Kokori

By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features

Chief Frank Kokori, former general secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG,  in this encounter, expressed dismay over the fuel situation in the country, blaming it on bad governance and corruption. He lamented the way things have been going on since the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, saying the president disappointed many people who voted him into power with the thought that he would make a difference. He blamed bad leadership for the suffering going on which he attributed to the ruling class.

There has been a fuel crisis since the federal government failed to remove subsidies. What do you think is the problem?

Nigeria sells crude oil and imports refined products at dollar prices from abroad, which is mismanagement by the government. In this crisis, labour would have succumbed to the removal of subsidy if not that I warned them at Ilorin when we had the NLC retreat. I made it clear to the international community that what Nigeria is planning will not stand because if the government has to go by what it was planning, we would be paying about N700 per litre of premium spirit because as we know, there is so much rackets in this fuel subsidy.

The problem we have in Nigeria today is that the management of petroleum is bad since democracy came. The leaders could not refurbish the refineries and this is wickedness. From the Abacha regime, they wanted to cripple all the refineries. They squandered what could have been used for turnaround maintenance. They would be importing and at the end of the day, they would fill their pockets with the proceeds.

Nigeria is not yet ripe for deregulation  because the standard of living is so low. An American or British person can buy one litre of fuel for $1 and $100 in Nigeria is about N57,000 and so. If you are selling a litre for one dollar, that would be about N570 and when you consider the bad roads, wouldn’t consumers in Nigeria die? The market women would be affected too. The government does not have a human face and so, they should not be quoting international standards for us. International standard is for people who are well paid, who can afford it but in Nigeria, 90 percent of our people can’t afford any further increase in fuel price. They would die.

Generators are being controlled by fuel. The Nigerian government would have a unique knowledge but they would come and tell you sweet things. When they talk about the cost of fuel importation, they will be quoting trillions. Why did we close down our refineries when small countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana are maintaining refineries which are older than ours? Is that not wickedness?

They couldn’t go ahead with subsidy removal because they know that if they do it this time the APC would lose power easily. There must be a human face when you talk of deregulation.

Now, there is a cabal that brings in the fuel. Obviously, even the 100 million litres that they said we consume is fake because we don’t consume up to that level. Nigerians can’t consume more than 50 million litres for now but they subsidized almost 100 million litres for Nigerians. There were three refineries in all my years in NUPENG and they were all working. Warri refinery kerosene was the best in the whole world but now, they bring rubbish products from abroad. Kerosene would just explode. So, the people are pissed off. They brought Nigeria to a deadly level and now want to add to their suffering. House-keeping in those days for an average worker who is earning about N50,000 would not be more than N15, 000, but now, all the money would go to feeding his wife and children and even that would not be enough.

Nigeria cannot afford to be a big oil-producing country and not have one single refinery working. These things were working in the 70s, even after they opened the Kaduna refinery in 1980, they were all working. The negligence of the government should not be passed to the people. Nigeria cannot cope with oil subsidy removal now. Nigeria is not Germany or America where the basic salary you earn can take your children to school, give you good shelter, good food, transportation, and all of that daily. Here, we make everything for ourselves and the people are unemployed. They will borrow trillions and the trillions would be wasted. They would tell you they want to put it into healthcare, education, among others, yet you wouldn’t see it. They vote in money for turn-around maintenance but the refineries are not working.

The people who built your refinery know how to repair your refinery. So, if the people who built the refinery were brought in to do the whole turnaround maintenance, we wouldn’t have had this problem. When they started this blind looting that we are having in Nigeria, the subsidy became the honey pot where everybody goes and shares money. Even, there is round-tripping of fuel not coming to Nigeria. They say fuel is scarce and they would go and buy rubbish fuel and bring them to Nigeria.

  The importation of fake fuel is another major problem…

Why should we import adulterated fuel? I have seen refineries all over the world and they are all working, even those ones in Ivory Coast. Remember Nigeria was going to buy fuel from Ivory Coast then. Ivory Coast has one old refinery that is older than the Port-Harcourt refinery and it is still working. Whenever I pass through that beautiful Port Harcourt and Warri refinery with superior products, I always cry. When you don’t produce even a litre from there and you are running the government, billions are with you and you squander them on foreign exchange to bring in fuel that we already have, it makes me cry.

Even the local people are producing fuel in their backyard, the so-called illegal bunkers. Every year they say they would refurbish Warri, Kaduna, and Port Harcourt refineries but up till date, they are not producing even a litre. The whole bureaucracy is still being paid yet they don’t produce anything. This is wickedness. There is no way anybody wants to convince me that our people should go into further suffering.

I live in my village in Delta State. I only rush down to Abuja and Lagos once in a while. Nobody was monitoring this fuel subsidy. It was a blank cheque that they gave to them. If you remember that investigation on Otedola and the man in the House of Representatives, the barons of oil in this country, they import the fuel and do everything. Now, they would say NNPC would commission it to all those companies and they bring fuel from any part of the world. And you know Nigerians, they would go for the cheapest, they don’t care because they can bribe standard organization. The quality control people too would be bribed and then, they bring in the stuff into the market. With all the stages the fuel would pass through and all the trained chemical engineers, laboratory technicians, they bring rubbish to Nigeria.

I am not happy with the government on the way they treat Nigerians. A country like Nigeria should have real fuel, you can even subsidize the refinery, let them produce as they were producing before. Why was it that it is just about the time that Abacha and Babangida took power that all these refineries were not working again? I am an oilman. I visited these refineries when they built them and commissioned them in those days. Kaduna was in 1980. Why are the refineries not working? It is just a trick to destroy the country. That is my view about the fuel crisis but I know that if they increase the price to over N300, transportation would be excessively high. A journey from Onitsha to Lagos, if it was N3,000 would become N6,000. These are the things that journalists should fight but they cannot fight and the labour leaders now are different from people like us. Most of them do not want to spend 30 minutes behind the counter but in our time, we went to so many prisons, detentions here and there, including Alagbon, Shangisha, Abuja, name it. I have gone to all the prisons. I was ready to support the people. That is moral conscience and the labour and media should be there since the National Assembly is letting us down. They earn big money and fuel their cars free. They have free cars and free fuels.

Look at the poverty in the villages. These are the outcome of bad government. Some of us now think we were born in the wrong country.   In 1994, fuel was N2.70k before the military government increased it to N20. Before any increase, they must call the unions, especially NUPENG. They would negotiate with us. It is the union who will tell them how much to start with but the unions we have now can’t even fight. They are supposed to be the tribune of the people. If the National Assembly lets them down, let the civil society and the union put government on line. If you take bribes and do all those things, at the end of your life, nobody would remember you. I have retired for almost 20 years and the labour union still gives me the respect I deserve, even the press.

Are you saying bad governance or corruption is the cause of all the problems?

It is serious corruption that is causing the problem. We brought in Buhari to fight corruption but he has not done anything in fighting corruption.

The government promised to deal with those importers like MRS, Oando,  and others

All they are looking for is a small scapegoat. They told us before that they were the ones importing fuel. It is government that does all the checking, testing, and others. So why did they allow such fuel to leave Apapa Port? From the ship they inspect, before they cargo it to Nigeria, they are the ones. So how come all these lapses? Is it not corruption? If Buhari had not condoned corruption, Nigeria would have been out of this mess. I remember within three months when he came into power, everybody was afraid but when the cabal surrounded him and took over power from him, it is the cabal that talked to him. As Buhari is, a man like me cannot even see him. I am a member of the Board of Trustees of the APC, yet I cannot see him. Even the Board of Trustees is not working. The few meetings we held ended in 2015 and they said we are Board of Trustees members. Board of Trustees members are elder statesmen, who can talk straight to the president without fear or favour. When you cross a certain age, you don’t think of businesses. After 70 years, would you be thinking of how to start a business?

Do you think Buhari is jettisoning everything for the next government, like implementing the oil subsidy removal?

He knows that if he does it now, there would be a mass revolt against him. Nigerians are angry with this government. If the allowances of the President and the National Assembly are small, like Britain where the Prime Minister has a small house and enters public transport to the parliament, we wouldn’t be having issues but when you see somebody that you know was living in one room, in the face-to-face house joined the national assembly and start building different big houses, a minister building houses, having flamboyant vehicles, wouldn’t the people be annoyed?

I am a social democrat but believe in the moral conscience of leadership. Leadership must have a conscience and that is why I have lived all my life fighting all those battles, not for myself. I was following the likes of Azikiwe and co. They were never corrupt like this present generation of Nigerians. Labour has the power to challenge the government. They are the best-organized people in every country.

That was before?

  Labour is the best-organized group in Nigeria, followed by civil society which includes journalists, but now, journalists are hungry and would obey instructions.

Labour is no longer formidable as it used to be

No, because they themselves are enjoying. They also like luxurious cars. They build houses, buy cars. Labour is a calling. If you are a labour man, you must believe in liberal democracy, welfare, and democrats. You carry your power with the people, not that you are a labour leader and you cannot challenge your governor. Look at all the state NLC chairmen in all 36 states. They are all servants to their governor. Teachers, NUT is one of the most powerful unions in Nigeria. Every state NUT Chairman and their secretaries are governors’ boys. So how can the schools be good? How can you lead your members on strike against such a governor who gives you patronage?

Your party APC is having issues with convention and zoning, what do you think would happen between now and the election, and how would it affect the election in 2023?

There is no problem, most of the factions are recognized and would be sworn in. We would go to the convention. What is happening is normal in every mass organization, the caucus will bring out somebody and they would sell that person to the people in the convention and a few days to the convention, the person must have been known. So, they just go there and endorse it. Convention can be up to six or seven thousand, in most cases, you just endorse. If you say, they would vote for every position, it may take four days; they do all their calculation and go there and get the leader. Whoever is thinking parallel convention is wasting time. Those recognized factions, the main ones, are known. In a state like Delta that does not have a governor, the highest party functionaries like the person who contested in the last election, or the biggest senator takes control. I will be there. Even in a church, there are factions, people fight.

My issue is that corruption in this country is killing Nigeria and Buhari could not change it. Is it not the same Buhari who came and we think everything was going to be okay. Britain does not have a Presidential jet but Nigeria has about 12 aircraft and when Buhari came, I thought he would scrap them to two or three, but he didn’t. Rather, he acquired more. This is what baffles all of us who voted for him. I was fighting people here in Delta, telling them that he would deliver, but when he got there, Buhari was relying on cabal.

APC has not resolved issues on zoning. Will Presidency be zoned to the North or to the South?

Has the PDP zoned its own? The public opinion in the South and the Middle-Belt is that the right thing should be done. Everything should be zoned to the south both PDP and APC. We would fight it out here. Nigeria is not one country, forget about the platitude of one Nigeria. The traditions are so different; Islam is so powerful, Islam is both secular and spiritual. Muslim heads in most of the Arab countries are the heads of government but Christians in Western Europe and America are not the same. The Arch- Bishop of Canterbury cannot control the people of the UK. The Pope cannot even control the Catholic countries, he can only preach to them. In Muslim countries, the Sultans, the Emirs control their government and religion. That is why in Nigeria it is so important that you have to shift these things to balance the position because some people would feel relegated or marginalized. That is why it is good that the Presidency come to the south this time. Anywhere it goes, they have capable hands. Peter Obi, Fashola, Osinbajo, Tinubu can all do well.

Nowadays in Nigeria, if you are old and sick, you don’t have to go and struggle for power. At my age, I cannot struggle for any position of power in Nigeria again. The highest I can get is chairman of a board where I go for meetings once in two or three months to supervise the meeting. But chief executives must be strong. When I was in NUPENG, I could just fly in from Moscow now and the next day, I would report to Amsterdam, I would be there and the next day, I would report in Germany. I would be there because I was young. But nowadays, even to travel to Lagos, waiting at the airport alone makes me tired. I’m no more excited to take a plane but that does not mean people who are between 60 and 70 plus and are versatile cannot be president. They can still be president. APC has not zoned the presidency, PDP has not zoned.

If anybody is saying we have many parties in Nigeria, I will say we have just two parties. APGA is just in one state. All those other parties would not have any effect. Three parties is what Nigeria has, which is good, the rest are portfolio parties. That is the mentality of a Nigerian, to form a party thinking you would make money out of it.

Emir Sanusi believes Nigeria is living on extra time…

Everybody knows that the Nigeria of now is not the Nigeria of before. Leadership is bad. People collect money without checks. How can a first lady make billions and billions of naira? Which work is she doing? All Nigerian first ladies are billionaires; their children use presidential jets to move around; is that a country? I don’t blame the APC because the APC is not the type of party I thought it would be but PDP is no alternative. The PDP you are seeing has been itching to go back to the treasury. Immediately you bring PDP back to the government, then the Nigerian treasury is gone.

There is no difference between the PDP and the APC

Everybody is thinking about his pocket both PDP and the APC. Both parties should not be pointing fingers. Nigerians are so low that they would continue to vote one of the parties. They called me to form a party at a time and I asked them if they have the money. If you don’t have money in Nigeria, you cannot form a party. Here people are hungry; if you don’t have money, nobody would vote for you, and is only APC and PDP that have that type of money.

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