By Victor Ahiuma-Young
PETER Akpatason is the Deputy Majority Leader, House of Representatives, a former President of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, and ex-National Trustee of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. In this chat, he speaks on how to address issues of casualisation and outsourcing of workers, oil theft, pipeline vandalism, rising cost of fuel as a result of Russian/Ukraine war, among others. Excerpts:
Casualisation, outsourcing of workers
The solution to casualisation and unhealthy labour practices in the economy will come from multiple players in the sector. Government must be involved, the employers themselves whether acting individually or under the aegis of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, must agree that we have to treat workers like humans and give them their dues. In a situation in which you make laws and laws are being circumvented and breached with impunity, and often times, most of the people who are victims cannot put themselves together to use the judiciary at that point to fight their course, it becomes very difficult to check the abuses.
The solution lies in every party in the employment or industrial relations being involved and playing his or her part. Lawmakers must continue to make appropriate laws for the right thing to be done.
I think that there are quite a number of laws that prohibit these malpractices in the system, unfortunately, I’m not sure that even the workers themselves are prepared to take advantage of such laws. They will rather rely on threat to strike and actual strike to resolve the issues and when they are overstretched by the richer and more powerful management, they don’t often resort to litigation. They should explore the option of challenging some of these abuses and malpractices in the court. If one or two employers are jailed for labour law abuses, I’m sure that the others will sit up. But at the moment, we don’t have such instances.
A lot of times, the employers muzzle or overstretch workers in an attempt to take advantage of the judicial system to address their cases. I think this is a very serious observation that our lawyers and judiciary need to pay attention to.
Oil theft, pipeline vandalism
Oil theft not just pipeline vandalism is a big problem. Vandalism is a micro aspect of oil theft. The nation loses oil in so many ways not just through vandalism. We lose oil to deliberate manipulation of the accounting process in which the record that comes out is different from what is produced and exported. That is the biggest source of crude loss and it is seriously bleeding the country’s economy.
We are not sincere about securing our pipelines because it is possible to reduce vandalism drastically. But for the moment, I am not seeing that seriousness because the pipeline routes are very clear. All of them are known to security agencies. Drones are being acquired from time to time with which they can monitor the routes and detect where vandalism is likely to take place in a proactive way. When you see unusual movements around the pipelines, you know that something is likely going to happen and you can prevent it. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening at the moment. Often times, they allow it to happen and start running around to do fire fighting mechanism instead of proactively attacking the issue to prevent it from happening.
When it comes to the role of the parliament, we can make laws, we can draw attention of the government but the parliament does not execute. We can prescribe options, we can cause investigation to take place and produce results, but the parliament cannot execute.
The big problem that we have with security in general as well as the specific case of the pipeline and depots is that intelligence reports are not acted upon early enough to be able to intercept cases. Oftentimes, they are not even responded to. Imagine a situation where military formations can be attacked by bandits! It is expected that they should have sufficient information to prevent such from happening. If it can happen to them, you know that the case of pipeline is just a small case.
Cost implication for Nigeria
It is very difficult for anybody to give actual figure to the cost of vandalism that is happening in the country and oil theft in general. You can only estimate what the nation loses. You cannot tell how much crude was stolen in each of the instances of vandalism in the country. It is practically impossible for anybody in the country to do so. But it is a high figure because at some point, the percentage of the crude that is lost to vandalism was way above 50 per cent. If you lose 50 per cent to what is transported to the pipelines, you can tell what that means.
High cost of fuel
We invited various stakeholders for a chat recently and we were made to understand that at the moment, government direction in terms of solving the supply challenge is towards the Dangote refinery. I found that very funny and strange for the nation to hinge all its supply challenge on a big monopoly like Dangote. I don’t see that as something safe for the country. However, I don’t know when the Dangote refinery will come on stream. So, we have not seen any major plan by the government outside that.
We are also told that the contract for the revamping of refineries, have been put in place and they believed because they have engaged the original builders of these refineries, and the situation will be different from what used to happen in the past. That is to say, we are not going to have a repeat of the excuses of having to fix refinery and in no time you discover that the refineries are not working.
People do refine locally, but how consumable are the products? Even if they are consumable, the quantity is also not sufficient to address the consumption challenge that we have in the country. If we have to solve the problem, we have to be strategic and make major plans, make major investments and ensure that we are able to produce at least 75 per cent of our local consumption for months. If you have to rely on the local refineries, particularly those illegal refineries put together by locals, we will not be able to get anything serious out of that. But the country needs to sit down and come up with a strategic refining policy or a programme that is not currently available. What we hear from time to time is that the refineries are being revamped and after that, the production capacity will increase. We are told that the first and second refineries in Port Harcourt are currently being worked on but I am not sure that the same level of work is taking place in Kaduna yet, but even when you fix all the four refineries, they will not meet our local consumption needs. So, there is need to expand the capacity, there is need to build more refineries and doing that may require encouraging the private sector to get involved, creating enabling environment.
And when you talk about enabling environment for investment in the refining sector, all that we hear people talk about is total regulation of every product. Several products have been deregulated and there is still scarcity. What it means is that the capacity is truly not there. So, we should address the issue of capacity very squarely.
The first thing the nation should do to address the issue of power shortage is to have a strategic plan for increasing the power generation capacity as well as the distributive channels and then secure those channels to make sure that there are no interruptions, man-made interruptions. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that there is any clear master plan for the country