ï»¿SINCE the Federal Government sent the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the National Assembly for legislation into law; stakeholders have been falling over one another arguing for or against the bill. Some have even argued that there is fake PIB in circulation which they claimed intended to serve a pre-conceived interest.
One of the stakeholders, the organised labour, is particular about the overall interest of the nation and workers in the sector and has vowed to shut down the industry should the National Assembly pass the bill without incorporating the concerns of the oil workers. In an interview with Sweet Crude Correspondent, Mr. Victor Ahiuma-Young, President of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Comrade Babatunde Ogun, gives insight into the grouse of the oil workers.
The controversy trailing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) seems to be unending. The unions in the sector have problems with bill and have been threatening fire and brimstone if your inputs are not incorporated in the bill when eventually passed. What is the real grouse of the oil sector unions as far as the PIB is concerned?
The issue the union is having with the PIB is our fear about the successful transfer from Joint Venture Companies (JVCs) operations to International Joint Venture Companies (IJVCs) operations. We strongly believe that the idea about changing the oil and gas policies and programmes for development is perfect.
But we are still in the dark about how the implementation process is going to be. When you are moving from JVC to IJVCs, what happens to the status of Nigerian employees working in these companies? What happens to the expatriates? Because as we are complaining now, even the way we are operating, we have more expatriates than Nigerians and technology transfer and development has not been encouraged in the Joint Venture Operations (JVOs).
Now that we are going to the IJVC, how are we sure that Nigerians will not be short-changed under this arrangement? Government has not come out in real terms to explain how they are going to protect the work of Nigerians and they have not come out in real terms to explain the number of expatriates that will be engaged in different strata in the oil and gas operation in Nigeria.
So we are saying that whatever the IJVC is going to be, if there is going to be no National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) again to manage the affairs of NNPC and the operator, either Mobil, Shell or Chevron, then the same arrangement we are running now would be preferred. We strongly believe that it is wrong for government to just on their own seize directors from another place to go and join an existing company that is performing very well. For now, you will agree with me that it is only the upstream sector of oil and gas that we can give at least an average pass mark.
So we strongly believe that the kind of NAPIMS that we are running now, we should have a kind of agency like that, that can now manage investment of government or NNPC with the IJVCs. So, we want government to come out in clear terms. Whatever is in the bill, why the jobs of some NNPC staff are protected and their other colleagues who are Nigerians working in multinational companies are just not guaranteed or protected. The equity contribution we are going to have and equity participation is not defined
There were also reports sometime that the (PIB) has refused local refineries?
As we speak, the PIB we had before building of refineries is one of the conditions that informed the new policy. But from insight, we are hearing again that has been removed. It is our strong belief that if efforts are not made through this bill to ensure that refineries are built in Nigeria so that we can reduce the wastage associated with this importation, it is not going to be palatable.
So, one of the issues we are demanding is job opportunities for members, equity contribution and participation formula to be known to everybody, expatriate quota and technology transfer to be used in the oil and gas industry to be Nigerianised, Paramount in all these, is that building of refineries should be one of the ingredients for any operator to continue to operate in the upstream and JVC or IJVC. So it is one of the key conditions that must be attached. Earlier too, we stressed the need for a policy specifying the amount of crude that must be refined locally and that is the only way you can attach it to the building of refineries to be able to meet with our local demand and take over the African market .
How far have you been able to reach the National Assembly to ensure that your views are accommodated in the PIB before passage?
Well, before and after our National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, there were series of engagements and correspondences to the Minister of Labour, Minister of Petroleum, and the leadership of the National Assembly, both the Senate and House of Representatives. As we speak, our complaints have been acknowledged by the Ministry of Petroleum and Ministry of Labour but the National Assembly has remained silent and that has been one of the problems we are having with the National Assembly.
They will keep quiet until things get out of hand and that is when they will start looking for how they can redress it. This attitude has been responsible for the decay in the Nigerian nation because the National Assembly has not been able to live up to expectation. Like I said, there have been series of engagements but those people that have been engaging us are not in the position to tell us exactly what is in the bill and what the thinking is. As we speak, two or three people from NNPC have addressed us on PIB explaining three different scenarios and the need for us to make sure that these things are captured so that the nation does not pass a bill that will create more problems in the oil and gas industry than what is already existing. Bill is one, the Act and the way you want to implement it for the betterment of Nigerians needs to be spelt out so that not after the bill is passed, then somebody starts changing the rules along the line.
How do you react to the insinuations that there are several versions of the bill?
I think those who are saying there are different versions of the bill are right. We have confronted the leadership of both Houses of the National Assembly about this and what they told us is that there is no different version. But every other version we have seen, is a memorandum submitted by stakeholders. It behooves on the National Assembly now to tell us the stage they are.
Because we have had series of discussions and we have engaged stakeholders and with those stakeholders, they must have made some series of amendments or considerations. So we strongly believe that if the National Assembly wants openness and they want participation of all Nigerians as they are moving gradually after this engagement of stakeholders, they need to be able to tell us where they are, and the one they are considering.
In one of the meetings, they told us that the bill that was submitted from the onset is the one they are still working on. We know that after that, several changes have been made and after the private sector made their input, we know that it was also changed. I think it has been the government through NNPC that has been changing it along the line. But the National Assembly has told us that the one they are working on is the initial one. But if all these complaints have been incorporated into the new one, we do not know.
The National Assembly has said they donâ€™t owe anybody including us, the obligation of informing us whether they have taken our input or not. But it will be a disservice to the nation if you go ahead to pass a bill without a real understanding of the grouse or complaints of stakeholders. So, as we move ahead, it is better for them to diffuse some of these our suggestions and ideas if it is not convincing to them rather than keeping quiet and later when the bill is passed, they will go back to see how we can change it.
How prepared are you to confront or take the issue head-on if the bill comes out without addressing your complaints?
The fact remains that the association has no other choice. As we speak, we know what both PENGASSAN and NUPENG have done to ensure that democracy stays in this country, we recognize the importance of oil to the existence of the Nigerian nation and that is why sometimes we are reluctant to take some drastic actions we need to take because we know that the implications to an average Nigerians will be more grievous than to those who are in government.
But as this stands, if we know very well that if this bill is not for the advantage of Nigerians and it threatens the survival of the oil and gas industry which is the mainstay of the Nigerian nation, then there is no point waiting, so the association has already made up its mind. There is noting that is going to turn us back because what creates the income for Nigeria is this oil and gas. So, if the bill is going to destroy that, then the nation itself is threatened.
So, if we are being reasonable in some area when it comes to the existence of Nigeria, we are not going to be honestly unreasonable. We are going to look at issues and if those areas are not captured and we strongly believe that whatever is passed cannot guarantee the sustenance of this industry and survival of our nation, then we are going to go all out to ensure that we revolt.