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Subsidy probe is wild goose chase – PENGASSAN

What do you think of the subsidy probe by the House of Representatives? It is not probe that we need in this country. We need…

What do you think of the subsidy probe by the House of Representatives?

It is not probe that we need in this country. We need to be proactive. Why are we probing? Because we have left something we were supposed to do undone. Let us be proactive; let us take the issue before the problem occurs.

Initially, they told us that we spent about N1.3trillion on subsidy last year. But the CBN told us that it’s N1.7trillion. So you can see that it is not the matter of probe we are talking about. If you have been probing N1.3trillion, you have to change to probing N1.7trillion. At what point will we have the outcome of the probe?


What do you mean by being proactive in this context?

Proactive in the sense that it is not when problems have come that we should be talking about them. We’ve been talking about building refineries in this country. We‘ve said that these gaps are there. We said if there are no ways we can block the gaps the problems will continue to be there. We are consuming over 34 million litres of petrol and if our four refineries produce at installed capacity, they will produce 18.2million litres per day. You can see that there is a huge gap between what we can produce in the four refineries and what we are consuming. This has given room for this importation and we have discovered that even with what is coming out from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Central Bank of Nigeria, this so-called subsidy has been a drainpipe to Nigeria.

So, what we are saying is that instead of us allowing this gap, why can’t we block it. After allowing this gap, we should expect all these problems. We will now set up a probe—probe of money that has been taken out of the country—probe of money that you know you cannot retrieve. What have we got from power probe?

The Farouk Lawan–led probe panel has asked for powers to prosecute offenders.

This is a country where the more you look the less you see. We are not bereft of ideas. Nigeria is blessed with people of ideas. Our law, as far as we are concerned are not deficient. All these things have been there. Why do we have the police, immigration and others?

It is very unthinkable for Sanusi [CBN Governor] to have told Nigerians that one of the reasons government removed subsidy is our fuel finds its way to Republic of Benin and Chad. Is that not admittance of failure? Why do we have the police? Why do we have the Immigration and Customs? We also have the soldiers who have sworn to protect the territorial integrity of the land.

To me, giving the House of Reps Probe Committee powers to prosecute offenders is no issue. I think it is diversionary. We are looking for where everybody wants to be relevant.

Given revelations on the rot in the nation’s oil and gas sector, would you buy the suggestion that the Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Alison-Madueke resign her position?

I won’t suggest that the Minister of Petroleum resign. The reason is that a known devil is better than an unknown angel. We have been having Ministers of Petroleum for so many years. David West has been chronicling some of the achievements during his time. It is the system that is the problem. Let’s look at the system. Let’s correct all that needs to be corrected. Let’s ensure that people abide by the rules of the game. You don’t shift the goal post when the match is already on. If you bring five other Ministers of Petroleum, the same scenario will still come up.

We have been clamouring for autonomous and accountable NNPC for a long time. Petronas and Petrobras were set up almost at the same time with our own NNPC. Today, they are talking of employment of about 800,000. Our NNPC is talking about employment of about 200,000.

In NNPC, somebody can just wake up one day and remove the Group Managing Director and appoint another one at his own will. Let this corporation be run like its contemporaries in other areas of the world.

Do you think Nigerians will gain from the several committees set up by government for subsidy removal?

The question we are asking is, why have we refused to pass our Petroleum Industry Bill? All these committees are not necessary. If PIB were passed into law, everything we think of concerning the oil sector will be taken care of. We don’t need all these so-called committees.

What do you think of government’s plan to submit a fresh version of the bill to the National Assembly?

When they were winding up the other time, we thought they would pass the PIB. The Senate President, David Mark who happens to come again, said the PIB will be the first thing he would do only for him to come back to say that there are three versions of the PIB and he is confused. We asked, where did the three versions come from.

The willingness is not there. If the willingness is there and we all put our hands on deck, this PIB would have been law. All this versions they are talking about would have been harmonized. To us, the three-version story does not hold water.

Why was your union not included in the recently inaugurated PIB task force?

We were surprised when the committee came out. You go and bring a trader from Idumota and make him Minister of Sport. We are talking about oil industry bill which affects our industry. Put people who know about it there. It is not enough to go bring an academic who has not worked in the industry.

So we were surprised that no industry person was put there. Though government might say that the President of the Trade Union Congress, Peter Esele, is from the oil industry, what we are saying is that at that level, he is no more representing the oil industry. He’s representing the entire workforce. Somebody from the oil industry must be there and we have made our position known to government. We don’t know whether there is going to be a reverse.

The former EFCC boss, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu has been made head of oil revenue task force. What are those challenges he will encounter?

I don’t know why Ribadu accepted the job. But do we really need all this at all? Do we really need task forces and committees? The answer is no! At the end of the day, you will see that these committees and task forces’ jobs will just be interwoven. Who is reporting to who? Is it the NNPC that will report to them or they will report to the NNPC? Who actually controls the allocations etc?


How many of your members have lost their jobs in recent time?

The number varies from time to time, especially in the downstream sector. Before the privatization, we used to boast of over 8,000 members. As I speak to you today, they are not more than 3,000. All the people who bought these companies have been rationalizing.

Another trend that is going on in the industry is casualization. They will sack  all the regular staff who are under the protection of the union and bring in graduates. You will see a graduate being paid N40,000 per month. Everyone of them is going for cheap labour today and when you ask, they will call it outsourcing. These are issues we believe government should help us look into.


What’s your union doing on these anti-labour practices?

Recently, there was a particular company which I will not disclose—it brought  in the so-called expatriates into Nigeria. We identified about 441 jobs that were previously being done by Nigerians but they brought all these people who are artisans in their countries and called them experts.

We took it up with the company. The present Labour Minister, Chief Chukwuemeka Wogu, stood by us then. We discovered that they are not jobs meant for experts. This thing has been going on in the oil industry but they do these with the connivance of some of our nationals.

We are now saying that there should be partnership among the union, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Immigration to determine which foreigners come to work.


What are you doing to cases of some companies shielding their staff from unionization?

It is a hydra-headed problem and we are doing everything humanly possible to correct it. You know, they started from the banking sector. Most of the banks today claim that they are new generation banks, but they don’t allow unions to thrive. That is why they can hire and fire. Many people leave the banks today without severance packages because there is no union to fight for them.

In the oil industry, we are not treating it with kid gloves. Every day, we are on our toes unionising and making sure that people are unionized. But we want government to help us fashion a law that will strengthen us. There is this law that has been a disadvantage to workers. It gives the employers  the prerogative to hire and fire.