Achese: Why Oil Workers’ Union May Not Protest Petrol Price Hike

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Oil workers in Nigeria may not call for an industrial action against the recent increase in pump price of petrol, the National President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Igwe Achese has said.

Achese, disclosed that the union, often tempestuous on issues such as government’s change of supposedly public interest policies, has considered the economic conditions of Nigerians which he noted has been impoverished, and in this regard may not protest the government’s recent stoppage of subsidy on petrol.

He said these during an online meeting by stakeholders to discuss the deregulation of Nigeria’s downstream oil industry. The meeting was hosted by the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter (NNRC) and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC).

His comments also came at a time members of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) said they were doubtful of the government’s claims of deregulating the sector. IPMAN also claimed that within the alleged deregulation, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) still enjoyed huge market advantages which are not available to other oil marketers.

“For NUPENG and PEGASSSAN, we’re workers and we propel the industry. We know what it takes to extract, refine and sell (oil). We know the market environment well, but it is sad for Nigeria to keep talking about deregulation or not,” said Achese who noted that markets across the world have some elements of regulations to keep them in shape and curtail antitrust practices.

According to him: “In the Nigerian context, for more than 20 years, we’re talking about refining petroleum products in-country. Years back, marketers buy products from the NNPC and few imports from abroad. But today, Nigeria cannot refine one litre of crude oil.

“The government is insensitive to the well-being of Nigerians in terms of making sure that products are refined in Nigeria. South Korea has no crude but refine and export petroleum products.
“How can a country say it is regulating the price of a product it is not refining? That is why marketers are saying that government cannot regulate the market for them. We cannot remain the way we are and think we can get it right.”

On the thoughts of the union about a possible industrial action against the government, Achese said: “The union feels that Nigerians are suffering and if we embark on strike, we will make it harder. Nigerians are also not ready for such actions; the only time we saw Nigerians protest was in 2012 when the last government increased the pump price of petrol.

“The truth is that Nigeria must come out of this shackle of importation. The story of refineries repairs is just on paper. IPMAN and other marketers are right to say that the government cannot regulate prices for them.
“The government has to fix the refineries because they promised to do that when they were seeking election. We must make sure that our refineries and depot systems are working. We must also make sure that the PIB is passed into law.”

In his presentation at the meeting, the Operations Controller of IPMAN, Mr. Mike Osatuyi, said his association do not believe the government’s deregulation claims, adding that the continued existence of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) formed parts of their doubts.

“In IPMAN, we don’t believe that petrol has been deregulated because when you deregulate, you hands-off just the way you’ve hands-off kerosene and diesel (importation and sale); there is no need controlling the price of petrol.

“PPPRA and the government are very smart about releasing the pricing template, and Nigerian consumers do not have evidence to know the situation. The NNPC unfairly put their price at N145 (per litre) in their stations and leave the IPMAN members to their fate; they know that N145 is not the ideal price to guarantee return to marketers. Because they have the monopoly of the instrument of government, they have cornered us. There is no deregulation because there is no free access to all the instruments that will allow for liberalisation,” Osatuyi explained.