By Victor Ahiuma-Young & Yemie Adeoye
LAGOS — THERE are strong indications that another round of fuel scarcity is imminent as the Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, branch of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, yesterday began a seven-day warning strike over among others, alleged killing of a member, Mr. Mohammed Saidu, in Jos, Plateau state, by a soldier and alleged seizure of two trucks loaded with fuel by solders in Bori Barracks in Port Harcourt and at Odogbo Barracks Ojo, in Ibadan, a year ago.
This is coming just as the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Engr. Austen Oniwon, yesterday called the intending striking workers to consider dialogue as an option instead of throwing the nation into another round of chaotic queues for petroleum products.
Other grievances of the tanker drivers included the Mareva Injunction by Bank PHB against MRS Holdings which froze all the accounts of MRS making it impossible for the company not only to function, but unable to pay workers salaries including about 2,500 members of the union whose jobs are said to now be under threat.
Vanguard gathered that most of the depot owners in Lagos such as Capital, Obat and Jone all situated in Apapa area of Lagos, among others had shut down operations.
The union had in recent time be calling on government to among others, arrest and prosecute the soldier who allegedly killed Mr. Saidu, in Jos and order soldiers in Bori Barracks in Port Harcourt and at Odogbo Barracks Ojo, in Ibadan, to release two tankers or the union would be force to embark on an industrial unrest.
Just last week, the umbrella body of PTD, NUPENG had issued a 14_day ultimatum to government over the same issues.
Vanguard gathered that all efforts by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and Petroleum Products Marketing Company, PPMC and others, to wade into the matter yielded no result.
While the union is alleging that the military authorities are trying to prevent the alleged killer of Mr. Saidu, it also claimed that unconfirmed report has it that the authorities in the two Barracks in Port Harcourt and Ibadan had sold the two trucks to unnamed soldiers.
At the last week briefing in Lagos, President of NUPENG, Comrade Achese Igwe,
He lamented that “The Mareva injunction has led to the freezing of the bank account of MRS Holdings Limited and all MRS oil and gas Limited bank accounts. This order has led to the non_payment of salaries and union dues by MRS oil and gas limited to its workers including the tanker drivers.
It has also led to its inability to import and discharge petroleum products, non_sales, lack of loading etc. MRS oil and gas is the major marketer that supplies petroleum products to the North.
Speaking on the Jos killing, NUPENG President said: “We are disturbed by the wanton killing of one of our members by name Mohammed Saidu, a tanker driver, of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers branch by a trigger _ happy soldier in Jos.
It is a dastardly act by the soldier who shot at Mohammed Saidu, 42, an employee of Himmah Merchants Nigeria Limited on November, 6, 2010 while driving an Iveco truck loaded with petroleum product. This is just one killing too many by law enforcement agents.
We as a responsible union cannot fold our arms and allow military personnel to maim and kill our members unjustifiably. We condemn the act in its entirety and call on the authorities to bring the culprit to book or else we will employ our labour power to demand for justice.
The union also calls on the military high command and the Federal Government for adequate compensation for the family of the slain tanker driver.
We call on the military authorities to call its men in road blocks to order.”
On the seized trucks in Port Harcourt and Ibadan, Comrade Achese, noted that “the union frowns at the seizure of trucks laden with petroleum products at the Bori Barracks in Port Harcourt and at Odogbo Barracks Ojo, in Ibadan.
The way and manner the soldiers seized these trucks is suspect. The union calls for the immediate release of the vehicles to their owners. From all indications, the military are overstepping their bounds and they need to be reprimanded or else such seizures will go on unabated. We will not tolerate such forced seizure of vehicles laden with fuel under flimsy excuses of having accident with military vehicle.
The trucks seized in Bori, Port Harcourt and Odogbo, Ibadan, were involved in accidents with some military personnel’s vehicles and that led to the seizure which is a brazen abuse of power. We will no longer tolerate such harassment, intimidation and seizure by men in uniform. We are in a democracy and there are laws governing the land.”
Lamenting on the Mareva INovember 29, 2010njunction by Bank PHB against MRS Holdings, he said: “The union is worried about the issuance of mareva injunction by Bank PHB against MRS oil and gas Ltd., a member of JEPTFON, branch of NUPENG and argued that from all indications, “we see it as an abuse of judicial process as the injunction is injurious and will scare investors from the downstream sector of the oil and gas industry.”
“The security implications of the mareva injunction is that about 2,500 of our members are affected including the restive petroleum tanker drivers. By extension petrol attendants at the 600 service stations are also affected with Kaduna refinery down and MRS oil and gas injuncted and shut down, the supply chain to Northern Nigeria is broken and the route jeopardised.
From all indications, the injunction will lead to products shortages in the North and all jetties and depot owners may decide to close shop in solidarity to what is happening to their colleague. The way forward is for the Chief Justice of the Federation to call the judge to order to avoid this draconian dispensation of justice and the aftermath of throwing the nation into chaos and hardship.”
NNPC calls for dialogue
In a release made available to Vanguard in Lagos yesterday, the Management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) also lent its voice on the raging storm as it called on members of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) to give dialogue a chance in the on_going dispute over the killing of its members, the seizure of its trucks and issues of the retrenchment of its members.
The Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Engr. Austen Oniwon issued this plea in a release signed by the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma. The GMD appealed to parties in the dispute to consider the wider interest of Nigerians in this usually busy holiday season.
“I appeal to the tanker drivers to give the Federal Government an opportunity to resolve the matter and ensure that justice and fairness is done”.
He also used the opportunity to reiterate the fact that there is abundant supply of petroleum products across the nation and also urged consumers not to indulge in panic buying and marketers not to indulge in any sharp practice that will create undue hardship for Nigerians.
“I am calling on all stakeholders to rally round to support the stability we have continued to enjoy in the downstream sector”, the GMD said.
He further assured that the Federal Government is on top of the current situation and that there is no cause for alarm.
The GMD, therefore, called on the tanker drivers to call off their threats of a strike and embrace the offer of dialogue by Government.