June 18, 2009

Deregulation: NLC gives alternative

By Funmi Komolafe
As Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) renews its suspended protest against the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry among other things, Nigeria Labour Congress has listed three alternatives to the planned deregulation of the sector insisting that the nearly decade tangle of Labour and Government can only be resolved through tripartite consultation.

Speaking exclusively to Vanguard in Geneva, Switzerland, on what Nigeria stands to benefit from the 98th conference of the International Labour Conference, the General Secretary ofthe NLC, Comrade John Odah said, “Our own alternative to the deregulation of the downstream and to the selling of the refineries is for our government to re-look at our joint venture agreement with a view to getting the oil majors to compulsorily have interest in refining petrol in Nigeria and therefore establishing refineries in Nigeria”.

He explained, where they do not agree, we would then work with government to approach other emerging investors in countries that have demonstrated ability like China, India and other emerging investors in other developing countries where we can agree that over a period of two to three years, we can agree that X number of investment can be done in terms of the establishment of refineries in the downstream sector . This we have to do as a nation.

The NLC general secretary continued, “ With respect to existing refineries, part of the problem we’ve had is deliberate sabotage by vested interests and we are of the opinion that by the time you get people who are really interested in ensuring that we break this vicious cycle, then we would be able to have our refineries to come on steam in a way that they would satisfy at the very least the domestic market”.

Comrade John Odah pessimistic about government’s confidence in the ability of the private sector to tackle issues arising from the current global financial crisis said “ In our own case, we cannot have a situation where we hope that our own private sector which is weaker and lacks substance to do what the government has over the years failed to do. We need as a country therefore to come together and review why we’ve continued to have this problem and then collectively agree on solutions which everybody will now be committed to implementing”

He cited the United States of America where “there has been a whole lot of efforts at re-nationalisation of big time corporations. The latest example is that we had the United States government taking over 60% of General Motors and the United Auto workers have 17.8% of shares in this renewed effort at trying to get General Motors back on board. In effect, we can learn something from this”.

The NLC general secretary said of decade old stalemate over the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry” For example, in our own situation, where government is now talking about deregulation. This is part of what we have quarreled about. Where the markets have shown remarkable lack of ability to deliver and this is part of the main reason for the current crisis”

Comrade Odah said he hopes our government will learn from this International Labour Conference to be able to tackle the problem in a holistic way in which all the social partners , Government, Labour and Employers will work together because it is not possible to just imagine that the government can address the crisis without carrying the social partners along”.