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Friday, 09 December 2016 05:25

Don't use refineries as collateral for your $30billion loan – PENGASSAN to FG Featured

Written by Uchechukwu Ugboaja
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Comrade Hyginus Chika Onuegbu Comrade Hyginus Chika Onuegbu Credits: File copy

The two major unions in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria have vowed to resist any attempt by the federal government to use the nation’s refineries as collateral for the proposed $30billion loan.

This was revealed during the public hearing by the Senate Joint Committee on petroleum downstream, midstream and upstream sectors. Memoranda had earlier been received from members of the public and other stakeholders. The Joint Committee said the memoranda would assist them to come up with laws that will strengthen productivity and efficiency in the sector.

The Senate began the 3days public hearing on the new Petroleum Industry Governance Bill 2016 (PIGB) and it served as the perfect platform for union members to express their concerns and displeasure over government policies that affect them.

One of the submissions received came from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, which proposed the creation of three new entities, namely, the Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC)  which will serve as a regulatory entity for the entire petroleum industry (Upstream, Midstream and Downstream), the Nigerian Petroleum Assets Management Company (NPAMC) as counterpart administrator of production sharing agreements and such other risk based agreements as the government may decide to conclude, and the Nigeria Petroleum Company (NPC) as a vertically integrated oil and  gas company operating as a fully commercial entity across the value chain.

Some of these recommendations apparently did not go down well with the oil and gas union members around as they also presented their position on several policy proposals as made by the NNPC. The unionists accused the government of betrayal and insensitive to their demands.

One major speaker who presented a position paper on behalf of the workers was Comrade Chika H. Onuegbu who was the PENGASSAN National Industrial Relations Officer.

In his presentation, Comrade Onuegbu noted that the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill 2016 (PIGB) contains some of the obnoxious provisions of the 2012 Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), such as excessive wide discretionary powers to the minister in charge of petroleum. According to him, the proposal also gives the proposed NPRC the powers to make regulations without public hearing or due consultations which is completely alien to constitutional democracy. The report also added that the non inclusion of the Petroleum Host Community Fund in the Bill clearly reveals a very strong lack of inclusion on the part of government, which he claimed, is responsible for the incessant vandalism and destruction of oil and gas assets within oil producing communities.

Another vociferous advocate for transparency and probity in the sector is the current President of PENGASSAN, Comrade Francis O. Johnson, who also berated the political class for the lack of sincerity in the industry. According to him, despite the impressive turnout of stakeholders for the public hearing, the senators have continued to treat members of NUPENG and PENGASSAN as “trouble-makers”. Rather, he argued, everyone should consider one another as stakeholders in the industry where no one is more important than the other.

Johnson tasked government to always follow due process and engagements for better operations within the sector as he argued it was the only way incessant labour strife and strike actions can be avoided.

Regarding the issue of sale of refineries and government assets in the industry that was initially contemplated by the federal government but was opposed by the unions, the last may not have been heard of that issue.

Unconfirmed reports making the rounds in the industry indicate that the nation’s oil and gas assets may be used as collateral for the $30billion loan. The union leaders were however quick to dispel them as mere rumours and speculations even though they remain committed to protecting the rights of their members whenever such arises anytime in the future.

Mr. Johnson also added that if the government is so desperate to privatise or sell these critical national assets, the NLNG model should be used. “Of course we can all remember the role the NLNG played during the issue of bail out of state arose. So if the NLNG was sold off by previous administration where would the government have got the funds to bail out the states at such dire moment?” he asked.

Uchechukwu Ugboaja is a freelance investigative Reporter writing from Abuja

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