Nigeria oil workers insist on all-inclusive conference to discuss industry problems

Despite suspending their strike, Nigerian oil workers insist on the convocation of an all-inclusive conference to discuss the problems facing the oil and gas industry in the country.

The nationwide strike suspended on Thursday was embarked upon to protest government’s decision to restructure the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.

The oil workers, under the aegis of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, said the problems facing the industry are too much for one individual, group or government to provide solutions to.

The President of PENGASSAN, Francis Johnson, told PREMIUM TIMES in an exclusive interview in Abuja that the problems are so much that it would require the coming together of all interest groups in the industry to proffer solutions that would be lasting legacies for future generations.

Mr. Johnson identified some of the problems to include crude oil theft, pipeline vandalism, backlog of joint venture cash calls, poor state of refineries, corruption in the importation of petroleum products and subsidy payment to marketers, and abuse of Nigerian Content policy.

He said the problems also include the status of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, Petroleum Equalization Fund, PEF, and interfering role of the NNPC in the performance of their mandates.

“What we (oil workers) want is an all-inclusive stakeholders meeting, so that Nigerians will hear the position of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC; PENGASSAN; National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, civil society, government and all other interest groups, so that we all know that whatever we are doing is in the open and transparent in the interest of Nigerians,” Mr. Johnson said.

“No responsible union enjoys protests. But, it is the last resort where dialogue fails. All what we want is for everyone to agree to work as one indivisible entity in the interest of Nigeria, so that the benefits from the oil and gas industry can come to all Nigerians,” he added.

On the on-going restructuring of the NNPC, the PENGASSAN president said the concern of his members was not to oppose what would bring the greatest benefits to all Nigerians, but to ensure that due process was followed and all interest groups are carried along.

He said the main grouse of oil workers on the restructuring of NNPC was on government insisting on carrying out the massive exercise without their involvement, regardless that they would be the ones to be used in the implementation of the decisions.

He added that government cannot successfully go ahead with the restructuring of NNPC without first laying a solid foundation, by removing all issues capable of posing problems or frustrating the exercise.

He pointed at the NNPC Act of 1977 that set up the NNPC, arguing that as a legal entity established by the Act of the National Assembly, there was no way the government would think about unbundling the corporation without first either repealing or amending the Act.

Mr. Johnson said the unions were concerned about the way government was going about the restructuring, which seem to suggest it did not know exactly what it wanted to do.

“Initially, the minister spoke about unbundling of NNPC. When there was so much pressure from the National Assembly over the issue, the Minister of State turned around to say government was not unbundling, but restructuring or reorganising NNPC.

“For God’s sake, there is no way the unions or anybody would be against any decision that Nigerians are convinced would yield benefits to the people, provided such decisions are open, honest transparent and with sincerity of purpose.

“For the unions, there must be consistency in policy formulation and implementation. There must be an informed consensus on all issues. There must be a buy-in by everyone. All interest parties must be on the same page. Everyone must understand the direction the industry is heading.

“It is not too good for the country that the oil and gas industry, the mainstay of our economy, would show such inconsistency in the way policies are formulated and implemented. We seem to be going one step forward today, and two steps backward tomorrow,” he said.

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