NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar
Chuks Okocha and Damilola Oyedele
The Federal Government has been able to buy itself an extra day that will enable it continue negotiations today with the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), which had threatened to go on strike over the non-payment of subsidy claims to indicted oil marketers.
NUPENG had issued an ultimate to the Federal Government on Monday, threatening to commence a nationwide strike tomorrow if the government fails to pay outstanding subsidy claims to oil marketers.
The union’s refusal to lift petrol from depots has resulted in crippling fuel scarcity in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for over a week.
The meeting, which was held yesterday between NUPENG, representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and government, took place in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) around 8.00 last night and will continue today at 2 pm.
Those present at the meeting included the SGF, Senator Pius Anyim; Minister of Labour, Mr. Emeka Wogu; Minister State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Mr. Tunji Olaopa; acting President of the NLC, Comrade Promise Adewusi; NLC Deputy President, Comrade Joe Ajaero; NUPENG President, Comrade Igwe Achese; Secretary General, TUC, Comrade John Kolawole; and some representatives of petroleum tank farms.
At the meeting, the parties agreed that the status quo shall remain until negotiations are concluded.
The implication is that fuel scarcity in Abuja would remain unresolved while the union would hold off halting supply of petroleum products to other parts of the country.
Briefing journalists on the outcome of the meeting, Achese said the public was misinformed about the position of the union on the prosecution of suspects of the oil subsidy fraud.
He added that one of the major issues that caused the disagreements stemmed from the fact that several NUPENG members at the depots were being owed up to five months salary due to the refusal of government to pay outstanding subsidy claims to oil marketers.
“We are not against the prosecution of oil subsidy thieves; we cannot as a union compromise and sanction fraudulent activities, any marketer that is found wanting should be prosecuted.
“In 2010, it was the union that raised this issue of the subsidy scam that was ongoing in PPPRA; today we are happy that the issue is on the ground and there is evidence that something is wrong,” he said.
He said something obviously went wrong in the disbursement of money to marketers and that the government has acknowledged the problem.
“They are reconstituting a committee to look into these issue of PPPRA (Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency) and the subsidy payment scam, but I hope and I assure you tomorrow (today) that we shall find a way forward,” he said.
NUPENG’s Central Working Committee (CWC) was scheduled to meet late last night to take a final decision on the nationwide strike after reviewing its options, Achese told journalists.
Adewusi confirmed that the meeting was exploratory and would be reconvened today, and also spoke on the outcome of the earlier meeting on the knotty issues in the power sector.
“Government has reasoned with us and set up a high-powered committee that will resolve the issues. We have adjourned and we will set up our own in house team. We are also looking at what we can do with the soldiers by that Tuesday,” he said.
He added that the meeting was not deadlocked but had provided the enabling environment for meaningful dialogue.
However, the National Chairman of the Oil and Gas branch of NUPENG, Comrade Benneth Korie, after a brief meeting at the Ministry of Labour yesterday, disclosed that the union had already directed all its members and depot owners to stop transportation of petroleum products nationwide.
Commenting on the statements credited to government officials on the availability of petroleum products for the next 40 to 45 days, Korie said NUPENG controls the tankers drivers and staff in the employ of the Federal Government.
“We decided to close down our stations because we know the injury it will cost us. No businessman will go and borrow money and just go and close down our stations just like that,” he said.
Reacting to the threat from NUPENG to go on strike, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday expressed dismay over the decision, accusing the union of sabotaging the efforts of the Federal Government to ensure transparency and accountability in the petroleum industry.
In a statement in Abuja, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, the party also called on all Nigerians to give their tacit support to the Federal Government against a “tiny cabal of oil marketers and their political collaborators.
“These are the real, behind-the-scene puppeteers of striking NUPENG who are bent on frustrating government’s good intentions and paving the way for the continued cornering of our common wealth.
“The decision by NUPENG to embark on a nationwide strike over the decision by the Federal Government to stick to unimpeded transparency in the payment of subsidy claims is unpatriotic and barefaced insensitivity to the outcry of Nigerians over the rot in the oil industry,” the party’s spokesman stated.
Metuh said no sensible government would allow a policy in a vital economic sector to be dictated by those who don’t have the interest of the nation at heart.
He wondered whose interest NUPENG was serving. “Is it that of the indicted oil marketers or that of the people of Nigeria? Is NUPENG going on strike on the premise of genuine national interest or on the promptings of the indicted oil cabal?
“Has NUPENG suddenly become a puppet whose string is being pulled by some economic saboteurs? Why is it that the union which was in the vanguard of calls for sanity in the subsidy regime is now standing against government’s decision to ensure that transparency is taken to the letter? Is NUPENG running with the hare and chasing with the hound?”
He called on NUPENG to see reason and for NLC to reconsider its decision to support NUPENG.
“We urge the civil society organisations and all well-meaning Nigerians to join the Federal Government’s resolve to fight corruption and secure the future of our nation,” he said.