Nupeng And Pengassan: In Whose Interest?
With the garb of labour unions and stationed to guard jealously the rights of workers in the oil industry, NUPENG and PENGASSAN have tended to act like a Frankenstein monster that is no longer under the control of anybody. They have become a Mafioso whose godfathers determine what is good or bad to their adherents. To the larger society, these two bodies have become a thorn in our flesh, as they unleash their venom at us at every slightest provocation.
Why would NUPENG and PENGASSAN call out workers on strike over the administrative restructuring in the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation? In this particular matter they had put the cart before the horse, or how else do we interpret a situation where NUPENG and PENGASSAN embark on strike first, before listening to government and later realises their folly, and subsequently called off the strike?
Already, the incalculable damage and debilitating effects of the two-day strike action are obvious to be ignored. Many cities in Nigeria were grounded to halt as a result of the strike action, while man hours were lost as most people spent their time queuing for fuel.
This raises the question if the leadership of these two organizations have any modicum of conscience, considering the pain they usually cause Nigerians whenever they use industrial strike as a weapon of blackmail against the government of the day?
Over the years, various governments have put in place measures aimed at sanitising the oil industry, but unfortunately some persons under the guise of unionism have made it a point of duty to continually frustrate these efforts. Even the issue of deregulating the oil industry is being opposed by the unions. There is no doubt that removing the bottlenecks occasioned by total government control of the oil sector through deregulation will greatly improve service delivery, yet NUPENG and PENGASSAN will not see reason.
The resultant effect is the perennial shortages in fuel supply as virtually all our local refineries are non-functional. At the same time, the so called unions will not permit total or even partial reform of the sector.
The present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has initiated moves to solve the problems in the sector, but it appears some entrenched interests are using NUPENG and PENGASSAN as a cannon fodder to stultify government efforts, or how else can one interpret a scenario where these unions embark on strike first before asking the reasons behind the “unbundling” in NNPC?
It is indeed a great disservice for some unions to continue to hold Nigerians to ransom over issues that should ordinarily be sorted out on a roundtable. Strike should always be the last resort in resolving industrial disputes. The unions must put the nation first in considering their options over any pending matter with the government.
Whenever some unions embark on industrial action, especially the type for which NUPENG and PENGASSAN are notorious for, it heaps a heavy burden on the same people they claim to be representing. Do they need to be told that strikes come with paralysis of the nation's economy, with its concomitant effects: businesses are closed, government activities ground to a halt, hospitals cannot function thereby leading to the death of patients and everybody suffers.
Therefore, as responsible unions, circumspection must be their watchword in any industrial dispute. Obviously, they don't have the mandate of majority of Nigerian people in their actions, unlike government which is elected, and has the primary responsibility of acting in the best interest of all Nigerians.
By arrogating to themselves the power of speaking for Nigerians when they go on strike, they undermine the very reason for their existence, since the public bear the brunt of the pain of any industrial action
Therefore, it is advisable that all avenues for conflict resolution should be exhausted before contemplating a strike action. In the end, such important actions if not well thought through, do more harm than good as they inflict immeasurable pain on the people.
In this era of dwindling oil fortunes, we cannot afford to complicate the numerous economic problems facing the country by embarking on needless strike actions. It is expected that NUPENG and PENGASSAN will lend the Buhari administration a helping hand to holistically solve the problems in the oil industry. Government means well for the generality of Nigerians, and NUPENG and PENGASSAN ought not to pose an obstacle to the much desired reforms in the oil sector.
Rather than continue to constitute themselves into a cog in the wheel of progress, the unions should join hands with the Buhari administration as partners in progress. Regrettably, their activities over the years have portrayed them as economic saboteurs who are bent on pulling the whole country down for their own selfish interests.
Nigeria has so many issues to contend with, and NUPENG and PENGASSAN should not exacerbate them. These two unions have frustrated previous administrations as far as rectifying problems in the oil sector are concerned, and as a people, we need to call their bluff, and implore them to give this country a breather.
On the other hand, it is commendable that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is adopting new and workable strategies to address the problems in the oil sector, through the recent administrative restructuring of NNPC. This singular move will reposition the organisation, and enable it function more efficiently for the benefit of all Nigerians.
It is however desirable that the necessary machinery is quickly put in place to fix our local refineries, for in the final analysis that approach will permanently solve the problems in the oil sector and will stand the test of time.
Written by Chukwudi Enekwechi, an Abuja based Journalist and Politician.