• No, we’re reorganising, says minister
…Senate says action illegal as DPR, IPMAN face-off deepens
By Juliana Taiwo- Obalonye, Abuja, Bimbola Oyesola and Layi Olanrewaju
BARELY 24 hours after the Federal Government allegedly unbundled the Nigerian National Petroleum Coporation (NNPC) into seven units and 30 companies with Chief Executive Officers, oil workers who had kicked against the exercise, yesterday shut down the NNPC Towers in Abuja.
The workers, under the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), were at the gates leading to the NNPC Towers as early as 6.30am to prevent any entry into the place.
According to them, the protest was against what they considered the unilateral decision of the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Emmanuel Kachikwu to unbundle the NNPC without carrying them along.
The unions had earlier opposed NNPC’s unbundling when it was first hinted by the minister during the annual Oloibiri Lecture on March 3.
They described the plan as an arbitrariness of the executive power by the minister, adding that he unilaterally declared the unbundling of the NNPC without consultations with other critical stakeholders, including PENGASSAN and NUPENG.
The unions alleged that all attempts to ensure that the minister attends to their concerns on labour issues proved abortive as he allegedly refused to meet with the workers.
Speaking on the exercise, Acting General Secretary of PENGASSAN, Lumumba Okugbawa, said the government’s action was policy sommersault.
Okugbawa said the exercise would scare investors from the nation’s oil and gas sector at this time when it needs foreign investment most to grow the industry, which is the mainstay of the economy.
“For the government to do anything with the current NNPC, the Act must either be repealed or amended to accommodate the planned restructuring. If not done, it will amount to lack of respect for the Rule of Law on the part of the government.
“The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that is expected to be the legal instrument for the ongoing reforms of the oil and gas industry will be meaningless if the government should introduce plans outside the reforms. The PIB is germane to the development of the nation’s oil and gas industry,” he said.
The PENGASSAN Acting general secretary reiterated the association’s call for an all-inclusive stakeholders’ forum where all issues confronting the industry can be looked into and solutions proffered to them.
But shedding light on the exercise yesterday, Dr. Kachikwu denied reports that the Federal Government has unbundled the NNPC.
According to him, what the government has done is reorganization. Kachikwu, who is also the Group Managing Director of NNPC, disclosed this to State House correspondents shortly after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The minister, who was asked to comment on the report that NNPC workers earlier in the day shut down operations at its offices over the reported unbundling of the corporation, said the NNPC is still a whole and nothing new had happened to it.
He said being members of the same family, he would continue to engage NNPC workers on the matters so that they will understand the issue.
Kachikwu expressed optimism that the workers would understand the issue better after a meeting he planned to have with them. He said, “we have not unbundled NNPC. We had a Press conference yesterday (Tuesday) where I explained this.
“What we have simply done is re-organization. We have five business entities focused on business: upstream, downstream, refineries, gas and power that are there before.
“There is also a venture that captures all our little companies that were not having proper stewardship. They are run by individuals who report to the GMD.
In a related development, the Senate yesterday faulted Buhari’s unbundling of the NNPC, describing the action as illegal. It is investigating the government’s action.
In a Point of Order by Senate Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye (APC, Osun Central), the lawmaker drew the attention of other Senators to the unbundling of the oil and gas sector agency.
Adeyeye, who is expected to formally present a motion on the matter today, March 10, would, alongside other lawmakers, extensively debate at the plenary.
He described the exercise illegal, as the Federal Government did not consult with the National Assembly to repeal the enabling laws setting up the organization, before breaking the NNPC into different components.
Senator Adeyeye said: “We cannot afford a strike at this time and the reason for the strike is because the NNPC has been unbundled, broken into parts that are not known to the laws which established the NNPC. The NNPC was established with a definite purpose and a definite structure to carry out that purpose.
Meanwhile, the face-off between the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) almost became violent yesterday as the former dared the latter by reopening shut petrol stations in Ilorin, Kwara State.
IPMAN, led by its Chairman, Alhaji Okanlawon Olanrewaju, insisted that they will henceforth ignore the government regulations on fuel prices.
The chairman and his members stormed some filling stations that were hoarding petrol which were sealed by DPR in the state capital and re-opened them in the presence of security agents.
He told reporters during the face-off at a filling station along Ajase-Ipo Road in Ilorin that they have not been working for over seven months and promised that they cannot continue like that.
“We are buying petrol from private depots at N106 which increased to N111 as landing cost. We do not have more than two trucks at Ilorin depot as we speak with you now. We can’t continue like that.
“We have gone to dialogue with the Controller of the DPR in the state, Mr. Salvation Philip, but he allegedly refused to listen to us and we don’t know why the Ilorin case is so peculiar because other states in the country are selling at the rate they buy the product at the depot. We won’t obey any price regulation if we continue to buy the product at the private depot,” Olanrewaju said.
The IPMAN members followed officials of the DPR round the town with threats to unseal all the sealed filling stations.
Speaking with journalists at the end of the exercise, Mr. Philip said the sealing off was based on information available to them that petroleum laws regarding pricing are being violated and that they were out to communicate one strong message that nobody is above the law as there are laws governing all sectors of the economy.