By UDEME CLEMENT
Comrade Folorunso Oginni is the Lagos Zonal Chairman, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN). He spoke on the World Economic Forum hosted by Nigeria, the activities of the organised labour, after 100 years of existence, the mono-cultural economic practice in Nigeria, sharp labour practices going on in some companies and the need for the Federal Government to harness un-tapped resources.
As a stakeholder in a major sector like oil and gas, how do you evaluate the World Economic Forum on forging inclusive growth, creating jobs, hosted by Nigeria?
To start with, government should have addressed the fundamental problems facing Nigeria as a country before hosting the forum to seek influx of foreign investments to the country. This implies nipping security challenges on the bud to ensure relative economic stability, capable of attracting foreign investments. When Shell and Chevron came to Nigeria nobody begged them to come and invest.
These companies came at the time they realised that the economic environment was stable for investment. When an economy is secured, investors will rush there without government going about begging them. In reality, investments cannot thrive in an economic environment that is not secured for tangible growth. Foreign and local investors will not like to put money where their investments can be consumed by insecurity. The forum has no bearing with the fundamental challenges facing the nation at the moment.
Aside from security, government must provide basic infrastructure to reduce the cost of doing business in Nigeria. For instance, Dunlop relocated from Nigeria to Ghana, due to high cost of production, arising from lack of power supply. They prefer producing from Ghana and exporting their goods to Nigeria.
Aside from Dunlop, many companies, especially manufacturing firms, closed shop in Nigeria, because of erratic power supply, which is still a major problem militating against economic growth and development in the country now. In some companies, the money spent in buying diesel on daily basis is about half of their overhead cost of production.
The recent rebasing would help Nigeria’s economy greatly, because many investors in other parts of the world have come to realise that Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa.100 years after the formation of the organised labour in Nigeria, sharp labour practices are still prevalent in the country. Is there any hope for Nigerian workers?
Members of PENGASSAN celebrated the Workers Day without going to the Eagles Square, which is the national arena in Abuja. It was not that we were against anybody, but we wanted government to know that Nigerians are not happy with what is happening in the country, like inhuman killings, unemployment and abject poverty.
We must come together to fine solution, because if care is not taken, this alarming insecurity can consume the entire nation. I believe there is nothing for workers to celebrate in Nigeria, rather we should agitate and call for fervent prayers for this nation to survive.
President Goodluck Jonathan, even admitted that those girls were actually kidnapped and over 80 per cent of them are Christians. Imagine what these terrorists are up to. They want to instigate serious religious crisis in Nigeria, where North would be against the South, and the South against the North.
I worked in the North and I know that most people in Borno, Yobe and Taraba states are Christians. What they want to prove to us is that Muslims are in control in this country, so they want to Islamise Nigeria. This can cause serious crisis in the entire country if not well tackled.
Recently many people died trying to get the Immigration job, even as experts revealed that unemployment rate stands at 24 per cent and has become a national crisis. What do you think government can do to tackle this challenge?
The situation is laughable and we need to question the government. It was published that the vacancies were not up to 4,000, yet they collected N1,000 from each candidate, and from about 250,000 people. How can government collect money from its citizens to offer them employment? The exercise was not well co-ordinated and that calls to question the kind of leadership we have in Nigeria.
The situation was worst in Lagos than Abuja, because the human traffic that day was terrible. Not that those people came to watch a national football team but for employment, and the resultant effect was lost of innocent lives. The solution is for government to build more refineries across the country in order to create jobs for the citizens.
What is PENGASSAN doing about the prevalent issue of casualisation in the industry?
Casualisation is becoming the order of the day and our PENGASSAN members had discussed this issue several times. When you say people must not go on casual and contract employment in the country, the management of such companies will turn around and call it another name, that is outsourcing. They have given it another name to further enslave Nigerians.
What do you mean by outsourcing of workers?
It is another form of enslavement of Nigerian workers. They would look for somebody to give the work. He will go around and employ over 100 workers, and that is the person they company will relate with, instead of the workers. This is still casualisation only being given a new name to exploit Nigerians. Can you imagine that an oil company in Nigeria is now trying to outsource its computer department, a unit of the same company?
The situation is terrible and we have been talking to the government about this method of enslavement and nothing is being done to tackle the menace. How can a worker be in an employment of a company for between seven to 10 years still on contract, within basic incentives he ought to benefit from as a permanent staff? You discover that the vacancies filled with contract workers were left by permanent staff. You can see how they enslave Nigerians in their own country.
In the banking industry now casualisation is alarming because most people you see as cashiers and other workers in these new generation banks are all contract staff. So we begin to ask ourselves, where do we go from here?
What is the way out?
There is problem with our law, and we are calling on our lawmakers to look into the aspect of the law, which gives management the prerogative of hiring and firing workers. They should look at the plight of Nigerian workers. This is imperative because some firms hide under this clause to exploit workers. Today, one employee in Nigeria is responsible for more than 20 dependants, aside from his immediate family, due poverty and unemployment in the country.
I was in Cuba and I realised that this country knows the number of graduates coming out every year. So, government makes provision for them even before they graduate. They do not pay them huge salaries but they provide for them. Go to Cuba and study their economy, you will realise that all their engineering students are employed upon graduation, and they are building houses and roads with their own citizenry.
In Nigeria, government is using foreign contraction firms and everything is done by foreigners, while our youths are jobless. Are they saying, we do not have people who can be like Julius Berger in Nigeria? Our government is always ready to award contracts worth billions of Naira to foreign construction firms to the detriment of its citizens.
God has blessed us but we failed to harness the resources we have adequately. For example, if you travel from Lagos through Benin to Akwa Ibom, you will see the vegetation. Most palm trees you see along the road were not planted but germinated and grew as birds ate and dropped the fruits. This shows how productive our soil is.
Some people are of the opinion that Labour Unions have compromised their standard. Do you share this view?
During the time of Jesus Christ, there was Judas and after Christ was crucified, his aim of coming to the earth was accomplished. There is corruption everywhere and if there are labour leaders who are compromising, that does not stop those who are honest from asking government to do the right thing. Labour leaders must come together and continue to fight for what is right. We must partner to ensure that the nation survives.
My appeal to Nigerians is to vote wisely in 2015 elections. Now is the time politicians will award contracts they may not finish. Some who had been invisible for over three years are coming out, so that they can get votes and abandon Nigerians again to their fate. Nigerians must come together to close the ranks, leave party politics and look for credible candidates who can deliver.
Some people are saying that Nigeria is too vast for development and the country may break up following prevalent security crisis. What is your view on this?
The vast land area and large population are for our own good. Diving Nigeria is not an easy task because of the ethnic groups. Today people only mention three ethnic groups like Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo, whereas, the smaller units under these ethnic groups are the major challenge. For instance, a Benin man will tell you that, he is not a Yoruba person, Isekiri man will say, he is not from Urhobo and even Akwa Ibom man can say, he is not Igbo man. So, you see the problem with the ethnic groups under these three entities.
Today people are talking about oil in the Niger Delta, forgetting that oil has been discovered in Lagos, Kogi and other parts of the country. Within the West African coast for instance, Ghana and other countries have found oil. Niger Delta has oil while the North has tomato, pepper and other things. You can see that the large population is our strength.
The problem is that our leaders are those making us to say this man belongs to the South or this woman belongs to the North. Before now, we had regions, and the Southerners developed their region with money realised from cocoa, while other regions also developed their areas with money generated from groundnut, palm oil and other resources. Now, oil money has made us to become very lazy.
The Chinese are here in Nigeria carrying our timber away and what they bring for us to buy in return are these fabricated chairs and tables. Go to Lagos-Ibadan Express Way, you will see them there cutting trees. Go to Oyo state, you will see that foreigners are also taking away our marbles. They will take the marbles, polish and bring them back for us to buy, calling them Italian marbles, and we are here fighting for oil. Marbles can be used to construct bridges even in the ocean.
Our countries are generating power with hydro-carbon but in Nigeria, everyone is interested in oil while other resources are neglected. Malaysia took away our palm seeds, though they are denying it, but today, Malaysia exports palm oil to other countries in the world.
Go to Port Harcourt and see the type of plantain we have there, visit Badagry to see the large quantity of coconut we have them. Nobody is interested in mechanising these things, everyone is talking about oil. America is looking for another source of generating power, they are talking about new technology while Nigeria is lagging behind, fighting for oil money.