04 January 2013, Lagos -Oil workers under the aegis of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) an d the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG) workers have expressed doubts over Federal Government’s sincerity on the statement that it would not sell any of the country’s four refineries.
President Goodluck Jonathan had on Thursday through his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati said government was not going to sell any refinery contrary to earlier statements by some government officials.
“There is no such plan and there is no presidential approval for such. Nobody, not even the Minister of Petroleum has the powers to sell any government property,” Abati stated.
But top officials of the unions were not convinced and that they would not rely on Abati’s statement until they met formally with relevant officials of government, who are directly linked to the planned privatisation exercise next week.
Also, efforts to get clarification from the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) over the conflicting statement between it and the presidency on the proposed sale of four oil refineries proved futile yesterday as the former remained silent on the issue.
The oil workers argued that since the planned exercise was first announced by the Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and confirmed by the BPE and the Presidency, which set up a steering committee, it would be too hasty to accept the government’s denial of its initial plans.
“The minister announced it to the whole world. BPE confirmed that they had been given presidential approval to commence action and the presidency set up a steering committee to drive the process.
“For the same government to deny that no approval was given for these actions means that tomorrow, they can also say that the President did not give approval to Abati’s statement,” said one of the leaders of PENGASSAN, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Western Zonal Chairman of NUPENG, Tokunbo Korodo, in a separate interview also told THISDAY that the unions would not react to Abati’s statement until after the meeting with the government.
“Who is fooling who? If the Minister of Petroleum can make such pronouncement in London, informing the whole world that Nigeria is set to sell its refineries, how can somebody say that the president did not give approval? We are not going to comment until we confirm from the government. As far as we are concerned, we want to hear from the government. So, let us hear directly from those involved and not Abati,” he said.
The Lagos Zonal Chairman of PENGASSAN, Rev. Folorunso Oginni said Abati’s denial was an indication that “someone is trying to fool someone.”
He said the unions had directed their members not to take Abati’s statement seriously, so as not to be caught off guard.
Oginni said the unions would also insist that the January 7 meeting should involve the Minister of Petroleum, instead of only the Minister of Labour, who is convening the meeting.
A source close to Alison-Madueke said Abati’s pronouncement was an embarrassment and a shock to the ministry.
“We are shocked because the pronouncement is coming weeks after the setting up of the steering committee to implement the exercise. The presidency should have asked the minister to reverse herself immediately after her first public pronouncement on the issue instead of waiting for so long to embarrass her,” he said.
THISDAY gathered from sources close to the presidency that the decision to deny the planned privatisation was linked to the 2015 elections.
The sources said with the opposition mounted by the oil workers, any attempt to proceed with the exercise would spell doom to the chances of the president in the 2015 elections.
One of the sources, who preferred not to be quoted, told THISDAY that it was a smart move for the president to pull back in view of the threat by the oil workers.
“The bottom line is that it is getting to the election year and the president has gone too many strikes and crisis and he will be shooting himself in the foot to generate another crisis. Diezani (Alison-Madueke) is not going to run for elections. So, she can go about making any pronouncement but the president, who will run for elections, is the one that will be affected.
“It is not a smart politics for Jonathan to sell the refineries now. Obasanjo decided to sell the refineries when he was about to hand over to Yar’Adua. If Jonathan sells the refineries now, it will cause too much damage to his re-election bid. If oil workers go on strike in an election year, it will cause scarcity of fuel and too much hardship. And instead of Nigerians to praise him for selling the moribund refineries, they will be angry with him because of the hardship his decision has caused,” he said.
He said the best time to sell the refineries would be during President Jonathan’s second tenure, adding that he will also remove subsidy during the period.
“When he gets to his second tenure, he will remove subsidy and sell the refineries. If he fails to do that, Dangote will help Nigerians to sort out the problem because with his new refineries, the NNPC refineries would be of no use,” he added.
The Director General, BPE, Benjamin Dikki had in December last year, disclosed in a statement signed by the agency’s spokesman, Mr. Chigbo Anichebe that President Goodluck Jonathan had finally directed the privatisation agency to commence the process of the privatisation of the nation’s four refineries.
The statement had further alleged that President Jonathan had also approved the constitution of a “Steering Committee on the privatization process of the refineries that would involve all relevant stakeholder, ministries and agencies.”
The BPE in the statement said: “The directive we have is to conduct the privatization process transparently, complying with due process and international best practice. We are expected to improve on the high standards set in the power sector transaction, which has received accolades all over the world as being very transparent.”
However, analysts are particularly worried over the presidency’s sudden denial of the sale of the four refineries as this may damage the integrity and reputation of the privatisation agency in the eyes of the international community especially in future privatisation deals.
Insider sources within the BPE said the agency may be cautious in joining issues with the presidency and the development could have strained relations between it and the presidency.
Also friday, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties expressed its support for the threat by PENGASSAN and NUPENG to embark on strike with the aim of stopping the sale of our nation’s four refineries. (This Day)