Oil workers threaten nationwide strike in January

By The Rainbow
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Nigerians should prime themselves for another New Year hallmarked by fuel crisis as the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENSASSAN), have agreed to commence industrial action in the first week of January.

According to the two unions of oil workers, their proposed action can only be staved off if the Federal Government rescinds the decision to sell the country's refineries.

They declared on Tuesday that they would commence a total and indefinite strike as from the first week of January, 2014. Any strike by the workers of NUPENG and PENGASSAN would effectively cripple the country's transportation system and cause chaos across the country as seen from previous experiences, as oil will not be produced, refined or distributed. The two trade unions in the oil and gas sector of the economy were protesting the declaration by the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Madueke and the decision by the Federal Government to sell the refineries by the first quarter of next year.

Both NUPENG and PENGASSAN workers protested at the headquarters of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Tuesday morning.

PENGASSAN President, Babatunde Ogun, who led the protesters,  said all the oil workers would embark on a total strike by the first week of January if the Petroleum minister failed to retract her statement before December 24, 2013 and the Federal Government also failed to stop the on-going process on the sale of the refineries.

According to him, the timing of the strike by the unions is to afford Nigerians the opportunity to celebrate the Christmas festival and the New Year from December 24 to December 31.

Ogun however  warned that if the government failed to rescind its planned sales of the refineries, the unions would mobilise and commence the strike immediately in the New Year.

National officers of both the NUPENG and PENGASSAN participated in the protest.

The PENGASSAN boss  told the placards carrying workers, that 'between now and 24th of December, we expect retraction from the minister over the statement that the refineries will be sold'.

He added that between 24 December, and December 31, 'we will go on holiday and expect Nigerians to celeberate Chritmas and New Year.' 'From the first week of January, if they go ahead with the process, the strike will commence,' Comrade Ogun told the protesters.

He said the decision had already been taken in respect of the strike and emphasised that there would be no need for further discussion or engagement with the government because all what the government had been doing were clearly against their resolutions and decisions taken after their previous meetings, especially on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

The unions want PIB completed and implemented as they believe that its implementation would address the myriads of problems in the oil and gas sector.

The PENGASSAN president said: 'Enough is enough. The time to speak is now, we want to stand by the Nigerian nation. It is time to tell our government that enough is enough. You can't visit the sins of the father on the son, the years of lack of leadership cannot be visited on geneartions of Nigerians.

'Till now, nothing has been said on the fraud committed on the subsidy money. The government has intentionally kept the refineries in a very bad situation so that they would not work.'

Describing the NNPC and the refineries as national assets, he regretted that Nigerians have not beneffited from all other national assets sold in the past, citing example of the recent sales of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) which only resulted in high tarrif without improvement in electricity supply.

He said: 'We are saying no to the sales of refineries. The minister of petroleum has become a tin god that she doesn't  even listen to the National Assembly, except the Presidency.'

According to Comrade Ogun , the minister said the government had taken decision to privatise the refineries and also promised to complete the Turn Around Maintanance (TAM) before selling.

He wondered why the TAM would be done before selling, adding that the PHCN was also sold at a colossal loss to Nigeria and Nigerian people.

The PENGASSAN advised that the government should value its asset in NNPC and allow it to be run freely rather than sell to their cronies.

Comrade Ogun stated that if the Federal Government insists on selling the refineries to foreigners to run because of theit belief that Nigerians cannot run them, they should equally accept their inefficiency and privatise the Presidency, the security system and other aspects of governance which are in comatose.

'We are not afraid of being sacked, we are not afraid to lose our jobs beause we are professionals. Comrades, you must be alert and be ready, the oil and gas industry is going down and no investments. Be ready for the battle ahead,' Comrade Ogun said.

Also speaking, the Deputy President of NUPENG, Comrade Eddy Ossai, said the unions would immediately convey the congress of all the subsidiaries to be prepared for the showdown if their demand to retract the statement and the decision to sell the refineries were not met.

Comrade Ossai said they cannot be fooled again as they have travled the path before, regretting that  government had taken its decision without involving and consulting with the unions.

He said: 'We shall tell them that NUPENG and PENGASSAN have the capacity to mobilise, and by the first week of January, if the government does not make a u-turn on the sales of the refineries, we shall not hesitate to start the strike.'