22 August 2012, Sweetcrude, ABUJA—The Nigerian government, Tuesday, lambasted the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, describing the union as anti-Nigerians over its insistence to embark on nationwide strike from Friday unless oil marketers are paid their subsidy claims.
The union said that only the payment of subsidy claims to verified oil marketers by the government would avert the planned nationwide strike from Friday as leaders of the union are expected to with the government Wednesday to find solution to the lingering dispute.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said the report from government on the implementation of the communiqué at last week meeting would also determine the next line of action in its face-off with government over the deployment of armed soldiers at Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, and pending labour issues ahead of planned privatisation of PHCN.
Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who spoke with Sweetcrude in Abuja, Tuesday, said NUPENG was collaborating with the wrong people, referring to the fuel subsidy cabal that has been milking Nigerians of billions of Naira in the past years.
According to her, “NUPENG is anti-Nigerians. NUPENG is siding with the wrong people. There is no reason for NUPENG to hold Nigerians to ransom on behalf of people who have been taking public money for fuel they did not supply.”
The minister who has been meeting several stakeholders in the oil industry said that NUPENG was working for the interests of corrupt people.
She said that if NUPENG was interested in the welfare of Nigerians and the nation’s economy, it would join forces with government in stopping the impunity that has been associated with subsidy corruption which has even attracted public outcry.
She explained that a lot of progress has been made from the discussions between the federal government team and the oil marketers who have agreed to work with the government towards an efficient and transparent fuel distribution system, adding that the current administration will always insist on transparency in the interest of Nigerians. She, therefore, urged the public to stand with the government on this matter.
The Group Managing Director, GMD, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Engr. Andrew Yakubu who also spoke with Sweetcrude confirmed that the corporation’s branch of NUPENG did not join the strike that crippled fuel distribution in Abuja in the last five days. He said that the claim that the union was striking on behalf of NNPC was not true.
We held no meeting with Finance Minister — NUPENG
Speaking with Sweetcrude on Wednesday’s meeting, Acting General Secretary of NUPENG, Comrade Isaac Aberare, dismissed any meeting with Finance Minister as reported in the media, saying “we read it in the newspapers today (Tuesday). There was no meeting and no contact with the Finance Minister. We only received an invitation from the Minister of Labour for us to attend a crucial meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) by 11 am.”
On the union’s expectation from the meeting, NUPENG’s General Secretary, said “we expect government to plead that we suspend the planned strike and that everything will be done to pay the marketers. But if that is all they will tell us without evidence of payment, our Monday ultimatum subsists because the jobs of our members in Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN, Jetties and Petroleum Tank Farms Owners of Nigeria, JEPTFON, Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association, DAPPMA, and Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, MOMAN , are at risk.
“In fact, they have not been paid for the past five months. They have suffered a lot. What I am saying is that if the government fails to provide convincing evidence of payment, I am afraid, we will commence full blown nationwide strike after Thursday.”
Acting General Secretary of NLC, Comrade Chris Uyot, on his part said: “We will attend the meeting with the Minister of Labour. We expect government to present a report of the last meeting which recalled the demands of NLC that the Minister promised to take to the appropriate authorities for action. Some of the demands are the withdrawal of soldiers from PHCN installations. It is the report that will determine the next line of action.”
It would be recalled that NLC had threatened a nationwide solidarity strike of workers of PHCN to force government to address the workers’ concerns and had already set up strike committees across the country.
NUPENG had on Monday in Lagos issued a Thursday deadline to the Federal Government to pay oil marketers their verified subsidy claim or members would begin a nationwide strike by Friday.
At briefing in Lagos, President of NUPENG, Comrade Igwe Achese, demanded the resignation of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, accusing her of not only undermining the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, but also paying subsidy claims to “portfolio importers” because of their closeness to corridors of power.
Oil marketers are claiming N200 billion unpaid subsidy claims. It was gathered from MOMAN that only one of its members has been paid while five were yet to be paid.
It was also gathered that no members of JEPTFON, IPMAN and DAPPMA had been paid. Achese dismissed allegation that the union was being used by marketers, saying not even the government could use it, but was fighting for the interest of members who had not been paid for the past five months because of the unpaid subsidy claims.
The NUPENG President equally accused the Minister of selective payment of subsidy claims and asked the government to distinguish between real importers who had invested massively in the industry and ‘portfolio importers’.
Achese called on government to publish names of marketers that had been paid and those not paid as well as explain reasons for their non-payment.
He said the union restricted industrial unrest to Abuja, the Federal Capital, because of the Ramadan and the Sallah celebration, warning that should government fail to pay the marketers between now and Thursday (tomorrow), the union would declare a full blown nationwide strike by Friday.
He recalled that the union’s last strike over the same matter was suspended based on a memorandum of understanding, MOU, signed with all the stakeholders and the Finance Minister that payments would commence on the subsidy owed the marketers.
According to him, “NUPENG cannot and will never be used by the Federal Government, institutions, companies because we are stakeholders in the industry. The fight and struggle for the enthronement of democracy in this country during the June 12, 1993 struggle cannot be in vain.
The struggle for the emancipation of Nigerians from the hands of the military cannot be rubbished or swept under the carpet by some ministers. It is our firm belief that His Excellency, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the number one worker of our great country, Nigeria, will heed this clarion call in order to move the transformation agenda forward.”