By NBF News

The threat by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) to direct a strike by the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) in Lagos and its environs, from next Monday, August 30, calls for urgent action to avert a disruption of fuel supply in the country.

The impending strike, which is coming on the heels of a one-day warning strike, last Monday, is to protest the alleged police release of 20 suspects who were caught by NUPENG, adulterating diesel with kerosene in a yard at Itire area of the Apapa - Oshodi expressway, and handed over to the police.

NUPENG insists that the fuel adulterators were left off the hook, and the tainted fuel released, by men of Area D Division of the Lagos Police Command. The spokesman of the command, Superintendent Frank Mba, however, says the trucks have not been released. He accused NUPENG of unnecessary haste in its resolutions on the matter because 'it is only the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) that can certify a product as adulterated after a laboratory analysis.'

This explanation, notwithstanding, a comprehensive probe of this incident, is necessary. The allegation of NUPENG that tankers of adulterated diesel were driven out of the yard under police protection deserves to be strongly refuted or confirmed.

We commend NUPENG's strong sense of responsibility which informed the campaign against the release of diesel it believed had been adulterated, into the market. The protest of the oil workers is an act of patriotism.

By apprehending the suspected diesel adulterators, and later strongly protesting their release by the police, NUPENG demonstrated uncommon commitment to the protection of public safety. The fear of the union that the police may have been compromised to release the suspects and the trucks is genuine. The police hierarchy, therefore, has a responsibility to convince Nigerians that this is not the case. If people are arrested for adulteration of fuel and they are released without being charged to court by the police, there must be genuine fears that the police have been 'settled'. The police authorities should address this fear.

However, the recourse to a strike by tanker drivers to protest the alleged police action is not the best way to resolve the debacle. The union, by the strike, will only be punishing ordinary Nigerians who did not play any role in the saga.

We advise NUPENG to use its powers to call for a strike by tanker drivers, sparingly. It should not be abused in isolated cases like this because it is not the police that it has a grouse with that will bear the brunt of refusal of tanker drivers to lift and distribute fuel.

We, therefore, call for a withdrawal of the strike threat, while the police hierarchy is given a chance to get to the root of the incident. The police, at the highest level, should ascertain the veracity or otherwise of the NUPENG allegation against the police, and take appropriate action against the concerned officers, if their findings call for such.

It is necessary to punish anyone who is found to be engaged in fuel adulteration because of the grave danger that adulteration of petroleum products poses to both man and machines.

The police authorities should, therefore, enter into discussions with NUPENG with a clear assurance that due process will be followed in the matter of the alleged adulteration. If any policemen are found guilty of complicity in the incident, they should be dealt with.

The presidency and the security agencies should also step into this case to ensure that justice is done. The penchant of the police for defending actions of its officers and men may not recommend the force for a dispassionate probe of this case.

The proposed strike should be called off immediately. Everything that is necessary should be done to ensure that it is averted. To permanently resolve this problem, anyone identified to have been involved in fuel adulteration, or complicit in releasing suspects and covering up the crime, should be punished.