NUPENG’S SYMBOLIC PROTEST
The recent one-day stoppage of fuel supply to Abuja, the seat of government, to protest the worsening condition of Nigerian roads by the leadership of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) is symbolic. We say so because the strike did not stop the flow of petroleum products to Aso Rock, the major target of the protest.
The workers had issued a 21-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to repair some of the federal highways they described as death traps. NUPENG also explained that the union restricted the strike to Abuja to show the government that it had been insensitive to workers' agitations and the plight of other road users.
NUPENG is worried about the nation's dilapidated highways which, it says, claim lives of its members, on a daily basis.
The union is particularly irked by the poor state of roads in the South-east and South-south zones of the country, especially Port Harcourt-Aba road. However, there are other grounds for the protest. NUPENG's National President, Comrade Igwe Achese, alleged that the cabals in the Petroluem Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) board have hijacked the petroleum imports scheme.
NUPENG, therefore, demands that the agency should make public the full details of beneficiaries of the second and third quarter imports. Achese also said that as a representative of the union on the PPPRA board, he and some other members of the board were not carried along in the petroleum import allocation contract.
The union, however, called off the strike following a meeting with government officials who promised to look into their grievances.
That NUPENG used the dramatic form to draw the attention of the government to its grievances is a novel way of protest, which other labour unions in the country should emulate. Instead of using the usual aluta mentality to seek redress for grievances, industrial unions should start evolving creative and non-violent means of achieving the same goal. NUPENG has shown the example; let others take a cue from it.
What NUPENG has done to draw the attention of the government to the deteriorating condition of Nigerian roads is in order. The union is right to protest what has become a grave risk to its members. It is, therefore, left to the government to act. It is bad enough that government needs to be reminded of its responsibility to Nigerians before it could act. Since 1999 till date, much money has been pumped into the road sector, yet there is not much to show for it.
We have, in earlier editorials on the worsening condition of Nigerian roads, canvassed the opening up of other modes of transportation, especially the rail system, which we believe can take pressure off the roads. If the rail system is working, most of the heavy duty vehicles that render our highways prostrate would be off the roads. What heavy trucks carry on our roads, today, can be taken care of by an efficient railway system. Other modes of transportation like the waterways should also be encouraged to reduce the burden on the roads. Piling undue pressure on these roads through constant heavy duty vehicular movement, is not helpful in this matter.
Those in leadership, who perhaps, do not use the bad roads, should know the hardship other Nigerians experience daily on them, and do something urgently to redress the situation. While it is true that bad roads contribute to many accidents on our roads, NUPENG should, however, note that bad roads alone do not cause all road accidents. Human error, bad driving habits, wrong parking and tanker drivers' overbearing attitude on the roads, contribute greatly to the daily carnage on our highways.
Often, tanker drivers bully other road users for no just cause. In some of the instances, avoidable ghastly mishaps and loss of lives occur. Therefore, all road users, including heavy duty vehicle drivers, should imbibe good driving culture which involves caring for other road users, and driving in such a way that they do not constitute a danger to others on the roads. We think this is an area NUPENG and similar trade unions in the transport sector should pay critical attention. All the same, let government ensure that our highways are in good condition.