NUPENGASSAN reacts to comments by Minister of State for Petroleum that the Unions are the reason for the inefficiency of the refineries

The attention of the National leaderships of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) have been drawn to a video making the rounds on the social media where the Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Timipre Sylva was seen in an interview with Arise TV making very unfortunate comments to cover up long years of failure of Federal Government and successive Management of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to put the nation’s refineries in functional and productive use.

For the records, the Union and the Association have over the past five years done everything possible to support this administration and the various management of NNPC to the extent of being accused of aiding and abetting mismanageinent and maladministration. Unfortunately, our collaboration and support have been taken for granted to the extent that the Minister of State of
Petroleum Resources and the Group Managing Director of NNPC are accusing us of sabotage and openly malign the integrity of the Union/Association and our members. This to us is not only nauseating but regrettable.
The Minister’s statements were laced with fabricated misinformation, misrepresentation of facts and falsehoods.

  1. That the Refineries have not been working for three years and workers have been receiving salaries and promotion.
  2. That the Workers were responsible for the sorry state of Nigerian Refineries and have always been an impediment to efforts to make the Refineries functional and economically operational.
  3. That the Union threatens to go on strike when the Group Managing of NNPC “threatened” to sack support Staff in those Refineries.

The Union/Association found the comments of the Minister most uncharitable and appalling. It is a trite in the Labour Law that it is the responsibility of every worker to make himself/ herself available for work while the employer provide tasks and assignments for the worker to carry out.
We were therefore, bewildered to listen to an attempt by a serving supervising Minister of the Petroleum Ministry to place the policy failure, unnecessary bureaucracies, lack of foresight, mismanagement and maladministration of the Refineries on the hapless workers.

As a matter of fact, the Union and Association have offered several good advices on different occasions to successive Management of NNPC on how to put these Refineries in functional operations through various internal channels of communications and have generally restrained ourselves over these years from going public to wash the dirty linens of the Corporation in the public when these advices were thrown into the wasteland.

Only recently, the Union had sensitized its members in the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company’s Quick fix Start-up committee to deplore all their energy to ensure that the Refinery was brought back on stream. Just when all was set, Management deflated all preparations and shelved the exercise. lnformation from Port-Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC) is the same: TAM
and rehabilitation has been postponed to first quarter of 2021.

What then could be the crime of workers in that?

It’s also on record that this regime has been in power since 2015, yet the Refineries have not been fixed even with all the funds pumped into it and all the sacrifices of the irrepressible workers. Suggestions from the Union and the Association to adopt the NLNG model to revitalize the Refineries have never been given serious consideration by Government because of her ulterior

On the purported threat of Group Managing Director of NNPC to sack workers, we wish to state here that it was actually no more a threat but that it had already been carried out with the sack of 850 support staff in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic throwing almost a thousand workers into hard financial situation without an iota of empathy or consultation with the Union.

The Union never threatened to go on strike, but only demanded to be engaged for proper discussion on the commensurate terminal benefits of these workers who had served or made themselves available for service for period ranging from 10 to 15 years. We found it rather highly inhuman and unfair on the part of NNPC Management to sack these workers with only their last pay checks after fifteen good years of their lives in NNPC.

Listening to the uncharitable tone of the Minister on the Contract Staff as if they are slaves and useless, calls for serious concerns by all well meaning Nigerians. lf a Minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria and Group Managing Director of NNPC can dismiss Contract workers that have served for more than ten years continuously as if they are rodents what more can we expect from
lOCs. The monthly salaries of twenty-five of these contract staff put together cannot equal a typical Management staff salary of same organization.

No wonder no oil and gas company in Nigeria employs any Nigerian on permanent basis into middle to lower level cadres again. Our polytechnic and vocational schools graduates have been doomed to life of slavery and poverty under the watch of office holders like this Minister and GMD. We must emphasize here, that it is within the rights and responsibilities of the Union and Association to demand for engagement/ discussion and negotiation in any situation of declaration of redundancies by Management. What the Group Managing Director of NNPC did and being supported by the Minister of
State was illegal, arbitrary and unfair to the workers.

It’s really unfortunate that a serving Minister of Petroleum Resources could trivialize a very sensitive matter such as this that puts the livelihoods and survival of hapless Nigerian oil and gas worke6s in jeopardy at a period like this when the novel Covid-19 pandemic is rife and dangerously prowling.

The Minister, who is yet to visit any of these Refineries, should note that turnaround maintenance of the Refineries has not been done for many years now despite money budgeted for them every year by successive governments.

Without being immodest and of course truth should be told, Government has not also been able to address litany of issues including pipeline vandalism from Warri to Kaduna, which also contributed largely to non-functionality of Kaduna Refinery therefore oil workers should not be blamed for this.

However, the Union and the Association are equally aware that Government is mulling the option of selling these Refineries as scraps to their cronies and proxies and that’s why they are bringing up all these blackmail to the fore against the oil and gas Unions and our members.

For the umpteenth time, Government is to blame for the neglect, inefficiency, incompetence, lack of transparency and policy somersault in the running of the Refineries. lt will not be appropriate for the Government to trade blames on this our Refineries cannot be sold just like that, they are huge national assets, they should rather be revitalized for security and strategic reasons; and
operate profitably. Painting the oil and gas Unions in bad light in the eyes of the public to cover up Government/Management deficiencies as captured in the video in reference is the most uncharitable thing to do on the part of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and our Union/Association take serious exception to it.

Our office holders should know and strongly note that we are in a democratic setting with well informed people and no Minister can do anything by fiat and the Union/Association will never be blackmailed by these cheap lies into abdicating our constitutional responsibilities and obligations to our members.

We perceived the ill conceived and highly mischievous interview as attempt to prepare ground for some uncharitable, unwholesome and obnoxious policies. We are waiting and watching out for them to unfold while we put the general public, Civil Society Organisation and other organized Labour on alert.

Our resolve to protect the rights and interests of our members and the oil and gas industry remains unshakable even in the face of these cheap blackmail and highhandedness of the both the current Minister and the Group Managing Director of NNPC.

ln the light of the above the Union and the Association are using this opportunity to call on the Minister of State for Petroleum and other relevant stakeholders in the industry that the Union and Association will not allow any backdoor introduction of any policy be it privatization of these refineiies or full deregulation of the downstream sector based of importation of refined products. Our refineries must be put into functional use without further delay.

Finally, the leaderships of NUPENG and PENGASSAN further enjoin all our members to persevere and exercise extreme restraints at all times, as tough times don’t last but tough people do. Let us remain united and avoid divisive tendencies, because our unity is our strength.

Our Solidarity must remain constant for the Union makes us strong!