By Victor Ahiuma-Young
Prince Williams Akporeha is the President of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, who is no stranger to challenges and struggles. In this piece, he spoke on issues ranging from his involvement in labour movement and vision as the President of NUPENG. Excerpts.
Beginning of unionism struggles
Well, I got involved early in the struggle for improved welfare for workers. First, as a branch officer, an active and executive member of the Warri zonal office of NUPENG, where, by virtue of my visibility in the struggle, I was elected as the Vice-Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Delta State Council in 2011 when NUPENG was still an affiliate of NLC. Somehow and out of necessity with the sad demise of the chairman, I took up the mantle of leadership as the state Chairman of the NLC. Since then, I have served two tenures as state Chairman, Delta State Council, National Treasurer of NUPENG as well as the pioneer Chairman, United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, Delta State Council. Then as you well know, I am now serving my parent union at the national level.
Achievements at state level
Modesty tells us that an appraisal of a leader is always best done by the led and the general public. However, to respond to your question, I request that you permit me to leave the details for posterity while I will just mention a number of programmes and incentives which are verifiable as dividends of my stewardship as a Labour leader in Delta State.
In 2012 and during my first May Day outing as NLC Chairman in Delta State, I initiated a partnership with the PPMC and organised a Labour Products and Services Fair where domestic kerosene was sold to the public at N50 per litre to assist the masses cushion the impact of the petroleum products subsidy removal at that time. In the same year, through my constructive intervention with government, we secured 10 buses donated by the state government which were distributed to various affiliate trade unions in the state to ease transportation for members. Then in 2013, my persistent intervention also made the state government to regularise the employment of over 1,000 casual workers into mainstream employment with the state government.
Congress under my leadership took a step further in 2014 to cover more grounds for the masses. That year, the government approved the recruitment of workers to fill existing vacancies in the state civil service. But I also want to add that above all, I am glad to say that for all those years, my leadership style provided unbroken industrial peace and harmony which is very essential for productivity and economic development. It is also on record that my tenure as National Treasurer of NUPENG was without any blemish.
Vision for NUPENG
My vision is not different from the vision of NUPENG which include among others; to strive and unionize junior/middle cadre workers in the oil and gas industry, negotiate better working conditions as well as intervene in the resolution of disputes among members and between their employers. However, what is expected to be different is my strategy for pursuing the attainment of the vision. I believe very strongly that the style of a man defines who he is. For me, I have zero-tolerance for oppression especially of workers who toil in production to create wealth for this nation.
Therefore, I have an unquenchable passion to get to the logical conclusion of every semblance of unfriendly practices in the work place or against the workforce. However, in pressing for the inalienable rights of the worker, dialogue has remained my best instrument ever before any issue gets to the boiling point. I will continue to deploy dialogue as a preliminary means of issues resolution.
This does not in any way suggest that my executive shall compromise acceptable global work place practice on the altar of dialogue. What this simply means is that we shall be fair but firm in all situations even as we engage the relevant stakeholders. I need to add that this is very important because it is not in anybody’s interest to shut down the engine of state while we are pushing for improved wages and conditions for workers except it becomes extremely inevitable to so do. In fact, you will recall that we have had cause to recently speak out in respect of some multinationals on victimization and sack threat to their Nigerian workers. Dialogue is still ongoing with all stakeholders including government to amicably resolve those issues.
On unionization, we shall be firm and decisive in defending job security and dogged in advocacy for our collective interests within the provisions of the law. We shall rely on our mandate to enlarge our scope through tactful and strategic unionization of oil and gas workers in the public and private sectors as well as build on the stability and unity of the union.
I want to also add very quickly that in our commitment to raise the vision of the union to the next level, we shall remain conscious of the fact that in trade union movement, the struggle never ends. Therefore, we will not be unmindful of the dynamics and trends in the global best practices of trade unionism as they unfold with a view to domesticating and making applicable adjustments.
Let me also say that in all of these, the executive that I lead shall remain responsible, maintain prudency and above all, be accountable to the union.
Relationship between executive, secretariat staff
Very cordial but let me start by saying that leadership is all about team work and our executive and staff cannot be lost to that fact. Apart from that, majority of us in the executive have served the union in different capacities at the national level before now. For instance, I was National Treasurer and together with others in the present executive, we were members of the National Administrative Council, NAC, of NUPENG. I must also tell you that I could not have asked for a better staff. I met an amazing, competent and very resourceful staff at the secretariat on resumption. They are all very dependable and together we have become an unbeatable team. We have also recruited new staff who are very vibrant to complement the efforts of the old staff to move the union to the next level.
I therefore enjoin everyone to remain steadfast and above all, continue to be productive.