RECENTLY, the Labour Writers Association of Nigeria, LAWAN, organized a seminar on â€œImpact of Economic crisis on employmentâ€, held in the ancient city of Ibadan, Oyo state.
There, the President of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, Comrade Babatunde Ogun who was one of the guests, spoke with Sweetcrude’s Correspondent; Victor Ahiuma-Young government planned full deregulation of the downstream sector of the Petroleum policy which has continued to elicit divergent views among segments of Nigerian society, Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB among others.
What is the take of oil workers on the policy of full deregulation of the downstream sector of petroleum industry?
Well, oil and gas workers, both the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, PENGASSAN and to large extent, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, we strongly believe it is time for us to change our position and opposition of saying no to deregulation.
In principle, we have accepted deregulation and we believe that what we need to do is to ensure that we do not lose the subsidy that is going to deregulation by not getting anything back. We believe that government should bring some measures that can cushion the pains of deregulation.
We are having series of meetings involving Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, TUC, NUPENG and PENGASSAN with government under the special committee set up by the Acting President to see what projects can be harmonised. However, we have some gaps.
We strongly believe that the money should be kept in Petroleum trust fund and be used directly from there. But there is another voice saying that, well, it can be in the fund and the same thing (mismanagement) will happen. But we are encouraged as stakeholders to this nation to ensure that we force government to do the right thing too, and monitor the budget.
So, I think it is a challenge to all Nigerian workers and civil society groups to be interested in what is in the budget, monitor its implementation and see whether what is budgeted for is being spent accordingly so that things work well. For now, we are working seriously with government on the issue of improvement of the road network, railway, power, hospital.
In Nigeria today, we do not have a standard medical laboratory. One of the labour demands is that the government has to build standard laboratories. If those are the key things to be captured in the budget and see how it is being done with a time frame, then we will be able to come back and say, alright, if we are giving away, this is what we are having. Take the issue of hospital for example, you cannot be sick here or having a serious illness that can be treated here in Nigeria. You can imagine taking our President to another country for about four months, it speaks volume.
We cannot have a nation of this population and we do not have a standard hospital. We must have a standard hospital where any form of illness can be treated. That is one of our desires. We must have a hospital, well equipped and that if anything happens, we must have those that can operate and treat such in Nigeria, except God does not want such a person to survive.
As we speak, if you have any third degree burns in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, you are dead. They are going to transfer you from here to South Africa, before you get there if God is not on side, most likely you will get an infection. So, we are aimed at proving infrastructures and things that can lessen the burden of Nigerians. We have discovered that our downstream has not been open to people and as labour organisations; we are not really against it. But we are opposed to people siphoning that money without adding value to the Nigerian nation.
Have you reached an accord with government for the takeoff date?
No.Â For now, there is no deregulation, but I know immediately we are able to tidy up with government and things are done properly in such a way that there is no gap, because we made government to realise too that anytime there is shortage in product supply, the weight on demand is always too high and it creates tension and anxiety.
If you deregulate under such situation, it will create an explosion. So, before full deregulation can kick off, government would ensure that there is enough supply and labour and government can look at all these things and agree when it will start. So that everybody will know how much that is going to health, going to road network and all others instead of saying this amount is going to subsidy and nobody is seeing the subsidy
What can you say is the fate of the PIB as at today?
Well, PIB, as it is now, we are sure work has been done on it. But the problem with it is that it is hidden and shrouded in secrecy which the government cannot come out and explain to Nigerians. It is painful when Nigerians complained about things and issues; the people in government think Nigerians have no right for answers. The people in the National Assembly today believe they are just the only people who know what to do.
They have had public hearings, but even our contributions, nobody is sure whether those issues we raised, and those complaints in our presentations have been captured. So, the lacuna in the bill is this, maybe at the end of the day, they are going to approve or enact a law that will not be in the interest of Nigeria and will not be acceptable to Nigerians.
That is really our fear and the fear of most Nigerians. People are concerned about how the nation would move from Joint Venture operations (JVO) to Integrated Joint Ventures Operation (IJVO) and how to implement it. The challenge is more than what we think. However, it is our sincere belief that in PIB, many concerns should be taken into considerations. We need assurance and proof so that when they are discussing it, we know what they are talking about. We are aware of about four different versions of PIB.
The Senate Committee Chairman had told us before that they had only one version, but that one, amendments had been done on it and we do know what the amendments are. Therefore, it behoves on the National Assembly to make available the current one that they are about to approve so that Nigerians can look at it whether those concerns and complaints identified, have been addressed.
All the stakeholders made presentations at the public hearing, but after that, a lot of water had passed under the bridge and the fear is that nobody can say for sure whether the concerns of stakeholders have been captured. For example, we have read in newspapers that some of the major marketers concerns have been captured, but as we speak, government has not be able to come out to tell us that they have captured labour concerns. One of our concerns is, staffing of employees that would work under IJVO. We are asking whether there will be equity contribution by government and now the new IJVO. Is it going to be equity participation in terms of staffing?
If it is going to be equity participation, how do you want to staff them?Â We have the fear that the way things are done in Nigeria , things will go wrong. We want transparency to be exhibited in recruiting Nigerians who are going to represent the country in that board. In Nigeria , we do things in secrecy. We expect that processes patterning to law making especially, should be transparent. As we speak, all we know is that we are moving from JVO to IJVO, but no body knows how we are going to go about it.
Is it after passing the bill that people will sit down and start writing the answer from the script? This is one of the reasons why we are saying that government is not really sincere about achieving the desired result. It is good to have the PIB, but they need to do more than what they are doing. They need to tell Nigerians what they want to do so that as we move on, concerns could be addressed.
The government through the former Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Ajumogobia, was recently quoted as saying that with the PIB, there would not be the need to privatise the public refineries, how does labour assess this development?
Well, it is a welcome development. We see it as maybe, taking a commitment because the problem with the refineries and why they have not been functioning is lack of accountability, lack of ownership and we strongly believe that if Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, is left off the hook by government agencies, they are going to perform maximally beyond expectations.
Apart from that, if you release it and there is accountability, then there can be proper staffing, then you can hold them responsible and accountable. This, they have not done because you cannot unbundled a company that is tied to government apron without telling us the worth of NNPC.
As we speak today, nobody knows the worth of NNPC. Nobody knows the liability of the organisation, nobody knows the current worth of those refineries, nobody knows what is required to upgrade the refineries from the standard they are to the new standard and similar critical issues that we need to discuss amicably and understand very well.
If you want to get an investor to come and partner with you to run the refineries, the investor should know the worth of the refineries currently and he should be able to know the cost to upgrade the refineries to modern refineries that can meet the yearnings of Nigerians.
There are issues that are yet to be addressed. The pension and liability of NNPC have not been addressed because the pension for example, is not funded properly. So, we need to do those home works before anything else.
It is good to have the desire to run refineries, but we believe that they will do the proper thing and empower those who are going to run the refineries to have autonomy both in finance and control of the refineries so that they can be accountable.
But not this era of going through agencies before they can get approval to run the refineries. We believe that if NNPC is relieved of political influence by government and allow to recruit staff on its own instead of political staffing, but competent technocrats who are professionals, and well trained, it will work to admiration of Nigerians. Those things are not working because of government influence.
It does not mean that Nigerians cannot effectively and efficiently run the organisation because they are other privately owned organisations that are run by Nigerians that are performing very well. So, it is a welcome development and we strongly believe that will not be another way of siphoning Nigerians’ money. We would want a situation where money given to NNPC and its subsidiaries should be known to Nigerians, and we should know the worth of the takeoff so that anybody that will be running the organisation would be accountable to both the Nigerian people and the federal government.
What about the issue of expatriate quota abuse?