In a bid to avert the looming industrial crises in the country, involving National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG), oil marketers, Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, and the Nigeria Labour Congress, the coordinating minister of the economy and Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala has relocated to Lagos.
The minister arrived Lagos yesterday and engaged some of the aggrieved marketers, union members and other stakeholders in the downstream sector in discussions.
NUPENG , yesterday, gave the Federal Government till Thursday to pay oil marketers their verified subsidy claims or members would begin a nationwide strike by Friday, while the PHCN workers are also poised for a showdown with the government over disagreement in pension and gratuities.
Similarly, government, yesterday, assured residents of the Federal Capital Territory that everything was being done to put an end to the fuel scarcity in the city.
In a statement in Abuja, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr Doyin Okupe said ‘the approach taken by government at resolving this crisis is multi-faceted and multi dimensional. The Ministers of Labour, Power, and other high level officers of government have met for several hours with the aggrieved PHCN workers and virtually all their demands have been agreed upon except for the issue of severance benefits of workers.”
According to Okupe, “while the workers insist on their terms of employment, government’s proposition is based on the Pension Act of 2004. However, this matter will most probably be resolved favourably within the coming week by the Presidency.”
Finance Minister moves to Lagos
Okupe continued: “In the same vein, the coordinating minister of the economy and Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala has shifted her base temporarily to Lagos in spite of the holidays and has been engaged intensively also with the aggrieved marketers, union members and other stakeholders in the downstream sector.
“All indications are to the effect that favourable resolutions are being reached and all matters are likely to be resolved within this week, as all these efforts are being made to ensure that the crisis that has caused a lot of hardships to commuters and motorists is not unduly prolonged and does not also extend beyond the city of Abuja in the case of the fuel scarcity.
“The Federal Government, therefore, urges Nigerians to be calm, as all hands are on deck to ensure that normalcy returns soonest,” he said.
It will be recalled that the disagreement between the federal government and oil marketers has precipitated acute fuel scarcity in Abuja which has made the celebration of the Eid-el-Fitr very difficult in the Federal Capital Territory.
Staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria have also threatened to embark on strike if their expectations are not met before the federal government goes ahead with its planned privatisation of the power sector.
NUPENG gives FG Thursday deadline
NUPENG, yesterday, issued a Thursday deadline to the Federal Government to pay oil marketers their verified subsidy claims or members will begin a nationwide strike by Friday.
At a briefing in Lagos, President of NUPENG, Comrade Igwe Achese, demanded the resignation of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, accusing her of not only undermining the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, but also paying subsidy claims to “portfolio importers” because of their alleged closeness to corridors of power.
Oil marketers under the aegis of Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN; Jetties and Petroleum Tank Farm Owners of Nigeria, JEPTFON; Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association, DAPPMA and Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, MOMAN are claiming N200 billion unpaid subsidy claims.
Vanguard gathered from MOMAN that only one of its members had been paid while five others were yet to be paid.
It was gathered that no member of JEPTFON, IPMAN and DAPPMA, has been paid.
Achese dismissed allegation that the union was being used by marketers, saying not even the government could use it, pointing out that it was fighting for the interest of members who had not been paid for the past five months because of the unpaid subsidy claims.
The NUPENG president equally accused the Minister of selective payment of subsidy claims and asked government to distinguish between real importers who had invested massively in the industry and ‘portfolio importers’.
Achese called on government to publish names of marketers that had been paid and those not paid as well as explain reasons for their non-payment.
He said the union had restricted industrial unrest to Abuja, the Federal Capital, because of the Ramadan and the Sallah celebration, warning that should government fail to pay the marketers between now and Thursday, the union would declare a full blown nationwide strike by Friday.
He recalled that the union’s last strike over the same matter was suspended based on a memorandum of understanding, MOU, signed by all the stakeholders and the Finance Minister that payments would commence on the subsidy owed the marketers.
We can not be used — NUPENG
According to him, “NUPENG cannot and will never be used by the Federal Government, institutions, companies because we are stakeholders in the industry. The fight and struggle for the enthronement of democracy in this country during the June 12, 1993 struggle cannot be in vain.
The struggle for the emancipation of Nigerians from the hands of the military cannot be rubbished or swept under the carpet by some Ministers, like the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and her cohorts in the same boat who have failed to take the country out of economic woods. It is our firm belief that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the number one worker of our great country, Nigeria, will heed this clarion call in order to move the transformation agenda forward.”
“It is against this back-drop that we call on the Minister of Finance to pay all outstanding subsidy claims to the NNPC and the private depot owners, who are being asked by the same government to import fuel. We state that the failure of the Minister to meet the NNPC and marketers’ payment obligation is a ploy to create hardship for Nigerians.
“This is a plan for them to put-up the refineries for privatisation to their cronies at ridiculous rates. That is why we want the Minister to explain the rationale behind the selective ‘payments of the subsidy claims. We also state emphatically that if the government is sincere in its subsidy payment, why are they not fully implementing findings of the adhoc-committee on subsidy, set up by the House of Representatives? “
Ongoing strike in Abuja
Comrade Achese explained that “we are involved in the on-going strike in the Federal Capital Territory to demand for payments of subsidy because of our traditional role of protecting workers who are Nigerians and members of NUPENG in the mid and downstream sector of the oil and gas industry, especially those working at the private depots.
Their jobs are at stake, as the marketers can no longer keep them due to huge debts owed as a result of the nonpayment of subsidy. Our members are even being owed five months salaries as a result of the problem.”
Other issues raised at the briefing included alleged diversion of crude oil meant for refineries, bad road network across the country and its grievance with SPDC and Chevron over unfair labour practices, diversion.
According to Achese, “we condemn the illegal diversion of crude oil meant for our refineries, which is being sold at the open market. This is a clear case of economic sabotage and must stop; especially at the Port Harcourt Refinery. We use this medium to call on the Federal Government to commence the Turn-Around-Maintenance of the Port Harcourt Refinery to boost fuel supply in the country and other refineries.
“We call on the Federal Government to immediately commence the rehabilitation of depot roads and our national highways that are in terrible state. This will go a long way to reduce tanker accidents and fire disasters.”
On SPDC/Chevron, he said: “We have on several occasion spoken about the untold hardship and un-fair labour practices meted out to our workers in the two giant multi-nationals, the Shell Petroleum Development Company and Chevron Nigeria Limited.
The modern day, slavery practiced by these two oil multi-nationals has turned our members into a state of penury. They have continued to employ casuals that they hire and fire at will, without any conditions of service. These workers are subjected to all forms of de-humanizing condition, including converting labour contracts to service contracts and casuals.
The multi-nationals have failed to honour all MOU’s to stop these atrocities. We are prepared to take this fight to the next stage, if government fails to intervene and call them to order. Our members’ are the people that produce the black-gold and must be treated well.”