Talks on Nigeria power sector strike

2010-08-26 12:33

Abuja - Nigeria's government is talking to the electricity workers' union and has released funds for the payment of arrears to try to bring a quick end to a nationwide strike that has worsened already chronic power shortages.

The industrial action by members of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) threatens to overshadow the launch later on Thursday by President Goodluck Jonathan of a roadmap to reform the domestic power sector.

Jonathan's special adviser on power, Barth Nnaji, said thousands of electricity workers at state utility PHCN had already been paid arrears that had been owed for several years and that checks were being made for others to be paid.

"They have been owed this money for the last seven years, and this government within its short time span has been able to raise the money and actually paid it into the PHCN account," Nnaji told Reuters by telephone.

"We want to know those who are genuine beneficiaries of this money because there could be ghost workers. Thousands have already been verified and paid ... We are talking to them and hopefully it would be resolved as quickly as possible."

Constant power outages

Despite being Africa's biggest oil and gas producer, Nigeria is plagued by constant power outages and for many in the commercial capital Lagos and other cities - already used to regular blackouts - the strike made little tangible difference.

But residents in the capital Abuja, where electricity supply is generally more constant, complained of a near total-blackout.

"Abuja is in total darkness. Everywhere is dark apart from a few houses with generators and car headlamps on streets," one resident in the city said late on Wednesday.

Jonathan's reform plans, which involve privatising electricity generation and distribution, are aimed at ending the power outages and could unlock billions of dollars in private sector investment.