NIGERIANS DEPLORE NUPENG STRIKE
The over fiive days industrial action by the workers in the oil sector in the nation's capital, Abuja, has brought untold hardship to residents of the city. MOSES JOHN in this report captures the views of residents and Nigerians in general most of whom accuse the union of fighting a bad cause.
The Abuja chapter of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) barely two days to Sallah called a strike over what it described as false claims by the Federal Government that it had commenced the payment of the 2012 subsidy arrears, structuring the loan process to enable their members enough time to pay their loans and the fixing of deplorable state of Nigerian roads.
National Chairman of the Oil and Gas branch of NUPENG, Chief Benneth Korie, who spoke with LEADERSHIP, said the reason for the strike by the workers was because their employers, Jetties and Petroleum Tank Farm Owners of Nigeria (JEPTFON), had been forced to issue out notices of intention to sack workers due to inability to keep afloat.
Comrade Korie said: 'JEPTFON had before now threatened to sack some of its workforce as a result of the crippling effect of the debts we owe the banks.
'As a result of it we went on air to plead with government to intervene and government called for a meeting. We went for the meeting at the Ministry of Labour where we met with Minister of State for Finance, Minister of Labour, the PPPRA Executive Secretary, GMD of NNPC, and other stakeholders.
'After the meeting a communiquÃ© was read by the NUPENG President where we agreed to suspend our planned strike. In that meeting, we agreed that, within two weeks, they will pay the subsidy money to JEFPTON members and, at the same time, restructure the loan and fix the roads, particularly the road to the Port Harcourt refinery where the Minister of Works promised that by next Monday they would commence repairs. Till now no action has been taken concerning the issues we raised.'
He said while the action lasts all the relevant stakeholders, with the exception of minster of labour, had not shown any effort to end the Abuja strike or stop the impending national strike. He threatened that the union's action would continue until government respects the agreement it signed with its employers.
However, some Nigerians who spoke with LEADERSHIP said NUPENG should be concerned about genuine welfare of their members and not holding the citizens to ransomed because of their employers most of whom contributed to the woes in the oil and gas sector.
Residents of Abuja have been lamenting the recent development. Popular opinion hold that the oil marketers are working against Nigerian. According to Michael Johnson, the situation in the country is bigger than the leaders who seem to be confused.
'When the marketers and the government's representatives were taken these decisions, we were not called upon but when it turned out that they have a problem with the government, they now turned against us. And we are always on the receiving end,' he stated.
Another resident, Sunday Kunle, said he would not blame the oil marketers because the country's leaders have been treating them as demi-gods.
'I will blame the leaders for these problems because they have what it takes to cut the so-called power intoxicated oil cabal to size. But they won't resolve it because they have personal interests and when there is clash of interests, it would be difficult to find a solution. Only those with human sympathy and fear of God can do that, but are there people like that again in this government? Nigerians don't believe in them again; that is why people will no longer support their selfish aims because it is anti-people.'
Some of the respondents are however of the opinion that since government said it was verifying those that presented their documents for subsidy claims, the marketers should allow it to carry out the verification to avoid a situation where some marketers make claims without importing the products.
They called on both parties to understand that it is the innocent Nigerians that are feeling the brunt of the current strike as a litre of fuel, for instance, is sold at between N350 and N250 depending in the location.
But the President of NUPENG, Comrade Achese Igwe, earlier said that the union was willing to dialogue with the government and the outcome of the meeting will determine whether the union would go ahead with its threatened nationwide strike.
He said, 'We will attend the meeting and the interest of the masses will be considered first in our decisions. The interest of the masses has always been our concern whenever we want to take any action.'
Meanwhile, the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Peter Esele, has condemned the proposed strike by NUPENG, describing it as a baseless action.
Esele, who is a former president of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), another oil-based union, described the action of NUPENG as unfortunate and wondered why the union could decide to join forces with marketers to hold Nigerians to ransom.
The TUC, while describing NUPENG's conduct as disgraceful, called on the government not to bow to the cheap blackmail by fraudulent oil marketers who he claimed are hell-bent on milking the nation dry.
He further urged the federal government not to hesitate to take every measure to punish the culprits, saying that there was the need to ensure that indicted oil marketers paid every unearned kobo back to the government.
On its part, a source in the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) who pleaded anonymity, said the Congress, during its National Executive Council (NEC) in Benin, Edo State, commended government for finally bowing to public pressure to commence the trial of the fuel subsidy suspects. However, he condemned the selective trial of the suspects as most of those arraigned before the court are people with the least of sums of money illegally paid to them from the subsidy funds.
According to him, government's attempt to shield the main culprits, most of whom are believed to be friends and funders of the campaigns of people in corridors of power, is nothing but double standards.
According to him, NEC wanted diligent and robust prosecution of all the accused and warned against the frustration of the trial process in any way or form given the outrage that greeted the discovery of these crimes, saying anything to the contrary could attract grave consequences.
The source added that it is not true that the Congress was joining forces with NUPENG to punish Nigerians even though it is an affiliate of the NLC.
According to him, 'we are of the view that with the facts of the subsidy fund in the open, government should commence the process of reviewing downward the price of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) and so cannot do anything that will bring untold hardship on Nigerians.