20 April 2014, Lagos – In this concluding part of the interview with the Lagos Zonal Chairman of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Comrade Folorunso Oginni, he expresses the fears of his union over government’s privatisation programme.
The privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is still generating controversy following erratic power supply after the exercise. What is your take on this?
Privatisation of the PHCN is a total failure because there is no constant supply of electricity after the exercise. South Africa with a population of about 40million generates about 36,000 Mega Watts (MW) of electricity, while Nigeria with over 170million people generates only 4,000MW. The investors who bought PHCN are still abroad looking for technical partners. It is quite clear that the privatization of PHCN despite the noise making has not achieved the desired result. Everyone has seen that the intended purpose has not been achieved.
Government is saying that privatisation is the order of the day, yet we still do not have electricity supply after selling of the assets of the company to private individuals. In some areas, there is no electricity for over a week now. So, what is the benefit of the privatisation? The reality is that some of the investors looking for technical partners abroad do not even have the money to invest in the plants they bought.
Aside from PHCN, are you saying that all the privatised government enterprises are not doing well at all?
I want the media to correct us if we are wrong. Let the media investigate and tell us if there is any success story about government enterprises privatised in the past. A typical example is the privatisation of the Daily Times of Nigeria. Before the company was sold, government said their plan was to make the Times viable, that the new investors would pump money into Times to expand the place. Where is Daily Times today? Is Daily Times anywhere on the news-stand?
It has been widely reported that the person who bought Times succeeded in selling all the assets of the company, including those assets located abroad. But the same government said before that after privatization, investors would pump in money to expand the company. Can you see the short sightedness of our government?
NICON Insurance is any example. It was sold off. Where is NICON today? Air Nigeria is another company.
After privatisation, no aircraft is flying in that fleet again. It is on record that most people who lost their jobs in Times are yet to receive their entitlements. Another sad situation in government privatisation is the downstream sector of the economy, where three companies were sold. Before selling those firms, about 8,300 staff constituted the work-force of those companies.
Today, after privatisation, less than 3,000 staff are remaining there. About 85 per cent out of these 3,000 staff are casual and contract staff. You can see the sad situation we are in this country and government did not even go back to find out how those firms are doing after privatisation.
May be government does not know the real situation of things in those companies after privatisation?
The government knows what is going on there because we write and even make presentations, yet government does not have the political will to do the right thing to move the economy forward.
Can you tell us specifically which companies in the oil and gas sector are involved in this privatisation?
There are three of them and we may not want to mention their names now, but when the time comes, their names will be made known to the public. In fact, in one of these companies, the buyers now brings Indians to work here in Nigeria, while our youths are jobless in their own country. You can see the negligence of our government.
They management of this company ensures there is no unionism there, so that no one will advocate or fight for the interest of the workers, as they are being treated like slaves. You can see the type of government we have in Nigeria and their insensitivity about the plight of the citizens.
Labour has the right to rise against these companies indulging in sharp labour practices. What is PENGASSAN doing about this?
We are doing our best because we are always in the forefront of fighting for the workers and the masses. We also joined in fighting for the democracy that we are enjoying today. There is an aspect of our law, which says you cannot force a willing employer and employee. So, they capitalize on that clause in the constitution to cheat and enslave Nigerians.
What is the contribution of the Labour Minister in ensuring that Nigerian workers are treated well like what obtains in other countries?
He has tried his best and he is working very hard to help us, but there are forces working against him. Also, the power that be does not want him to achieve good result. Some of these clauses in our constitution must be changed. The labour Minister cannot do beyond his power on what he has the ability to tackle. There is also an aspect that gives management the authority to hire and fire workers.
So, even the Minister is facing some challenges in the system. In America, some people prefer working on contract, because contract workers are well paid and their work is flexible. But look at our own country, it is the other way round. When you look at the whole scenario in Nigeria, it is quite glaring that the willingness for government to do the right thing is lacking. Every year, we turn out millions of graduates who are jobless. Government is talking about privatization, may be in future, government will privatise all the citizens in Nigeria.
What is the position of PENGASSAN on the move by government to sell the four nation’s refineries?
We had several meetings and we are saying no to the plan. We work in this industry and we know what is going on there. Now, almost all the spare parts needed to do Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) of those plants are about entering the country. They want to privatise and when the spare parts they used billions of our money to buy arrive, they will do TAM and claim that they turn around the fortune of the refineries. They want to sell to their friends and cronies. You can see the level of deceit in our country.
– Udeme Clement, Vanguard