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International conspiracy working against Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sector, NLC raises the alarm

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The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has raised the alarm over what it described as an international conspiracy, working with local collaborators to keep the Nigerian economy and people perpetually on their knees through the under-development of the country’s downstream petroleum sector.

The labour union has also claimed that about $9.5 billion had been spent on the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), and Greenfield refinery projects since 2012 without government being able to resolve the crisis of mass importation of refined petroleum products into Nigeria.

It also said that in line with the directives of its National Executive Council (NEC), the councils in seven states – Zamfara, Abia, Imo, Cross River, Kogi, Benue and Taraba have been asked to commence industrial actions against their state governments for failure to implement the new national minimum wage and pension.

In a message issued by the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, to mark the New Year, the union said that it suspected foul play and sabotage in the inability and unwillingness of successive governments in the country to resolve the crisis of the under-development of Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sector.

It regretted that successive governments in Nigeria had failed to take strategic advantage of the country’s natural endowment in oil and gas especially her prime position as the highest producer of crude oil in Africa to expand the economy, induce economic growth and engender sustainable national development.

The union regretted that as a major oil-producing country in the world and after nearly 70 years of oil exploration in Nigeria, the country cannot deliver on efficient and effective public petroleum refineries.

“Today, instead of referring to crude oil as the blessing that it is, we now commonly describe this gift of God to Nigeria as “Resource Curse,” the union said.

Pointing at the efforts being made by the country’s foremost industrialist, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, in building a refinery, NLC said the inability of the federal government to invest in the rehabilitation of the four public refineries and building of new refineries amounted to short-sightedness.

Reacting to the Federal Government’s alleged plan to increase the price of petrol, NLC said that it would go ahead with the nationwide protest scheduled for January 27.

“Given the direct relationship between the outrageous amount said to have been invested in the payment of the so-called petroleum subsidy and the pressure to get foreign loans from Bretton Wood Institutions to meet perennial shortfall in revenue, we believe that the crisis of the under-development of Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sector, the comatose of our four public refineries and the inability of successive government to right this economic sabotage smacks of an international conspiracy at the behest of local collaborators to keep the Nigerian economy and people perpetually on their knees,” it said

NLC said the January 27 protest in the states would culminate in the submission of protest letters to the 36 state governors and subsequently, on February 1, 2022, there would be a national protest to be held in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

“We urge Nigerian workers and people to dust their sneakers and fully participate in the peaceful protests and rallies aimed at salvaging our economic future,” it said.

The union argued that the suggestion by the government that the remedy to the downstream petroleum sector is to stop further payment of the so-called petrol subsidy is akin to cutting one’s nose in order to spite one’s face

It described the idea of paying transport allowances “as robbing ourselves to pay ourselves as the amount being bandied for such transport subsidy clearly outstrips the amount that is currently expended on the so-called petrol subsidy.

“What the government is proposing is to abandon the Nigerian workers and people to very cruel market forces whose sole drive is profit maximisation. This is why we believe that private investment in building petroleum refineries is not enough. Government must ensure that public refineries also work.

“This way, there would be true competition and Nigerians would be able to derive the most benefit from a resource that God freely and amply made available to the Nigerian nation,” it said.

NLC further expressed concern that the crisis in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sector was being aggravated by the persisting crisis in the upstream sub-sector,” NLC said.

According to the labour body, it was recently reported that almost 200 million barrels of crude oil were lost in 2021, as a result of crude oil theft, ageing infrastructure, poor long term investment outlay, poor security of inland waterways, and challenges arising from conflicts with oil bearing communities and host communities of oil facilities.

Also reacting to the new Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, NLC said the law still did not sufficiently address the deficits of governance, oversight, investment, environmental integrity, local beneficiation and the use of petroleum resources to advance the cause of the ordinary Nigerian worker and citizen.

It urged the two chambers of the National Assembly to immediately commence the process of reviewing the Petroleum Industry Act to reflect the aspirations of Nigerian workers and people.

In addition, NLC lamented that since the national minimum wage was signed into law by President Buhari in April 2019, the implementation has been a tale of mixed fortunes across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.

According to NLC, while some states are in compliance, others are not. “While most of the states in the North-west geopolitical zone have started implementing the new national minimum wage, there is an exception in the case of Zamfara State, which has refused to pay the national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment to workers in the state.

“In the North-east, the exception is Taraba State, which is yet to fully implement the new national minimum wage. In the North-central, there are still challenges of full implementation in Benue and Kogistates.

“In the South-west, most of the states are already in compliance. In the South-south, the weak link is Cross River State, which has spurned all agreements and entreaties to pay workers in the state the new national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment.
“In the South-east, NLC said that Imo and Abia state governments have remained the thorns in the flesh of workers.

“Apart from refusing to fully implement the national minimum wage and consequential salary increase, the state governments have also been promoting clandestine and rogue labour leaders unknown to the labour movement,” the union alleged.

In line with the directives of the NEC meeting, NLC said that it has asked the affected state councils to commence industrial actions against their state governments.
The union also described as very disturbing, the penchant by some state governors to owe pensioners arrears of pension and gratuities.

“We commend the Federal Government for clearing most of the accrued benefits of our pensioners. Kudos should also go to some state governors who have shown serious commitment to the payment of pensions, gratuity and other accrued benefits to their retirees.

“In the North-west, the Kebbi and Jigawa states’ governments have been very responsive to the welfare of pensioners. While the Jigawa State government has institutionalised a responsive pension administrative system, the Kebbi State government recently released funds to defray pensions and gratuity arrears in the state. “In the North-east, the Governor of Borno State recently cleared about N12 billion arrears of pension and gratuity indebtedness. In the North-central, the governors of Kwara, Niger and Plateau states have been very proactive in settling accrued pension benefits in their states.

“In the South-west, the Lagos State government has continued to blaze the trail in paying its pension and retirement obligations. The Oyo State government has also been consistent in redeeming its pension liabilities. In the South-east, the Anambra State government has paid its pension obligations up to November 2021. In the South-south, the Cross Rivers State government is defaulting in paying gratuities,” the union explained.

While assessing the preceding year, NLC said that one of the worst vicissitudes of 2021 was the escalation of insecurity across the length and breadth of Nigeria.

It said that Nigerians were harassed like no other year in 2021. NLC made reference to the recent alarm raised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the increasing siege of insecurity all over the country, and the fact that it poses a serious threat to the conduct of the 2023 general election.

“There are already palpable fears of intense hunger in 2022, owing to the inability of many farmers to go to the farm. Even those who managed to go to the farm in many northern states were stopped from harvesting their crops unless they pay special fees to criminals and rogue elements who are carving out autonomous governing spaces for themselves across the length and breadth of our country,” it said.

Ahead of the 2023 general election, NLC said it would lead the Nigerian electorate to ask pertinent questions of development. It said that going forward, organised labour would be demanding from politicians and the political class the dividends and returns of the investments.

In addition, it expressed the resolve at recovering the Labour Party and repositioning it as a vehicle for actualising the desire for a peaceful, united and prosperous nation.

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