Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu
  •  Demands review of NNPC restructuring exercise

Chineme Okafor in Abuja

Nigeria’s oil workers under the auspices of the two major unions, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) on Wednesday started a nationwide industrial action against the federal government’s restructuring of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

THISDAY in Abuja learnt that the action which started with a total closedown of operations at the corporate headquarters of the NNPC was initiated by the unions’ branch within the NNPC.

In other words, it is both the NNPC branch of PENGASSAN and NUPENG that are in strike against the government.

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu on Tuesday night at a press briefing in Abuja announced that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the restructuring of the NNPC into seven new divisions.

Kachikwu explained that under the new structure, NNPC will have five core new divisions comprising the upstream,
downstream, refining group, gas and power, as well as the ventures’ groups, among others.

But the oil workers stated that they were not carried along in the entire process, hence their decision to down tool.

The main entrance to the Corporation was blocked early Wednesday morning. Staff of the NNPC and its subsidiaries located in the towers were equally turned back by the protesting union members.

When the paper contacted the national president of NUPENG, Mr. Igwe Achese on phone, he confirmed the development to the paper.

Achese explained that the national body had earlier tried to mediate when it realised that the strike was in the offing but its advice was not heeded to.

But in a press briefing last night by the branch chairpersons of NUPENG and PENGASSAN in Abuja, they directed their members to proceed on indefinite strike nationwide starting from midnight of March 8.

The branch chairman of NUPENG NNPC, Odudu Benjamin Udofia said at the briefing that the government in embarking on restructuring, disregarded the need for engagement with stakeholders in the corporation.

He explained that it was a unilateral process which was only unveiled to them through a public pronouncement by Kachikwu.

They noted their suspicion of the restructuring, and added that there were several labour related issues that will arise as a result of the development which the government has also failed to address.

“The whole process has been shrouded in secrecy for a long period without involving or carrying any of the stakeholders along.

“Due to lack of proper consultations, there are flaws in the final structure that could have been avoided,” Udofia said.

He further noted that: “There are so many labour related issues that will arise as a result of the unbundling. This among others include, both direct and indirect job losses; change in condition of services that will affect existing staff welfare and the new pension reform Act of 2014 is very clear on the independence of pension management, however, the new structure has it under the NNPC Venture.”

Udofia stated the union’s demand for a review of the restructuring. He noted that such review would include the inputs of all stakeholders.

“The in-house unions are suspicious of the intent of the present unbundling as nobody could explain its direction.

“This even become clearer with the consolidation of operational units with heavy financial transactions under the office of the GMD. This include Nigerian Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), Crude Oil Marketing Department (COMD), and crude oil trading, even the corporate social responsibility that is primarily the duty of the Group Public Affairs Department has been moved to the GMD’s office,” Udofia noted.

Speaking further, the branch chair for PENGASSAN, Saleh Abdullahi explained that the union were not against a restructuring of the NNPC but that it should be transparently done.

While disclosing that they only had a meeting once with Kachikwu before he announced the restructuring exercise, Abdullahi stated that they cannot stop government from going on with its adopted policy as long as they are carried along in the process.

He said that the minister reneged on his promise to carry them along in the process.

The unions also said that immediately, the effects of the development especially on the downstream operations may include further disruptions in petrol distribution and an escalation of the lingering scarcity as a result of the expected closure of the depots in the country by the workers.

They explained in this regard that the federal government should have thought about this before choosing to restructure NNPC without their input.

The country has in the last couple of weeks continued to battle against the resurgence of scarcity of petrol owing to distribution disruptions and shortage of products.

Similarly, the acting General Secretary of PENGASSAN, Lumumba Okugbawa said in a statement that the move by the government was a policy flipflop.

Okugbawa explained that the unbundling plan will stave off investors from the nation’s oil and gas industry at this time when the nation needs foreign investment most to grow the industry, which currently is the mainstay of the economy.

He added that the government did not take into consideration the existing law that established the NNPC before planning to unbundle the corporation.

According to him: “There is an existing NNPC Act of 1977 that set up the NNPC. This Act has many provisions that deal with structure and operations of the corporation.

“There are many issues such as pensions and transfer of the employees, which are provided for in the NNPC Act of 1977. What will happen to all these provisions of the law?

“For the government to do anything with the current NNPC, the Act must either be repealed or amended to accommodate the planned restructuring. If not done, it will equal to lack of respect for the rule of law on the part of the government.”

“The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that is expected to be the legal instrument for the ongoing reforms of the Oil and Gas industry will be meaningless if the Government should introduce plans outside the reforms, The PIB is germane to the development of the nation’s oil and gas Industry.

“Above all, the various stakeholders, especially the unions should be involved before any major change is carried out in the organisation and before any unilateral statement capable of heating up the industrial climate is made,” he added.