To Avert Nationwide Strike, Rivers Releases 22 Detained Oil Workers

Nyesom Wike

By Ejiofor Alike, Peter Uzoho and Ugo Aliogo

Following the resolution by senior oil workers under the aegis of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) to shut down Nigeria’s oil exports by midnight of yesterday, due to the alleged refusal of the Rivers State Government to release detained 22 offshore ExxonMobil workers, the state government has freed the oil workers.

The state government had on Thursday arrested 22 staff of ExxonMobil for alleged illegal entry into the state in violation of the Executive Order to curtail the spread of the COVID-19.

Twenty one of the arrested workers, who were quarantined by the state government, were members of PENGASSAN.

The state Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, had stated that the workers were arrested while entering the state from Eket, Akwa Ibom State, through the East-West Road.

The governor said: “Yesterday, it was ExxonMobil that brought 22 people into Rivers State. Although, service commanders, including the Commissioner of Police, are pleading that we should allow them to return to Uyo. I know their predicament because they take orders from Abuja.

“But, this one, I will fight this one. I have told the Attorney-General to prepare; we are going to court against them. We will fight this fight legally. ExxonMobil cannot bring in 22 people illegally into Rivers State.

“We cannot leave corporate bodies who are not obeying the laws while akara and groundnut sellers are being charged to court in Lagos. This ExxonMobil matter will expose those in Abuja. I am ready for them. Rivers State is not a pariah state and we will not be.”

But in a swift reaction, the PENGASSAN had expressed displeasure with Wike’s action, describing it as part of the continuous harassment of its members on essential duty by security operatives.

Apparently dissatisfied with the role played by the Rives State Police Command in the arrest of the workers, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, on Friday removed Rivers Commissioner of Police, Dandaura Mustapha, and replaced him with Mr. Gobum Mukan, who was asked to resume immediately in Port Harcourt.

A statement jointly signed by the President, PENGASSAN, Mr. Nduka Ohaeri and General Secretary, Mr. Lumumba Okungbawa, said the arrested 22 ExxonMobil officials on essential duty, were going for ‘quarantine’ before going offshore.

Following the refusal of the Rivers State Government to release the workers, PENGASSAN in a another statement issued yesterday, ordered its members to withdraw all services relating to crude oil production, refining, distribution and supplies.

The union accused the federal government and others of failing to effect the release of their members who, it said were on legitimate national assignment.

According to PENGASSAN, “the federal government and relevant authorities have failed to secure the release of these 21 comrades on legitimate national assignment. The leadership of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria has no other option regrettably than to direct all our members to commence the withdrawal of services as follows:

“By midnight Sunday, April 19, 2020, all export facilities will stop operation as well as suspension of Production and Maintenance Services Reports.

“That by 12 noon on Monday, April 20, all our members will withdraw all forms of services relating to crude oil production, refining, distribution and supplies.”

Following this threat, the state government yesterday released the 22 workers without charges.

PENGASSAN confirmed in another statement yesterday that with the intervention of authorities, an unconditional release was secured for all union members.

“Having achieved the primary demand in our ultimatum, we hereby suspend the planned industrial action. We call of the federal government of Nigeria, agencies and all oil and gas industry stakeholders to guarantee unfettered movement of oil and gas workers on essential services in all territories of the federation if we are to continue to provide these services.

“We also call on the federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to immediately adjust its COVID-19 testing protocol to include all offshore-going workers. This will prevent possible incidence of COVD-19 on oil installations with its grave consequences and eliminate need for 14-day self-isolation before travelling offshore with its attendant huge cost implications on organizations and psychological effect on workers.

“We appreciate the federal government and other relevant authorities for their intervention and thank all patriotic Nigerians who supported our cause. We salute our members for their show of maturity in the face of obvious and unwarranted provocation, especially the MOBIL 21,” it added.