–Okonkwo, TCN GM and SSAEAC president
Isaac Anumihe, Abuja
The deadlock between the Federal Government and Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC), which lasted for five months recently ended with the reinstatement of the General Manager, Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and the union’s President General, Dr Chris Okonkwo, vide a letter with reference number: TCN/MD/CEO/01/8.0/Vol. 2/584/2020, dated September 25, 2020. His reinstatement averted a nationwide strike planned the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
In this interview, Okonkwo recalled the experiences of his premature retirement and the circumstances that caused the mutual dislike between him and the former Managing Director of TCN, Mr Usman Gur Mohammed.
What was your experience like in your forced but short-lived retirement?
Retirement? No, it was a case of victimisation. It was a test-run for me towards retirement in four years’ time. I had to fall back on my savings during the five months while cutting down on my expenses. The suddenness was a factor in its effect on me. However, it is good that it has been reversed.
What are the lessons therefrom?
The lessons are that there is no certainty in anything and that one should be ready for unexpected events. Therefore, preparedness is an attitude that was missing given that it was premature and unplanned for. I am looking forward to preparing better by starting with higher saving attitude to mitigate the shock of leaving service.
Having left office for five months, how did your colleagues receive you on resumption?
As a union president, I did not realise my value with co-workers until my recall happened. It was jubilation galore in TCN headquarters. I received high traffic of colleagues coming to congratulate me and to thank God for the vindication of my innocence.
What is your relationship like with the Acting MD?
My relationship with the Acting MD is cordial on both work and union levels, having known each other before the unfortunate developments and we had travelled together on a foreign training. We are poised to lift TCN higher with my resumption of work. Don’t forget that he signed the letter reversing the false retirement.
For the purpose of properly informing our readers, please recall the circumstances that led to the forced ‘retirement.’
The journey to the unfortunate action taken by Usman Gur Mohammed, the former managing director of TCN started with his appointment which we knew was irregular. We understood that he claimed to be a power sector expert from African Development Bank. That description was suspect. The other point is that he was a middle-level manager in the system before he left and returned as MD suspiciously. He was an accounts staff with such qualifications in an engineering company. For the above reasons and lack of experience in engineering and human management, the two unions in the sector opposed his appointment such that he could not assume duties until six months after. He had to contact me as the president of the union, to help him before he assumed duties. The fear of the two unions was that he would be offensive and vindictive in using his powers as chief executive, particularly against those who were his seniors in service before his departure. True to prediction, he descended on people he considered more qualified and therefore constituted threat to his position. He became power drunk and descended on perceived “powerful” or more qualified persons. This tendency grew with time and he resorted to instigating insurrection in particular, my union, while inducing the other union to fight us. In essence; divide and rule became his policy.
My union, after several unofficial and official efforts to get him to follow the rules of service as he met them, declared a trade dispute with his management for sundry contraventions of the TCN Conditions of Service (2016).
After several invitations to him by the Federal Ministry of Labour, which he shunned five times, pressure made him to respond. He tried all tricks and lies to negate the facts presented against him. While the process was still on, he wrote several letters to the ministers of Power and Labour seeking for approval to sack me. When he did not get the approval, he took the matter into his hands and by-passed the process and the ministers to issue the illegal termination letter.
What steps did you and other officials take to address your grievances?
Following the answer above, I wrote personal petitions to ministers of Power and Labour, demanding for justice. I cited the acts of victimisation by the same man against me and the lack of due process in his last action. In fact, I cited the criminal falsification of my service records in the purported termination letter.
This was taken up and he was found to have breached protocol and procedures, particularly, he did not comply with TCN Condition of service (COS), which stated that the board of the company (represented by Minister of Power) has the power he exercised after due process. In a nutshell, the man was acting above his authority and disrespected his superiors or supervisors.
What was the role of the President and the Federal Government in this matter?
The President, represented by the Minister of Labour, Minister of Power, Minister of State for Power and the Permanent Secretary investigated the action and my petition to arrive at the reasons for my reinstatement.
Many alleged that you caused the sacking of the former MD. In a nutshell, please recall the circumstances that led to his sack?
As stated above, his actions sacked him. He had no respect for due process nor hierarchy even when he was enforcing his right and wrong authorities over others. He did this to the sitting ministers and their predecessors and boasting and dropping names of Presidency officials, to intimidate and escape sanction. That trend came to a head with my case hence I am being linked to his sack. It was of his own making that such fate befell him.
To what extent did the former MD use the junior staff union to destabilise the electricity sector?
My union (the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies) resisted his oppressive management style. He courted the other union and sponsored renegades in my union to the extent of recognising them over us. He showed classical lack of knowledge and wisdom by descending into union matters to the point of competing with me for the presidency of my union. We thought that to be a height of meddlesomeness which he refused to stop until May 19, 2020 when he was sacked summarily.
Will reinstatement capable of reuniting the senior and junior staff unions?
I shall look forward to that although there are negative signals because of some economic gifts he used to fuel the disagreements between the unions.
No doubt, there might be some senior staff that sided with the former MD. What steps will the union take against them?
Well, such people have a judgment and choice to make based on events before and after. We know that many of such senior staff were coerced or were frightened by his management-by-harassment style for fear of victimisation. We hope they realise that some mistakes were made and then take steps to redress them now.