper after his anonymity was assured: “What happened really was that the people were aging, getting sick, retiring and dying with no replacements for them and, at the end of the day, we are handing over to the private sector, totally deficient and technically incapacitated workforce.

“This is a problem that all the Discos and even Gencos are still battling with three years after the privatisation. The source said that it would “require investments of about N200 million to fully replace the ageing population of skilled staff and fillin the huge gap of technical staff created by many years of neglect of the sector by government.”

While expressing worries at the increasing number of expatriate technical workers in the power sector, government had earlier said that expatriate technical workers were already taking over jobs that ordinarily should be done by Nigerians if adequate technical training were not stopped in PHCN.

Post-privatise power sector, the source said, is still battling with acute shortage of technical staff. “To face the fact, many engineers inherited from the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) are ageing and need replacement,” he said.

The cumulative effects of lack of structured technical training and recruitment of technical personnel into Nigeria’s electricity sector in the last couple of years is now taking a huge toll on the sector.

The development now constitutes a big threat to the reforms in the power sector, considering the lack of adequate and quality technical personnel in the sector. Upon its privatisation of successor companies of defunct PHCN, government said that it handed over to the private sector a porous technical workforce, which now needs to be replaced for the sector to thrive further.

Rattled by this problem, the former minister of power, Professor Chinedu Nebo, floated National Power Sector Apprenticeship Scheme (NAPSAS), which was launched at the presidential villa by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The tempo of activities at the scheme is said to have gone down drastically now. Meant to address the lingering gap in technical personnel within the sector, NAPSAS, Nebo said then, was to engage young Nigerians through training to undertake technical roles in the country’s growing power sector, thus closing up on the number of expatriates that will be employed in the sector. But the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) has identified this problem.

The disco has partnered with Elizade University to churn out 200 graduates every year with electricity technical skills. Government was also wary of the country’s experience in her oil and gas sector, which was mostly run by expatriate workers until a local content law was enacted to improve the technical and managerial competence of Nigerians.

Government acknowledged: “It is a crisis situation we have, we want to train people in NAPSAS that are artisans; technicians, jointers, fitters, substation operators and all kinds of people through the electricity value chain.

“The basic thing is that we want a ready-made workforce of core Nigerians in the technical and artisanal areas, a homegrown technical workforce that will drive the sector, because, for 16 years, workers were retiring and dying and nobody was replacing them and, all of a sudden, there is such a huge gap. “We cannot run away from it because if we don’t do it, the Chinese, Pakistani and Indians are coming.

They are even here already and you see them doing jobs that Nigerians can do. Why don’t we train our people as we create these jobs so that when the international companies demand for expatriate quota, we can ask them if they have exhausted the local capacity that we have here. “It is going to take a while for this crisis to be over; we have been in a hole for a long time and we have to do these gradually,” it stated.

The power sector has suffered a total investment deficit of N750 billion in the past three years of privatisation according to investigations. The shortfall accumulated based on N250 billion annual investments promised by both the Federal Government and the investors in power distribution.

A document on privatisation earlier made available by the investors and seen by this newspaper, showed that the new owners of power assets promised to invest N250 billion annually in each of the years between 2013 and 2018 (five years covered by privatisation document).

Confirming the figure, chief executive officers of two distribution firms stated that the deficit was recorded based on ceiling placed on investment for them by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).

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