*Oil union factions battle for control
03 January 2015, Kaduna – Mayhem was unleashed recently at the Kaduna Refining and Petrochemicals Company, KPRC, recently when rival factions of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers Union, PTD, left the negotiating table to test their capacity to do physical damage, leaving a trail of maimed victims and an air of insecurity in the state.
In an effort to starve off the crisis, Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero of Kaduna State had last Tuesday hosted very unusual guests, to the amusement of those who characterized him as haughty and very aloof to persons of lesser social status, especially considering his status as the Dalatun Zazzau.
At the invitation of the governor two groups of men sat facing each other on a roundtable, with Yero presiding over the session at the prestigious Ibrahim Kashim House, Kaduna.
The men, some in threadbare shoes, were led by their well dressed leaders – Gambo Tuge and Nuhu Marafa – factional leaders of Petroleum Tankers Drivers (PTD) Union, Kaduna State Chapter.
Yero, it was gathered, was mediating for the second time in a month a protracted leadership tussle between the two groups.
It was a brisk and to-the-point meeting, an official disclosed. “Meet among yourselves and resolve your differences or I bring down state might on you next time you try to breach the peace of Kaduna”, he warned the men who operate at the Kaduna Petrochemical Refinery Company, KRPC.
But, the next day, Wednesday, troops conveyed in military trucks had to storm the KRPC, after the two factions engaged each other in a clash, burning cars and damaging rival tankers. The fight started around 7:30 am by the refinery’s parking lot and the union’s offices, as each group wanted to occupy the office of the Chairman to take over.
They threw stones at each other, while some were beaten to pulps with clubs. Others drew daggers and chased their enemies while some groups engaged in bare fist brawls.
Pandemonium set in, and people who had come to work or had some engagements at the refinery premises scampered for safety.
This reporter watched from the United Bank of Africa, UBA, side of the KRPC, as urchins defied warning shots from the Nigeria Police, and braved the choking teargas hauled at them.
At a point, the combatants attempted to take over the nearby police station, but nervous police men shot into the air and managed to scare them off.
As dark fumes of burning cars, union offices, and oil tankers billowed into the air, the acrid burning smell of teargas made the KRPC wear the semblance of Armageddon, but some mobile policemen came in a truck to reinforce the security on ground around 8:45am, but all to no avail.
Banks nearby hurriedly closed. The gates into the KRPC were shut, and hundreds of persons were stranded from either entering or leaving the KRPC.
As the show of impunity of the gangsters continued, and decent men and women trapped in the fiasco kept wondering how such lawlessness could happen right in the centre of the biggest government investment north of the Benue and Niger, the sound of an army armored car was heard around 9:30 am. It charged past the UBA branch, with two trucks full of angry looking, well kitted soldiers speeding behind it.
Rat-tat-tat-tat sounds of gunshots followed. From the UBA side, thugs scampered in different directions, with some soldiers in hot pursuit. Unlucky ones caught were clubbed with gun butts. The pleading voices of some who were caught was heard as the soldiers gave them a dose of the violence earlier put on display, perhaps in larger doses.
The police at this point also joined in the pursuit. Several were injured. At least a police van carted some arrested ones and drove off around 10 am.
But in the nearby vicinity, some pockets of fighting still raged. Around 10:45 am, there were more gun shots. Then silence enveloped the air.
By 11am, Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Shehu Umar, drove into the KRPC in a convoy.
Nomalcy returned thereafter when the unionists action had resulted in the closure of the multibillion dollar company, shutting in about 12 million litres of petrol, and millions of tons of very inflammable gases among others, daily.
The General Manager, Public Affairs of the KRPC, Alh. Abdullahi Idris, refused to comment on the incident when approached, saying it was a security issue over which he had no competence or authorization to speak.
However, indications are that the battle for control may not be unconnected with the huge amount of money that union leaders control at the KRPC.
“Here, we load between 200 and 300 trucks of PMS everyday”, said a source close to the union who asked that his name not be mentioned.
“Each loaded truck must pay N50,000 to the union before it leaves the KRPC. Calculate that and see how much is under the control of any man who is the Chairman in Kaduna.”
Tuge and Marafa have been in and out of courts since 2012, after a controversial election unseated Marafa, who seems to still enjoy some popularity among his members.
But, Tuge, who allegedly has the backing of the national headquarters of the PTD, flexes muscles, by ordering the stoppage of loading of fuel, which always makes government jittery when fuel queues appear at filling stations around Kaduna.
*Luka Binniyat – Vanguard