BY EBUN SESSOU
Chief Kokori and Comrade Sulaiman were not alone in their opinions about the consequences of any removal of subsidy, the General Secretary, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas, NUPENG, Lagos chapter, Comrade Elijah Okougbo said basic infrastructure such as roads, power supply among other must be fixed before governement contemplate the removal of subsidy or deregulation.
“The issue of epileptic power supply should be seriously addressed, if not, it will be difficult to create job. Government should build power plants in the country using water, diesel, coal so that coal miners will be engaged as well as nuclear energy. “Again, both the federal and state roads are in terrible situation.
They should be rehabilitated and in doing this, government should consider giving contracts to reputable construction companies that will deliver.
He however maintained that if all these conditions were not met, it might pose serious danger on the country’s economy if government goes ahead to implement the removal.. “We want to continue to be pumping out black-gold, money that will sustain the country.
And we will not ignore the pain of our brothers who are bearing the pains. A lot of people are suffering, level of poverty is enormous and if we stop producing for two weeks, Nigeria will be shut down and the issue of security will be a thing of that past, then there will be war.
“But if we give full support to government, everybody will suffer including the unions. If we say ‘no’ to deregulation and the government goes ahead to deregulate, then we will go to war and if we strike for two weeks, the country will be shut down and there will be no money to share as monthly allocation,” he said.
The NUPENG scribe said although diesel and kerosene have been deregulated which is the reason for its increase in price, if PMS is also going to be deregulated, it must be done systematically and in the right way so as to give room for transparency within government and those who are being governed. “The subsidy war is there, NUPENG is between the devil and the deep blue sea. We are in the sector that produces the black gold. We are between the government that wants to deregulate and the masses that see it as imposition. If the price PMS is cheap, people will be able to go anywhere,” he said.
Explaining that NUPENG is not saying ‘no’ to deregulation, he pointed out that the union has advised government to take a ‘gradualist approach’ to the issue. “Government should adopt a ‘gradualist approach’ towards deregulation because the removal is likely to cause anarchy.”
“The cost of living will rise, the cost of transportation will rise , the cost of commodities imported and to be distributed to other parts of the country will rise, the cost of food items imported to urban areas will rise and generally, there will be an astronomical increase in the cost of living which will adversely affect the economy.”
“Another thing is that the refineries have not been rehabilitated. There is need to power the refinery in Port-Harcourt. There are vandalised crude oil pipelines which wouldn’t allow fuel to flow directly. If the crude is not refined, there is no need for subsidy removal. All the four refineries need crude and turn around maintenance so that we will only be importing about one-third of what we are consuming in the country.
“The pipeline that are corroded and vandalised should be rehabilitated. The railways that were used to distribute petroleum products to the North, should be rehabilitated and rail tracts should be relayed and then, new train trucks (cargoes) that can lift petrol products from wharf to North should be provided so that they can serve as distribution channels for petroleum products as well as other commodities.
“Recently, we signed a communique that there must be immediate practical and pragmatic steps to rehabilitate the existing four refineries in the country to ensure optimal capacity utilisation.
“That federal governmenmt must create an enabling environment to engender private investors’ interest in building refineries in the country for the purpose of improving the local refining capacity to meet the ever increasing local demand of petroleum products and indeed for exportation purposes.
According to him, others include, “government must engage in massive infrastructural development with repairs and construction of road network, modern railway system, expansion of energy generating capacity, repairs and reconstruction of petroleum products pipelines network and depots to improve and ensure effective distribution of petroleum products and also ensure that appropriate palliative measures are instituted to cushion the immediate impact of the deregulation on the citizenry”.
Asked if government fails to provide all these infrastructures, the stated that it will be left with no option than to support the masses in realising these points. “We will support the masses, if not we will all suffer it. If government wants to remove subsidy, they should put all infrastrature in place,” he said.
Lamenting the level of corruption in the country, he said: “after Gen Yakubu Gowon’s government, the country has been going through corrupt and bad leadership which indeed will not allow for effective gains ofremoval of subsidy. “Government said it doesn’t have enough money, yet a senator receives nothing less than N500,000,000 per month. The money is there but it hasn’t been properly utilised.”
He however stated that the cartel around the oil sector will be broken if government deregulate but insisted that there must be palliatives put in place before government implements the policy. “There are two things. First the cartel that has been enjoying the subsidy meant for Nigerians will be broken and government will start saving money. But if there are no palliatives, the N18, 000 minimum wage will not enhance the purchaisng power of the average worker to sustian his immediate family let alone his extended family. Therefore, the cost of living will skyrocket and there will be unprecedented suffering in the land. He noted that positive effects are only possible in a situation where politicians are not corrupt adding that Nigerian politicians are corrupt and that might hinder the positive effect of removing fuel subsidy.
“I do not see any gurantee that the fuel subsidy will be used for the necessary things because of the politicians. The only government I trusted was Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s. Gen.Babangida tried in his own part. He was able to finance the construction of third Mainland bridge. It is obvious that there will be much money if subsidy is removed while some cabals will gnash their teeth, but then the jobs are not there, unless government comes out with palliatives to cushion the effect of deregulation. Nobody can stop government, we are all pressure groups and we are doing it with all sense of decency. And if we should shut down the pipelines and ports because of deregulation, it will affect the country, he stressed.
Asked if shutting down the country will be the next option if government implements its plan, he said, “government has indeed embarked on sophisticated campaigns and publicity as well as dilpomacy and public relations to pasuade people and that is why the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and Oil and Gas sector are supporting government but the labour movement alone cannot determine what will happen to Nigerians, but we can only pressurise. “During the June 12 democratic struggle, NUPENG and PENGASSAN fought the battle while some other pressure groups engaged in blackmail and for four years, I didn’t earn salary, Kokori was in detention as well as others. Are we calling for similar battle that will be abandoned by colleagues? We have the capacity to fight but the country belongs to all of us. That is why we are advising the government to use a ‘gradualist approach’.
The problem of this country is that government finds it difficult to stand by its promises. If we go on strike while others didn’t, it will have adverse effect on the country. The economy will crumble, he stated.