NNPC workers suspend strike
• Fuel scarcity to linger
• Kachikwu raises panel on labour relations
• Senate panel backs minister, Reps fault ‘unbundling’
It was with huge relief that Nigerians yesterday received news that the strike embarked upon by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) workers under the aegis of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) has been suspended.
The unions have directed their members to resume work and ensure that there is adequate supply of fuel, though it is understood in industry circles that it could take about four or five days for the supply system to stabilise following any disruption.
The decision to call off the strike was reached yesterday, after an exhaustive deliberation between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu and executive members of the two unions. The minister, it was learnt, has raised a committee saddled with the responsibility of discussing labour-related issues in the unbundling processes of the NNPC.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources which invited the minister for questioning has declared that the minister’s action did not contravene any known law.
But the spokesman for the House of Representatives, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas told reporters at the National Assembly complex that the minister’s action was tantamount to the unbundling of the NNPC and therefore illegal.
The suspension which was first disclosed by NNPC, via its twitter account, stated that sequel to exhaustive deliberations between Kachikwu who is also the Group Managing Director of the corporation and executives of PENGASSAN and NUPENG, the strike had been suspended.
It added in another message that the group executive councils of PENGASSAN and NUPENG had resolved to support the restructuring of NNPC and the change process.
A statement from the NNPC signed by its Group General Manager, Group Public affairs Division, Ohi Alegbe, disclosed that the strike was called off after an extensive session presided over by the minister with the leadership of the unions led by the National Presidents, Igwe Achese and Francis Johnson of NUPENG and PENGASSAN respectively at the NNPC Towers, Abuja.
According to the corporation, the in-house unions reviewed their stance after a decision was reached to set up a committee with representatives from the unions and NNPC management to look into the new NNPC structure with a view to considering any suggested amendment where necessary.
The NNPC noted that consensus was reached on other outstanding issues bordering on pension matters, job security as well as staff performance and appraisal. The minister assured that the restructuring was aimed at enhancing capacity utilisation of staff and not creating job losses.
The corporation noted that the meeting ended in the wee-hours of Thursday with a strong commitment from the leadership of the unions led by Achese and Johnson, to join forces with the management of NNPC to eliminate the prevailing challenges experienced by members of the public in accessing petroleum products across the country.
It was learnt that the non-anticipation of the resolve of the in-house unions to embark on an indefinite strike over the re-organisation was responsible for the inaction of government officials in calling for a meeting with the unions.
PENGASSAN’s Acting General Secretary, Lumumba Okugbawa, confirmed the strike had been suspended. He said the decision was taken after several hours of meeting between NNPC executives and union officials.
Group Chairman of PENGASSAN, Saleh Abdullahi told The Guardian yesterday that the in-house unions were not only concerned about job losses but other issues affecting the productivity of the workforce.
He said: “Our concerns are mostly about the implications of the unbundling for the workers. What happens when government implements full-scale restructuring? The committee that will be empanelled by the minister will be like a standing committee that will be contacted for its opinions in future restructuring of the NNPC.
It will also include how existing workers will be given an opportunity to be employed in the new companies that will be formed. We want an equal opportunity for all and not to be used as an avenue for the servicing of patronage of the political elite. We feel that most of our agitations have been captured in the final outcome of the negotiation. That is why we called off the strike .”
Briefing the joint committee at a meeting that lasted for two hours, Kachikwu explained that his action was in the best interest of the country but regretted not holding necessary consultations with the National Assembly before announcing the restructuring. He explained that the exercise was necessary in order to make the NNPC a real revenue-generating organisation so that it would be able to offset the $5.2billion it is currently owing the major oil companies as well as reduced its current N30billion monthly losses as much as possible.
He said the restructuring of the subsidiaries was aimed at making them more effective and efficient but that they would still be under the agency being controlled by a single board.
The minister said: “I must apologise that we didn’t take some of the Senate leadership along the path of this restructuring .Bu if you look at the draft of the Petroleum Industry Bill sent to us for our input, you will discover that the restructuring was within the suggestion we made. Having said that, I must take responsibility for not carrying out the necessary consultation as we should have done.”
A member of the committee, Senator Sola Adeyeye, said the minister would have run foul of the law if he had stuck to the use of the term ‘unbundling’ in the restructuring because his action would have contravened Cap 23 (6) 1D of the Act that established the agency.
He argued that although the minister, in his capacity as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC was given free hand to operate, it would be illegal of him to create autonomous firms separate from the agency.
But, insisting that the decision to unbundle the NNPC was illegal, Namadas singled out the refusal by Kachikwu to establish the Inspectorate Directorate as spelt out in Section 10 (1 ) to buttress his assertions.
He said: “Whether he calls it re-organisation, restructuring , re-jigging or whatever, what has happened is the unbundling of the NNPC.
It is just a matter of semantics. Our concern is the breach of the law. The action is against the provision of section 10 (1) of the NNPC Establishment Act. What we are saying is that the minister cannot just go ahead and unbundle. We have to be part of the process to amend the extant law on the issue. You can see that even among the seven newly established units, we don’t have the inspectorate unit as provided for in the Act. “
Namdas disclosed that Speaker Yakubu Dogara had to put a call to the president on three occasions to explore how the National Assembly could legalise the re-organisation of the petroleum sector which was in line with the legislative agenda of the eighth Assembly.
Though he did not specify the outcome of the talks between the president and the speaker, he remarked that the House of Representatives was in full support of on going moves to reposition the petroleum sector of the economy.
Meanwhile, motorists are facing hard times as the fuel crisis continued across the country, with long queues at almost all the petrol stations selling the products in the country. The situation was worsened by the fact that a number of the petrol stations were shut, with the attendants claiming that they did not have products for sale.
Motorists besieged the few petrol stations that were selling the product, spending about five hours on the queue in some cases just to get the product at an exorbitant price. At the Petroleum Manager filling station, Oshodi Apapa Expressway, about 50 cars were on the queue to buy fuel.
A similar scenario was witnessed at all the petrol stations in Lagos, such as Eterna Oil, Agege; Fowobi filling station, Iju Ishaga; Sabola, Okota; Rain Oil, by Cele Bus Stop and Total filling Station at Lawanson . Many vehicles were struggling to purchase the product, leading to a gridlock which made it difficult for other road users.