We are wasting money importing fuel – PENGASSAN President in an interview

What an average Nigerian fervently seeks solution to right now is an end to the present fuel crisis which has defied solution for the past four months. But the National President of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Francis Johnson holds the view that the final solution lies in the rehabilita­tion of the nation’s refineries.

Francis Olabode Johnson PENGASSAN

He says as a matter of fact that Nigeria is no doubt wasting money importing fuel, while the Nigeria Na­tional Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has competent hands that could turn the refineries around.

For him, the time is now, maintaining that it’s import­ant Nigeria puts a time line on importation. He speaks more on this even as a stop gap for refineries to work stressing that the country can save money in the process.

The PENGASSAN President equally expresses his views on the privatisation of the sector, government policies, wellbeing of workers in the industry and other important issues.Excerpts:

What’s your take on the new government?

This industry as at now is going through a lot of turbu­lence. It’s very challenging and we only hope it will sta­bilize soonest. The problem with the industry is a global one. It’s also good that when we look at the importance of the industry, to some extent, we should have some relative peace.We equally believe that government must also step up on what they can do, because for now, this industry is the mainstay of the economy of this country. The government should find its bearing and stabilize before we start talking of diversifying into agriculture and mineral sectors so that we can also see what we can do to resolve what we are facing in this country. The challenges have been so enormous and for us, one thing that is paramount is that when this government came in, we advised that there is need for a solid foundation and based on that we called for a declaration of state of emergency in the oil and gas sector. The issue of oil and gas is more than petroleum products. It has to do with pipelines, state of the refineries, crude oil theft and local content abuses. So many things, but if we keep looking importing fuel, we will just continue to waste resources and neglecting other key segments of the same indus­try. When we look at how to contend against pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, the issue of non payment of cash calls to IOC, the state of the refineries, depots and pipelines and other things, it’s important that we put a time line on importation, it’s not for life. We should look at what we can also start doing for now. Time is of essence and regardless of what time we set, we must be seen to be doing something and what is worth doing, is worth doing well.

What’s the way out of fuel shortage?

The main problem we have in this country is our maintenance culture. We have to do rehabilitation. Our maintenance culture is zero. When we met the President, he told us that he built Portharcourt and Kaduna refiner­ies and about 20 to 25 depots, but agreed that our main­tenance culture is zero. All these facilities have time lines for turn-around maintenace, a minimum two years. What we can do now is rehabilitate these refineries. We should look at Warri that supplies fuel to Kaduna, it’s very very key, Portharcourt is also key. We have competent Nige­rians at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), that can do all these. With the President as the Minister of Petroleum and his background in the sector, we should start something. Sincerely, if the refineries are working, we can save money. Perhaps we can be import­ing some quantity, but we should also make sure that we are rehabilitating the refineries. The President has said that selling them is out of it, so if we are then going into partnerships, we should do so on the basis of strength. Not that the partner will take 90percent and government 10 percent. That means the government is going to be at their whims and caprices. So instead of moving forward, it would be another step backward. The refineries need to be rehabilitated. So the government must start looking at how we can diversify, and we can also build modern refineries and we have suggested all these. But all the stakholdders would have to come together and hold a conference, including everybody working in the refiner­ies. If crude oil is supplied and the pipelines are secured and there’s no theft, all would work out.

It’s just like looking at the issue of GSM and so many other issues, it wasn’t like this. So, once we have all those things in place, the era of importing will ease out gradually. Sincerely we are wasting money.

What should government policy be?

It’s also good to look at the word of God, which says that we must bridle our tongues and we must be very careful as well because the industry is a volatile one. So, if one says anything and it create chaos, everybody would be looking at how to take advantage of it. When we also look at sabotage, it’s also good that government has strong legal framework. That’s why Petroleum Indus­try Bill is key. When you have such kind of situation, there are other areas that sabotage can be ruled out. The economy is bad, poverty is everywhere and everybody is looking for opportunity to make money. So, government should endeavour to utilise money making to create job for people, then the pressure on oil and gas and product distribution would also be minimal. The most important thing is that our refineries must be working to comple­ment importation. If not, we will just continue import­ing and putting more pressure on foreign exchange reserves. Right now, dollar has gone up, and everything in the country too, due to the scarcity of dollars . That is the effect and this is also not too good. We must work together and see what we can all do, while government on its part must also have strong will to put things in place. It is important that when we have this state of emergency, we look at the timeline and set a target of what we can do perhaps within the first three months and pay the cash call to the marketers which is on now. Then the refineries.How will they work and how will they be secured? If we are saying that we want to sell refineries and government that has all the apparatus of security cannot secure the pipelines, then we can as well privatize security. Then everywhere should be privatized. The SSS and villa security.

Then what are we going to do? That means everybody is vulnerable. But we must protect and see what we can do. But I can say for PENGASSAN and NUPENG we don’t condone corruption. If any of our members is found to be corrupt let him be sanctioned. However, we equally believe that our members are Nigerians and citizens of this country.

Is privatisation advisable?

OPEC regulation says that the government must be at the commanding height of the economy. How many of the privatized companies have we benefited from?. Look at what the privatisation of the Power Hold­ing Company of Nigeria (PHCN) has brought. Total darkness. They’ve privatized everywhere, but are we benefitting? I heard that the National Assembly is going to revisit Indorama and the PHCN. It was privatized and the money was embezzled while the larger society suffers. If we say we are partnering someone, we must do it in a way that government must negotiate from the angle of strenght, not that they will sell any refinery as scrap. Privatisation is not the best, because firms that have been privatised, what have we gained from it? The Indora­ma was supposed to be done by the staff of NNPC that time. Most of the items were in the warehouse, but because of government bureaucracy it couldn’t be done. It was a rip off. However, the refineries have to be in the position of strenght, not that as they are now that the private investor would say they they want to take 70percent stake , while government takes 30 percent. That means government is going to be there as a weaker partner, without any benefit.

What’s the lot of oil workers in the present economy?

The last one year for workers in the oil and gas sector has been very traumatic. It’s not only workers in the oil and gas sector, but their dependants as well. An oil worker has a minimum of 10 or 15 dependants, so if somebody is going to be affected, their dependants equally have children who would be affected. However, we must commend the Ministry of Labour on its position and as well commiserate with the federal govern­ment on the death of Barrister James Ocholi. He was a great Nigerian, a committed and passionate advocate of workers’ right. It’s unfortunate, may his soul rest in peace. The Minister and the late Minister of State met with the IOC and the stakeholders and emphasized to them that as the govern­ment cannot create jobs for now, it would do all within its power to keep jobs available. The Ministry told the employers that there must be sacrifices from all and the solution to the problem is not by sacking the workers. Everybody must make sacrifices, top management riding five cars must be able to give three away, cut down on their allowances, then everybody would key-in to ensure that the sector does not collapse. We all know that it’s going to be a temporary thing, after this phase, there would be improvement. That culture of managing our resources has been set aside and that’s where the problem lies. However for them to be saying that only workers should sacrifice, we say no! As labour leaders, we need to meet our members at the branch level to understand the situation as it relates to individual branches.

What’s your message to all?

What we need to tell Nigerians, even the government is that there are challenges. There are also solutions to those challenges. There is no problem that is insur­mountable, but it’s important as we often tell employers to meet representatives of the workers, that is the labour leader. It’s because there’s no way, even as minister, GMD or MD could be meet workers one on one. The leaders would appraise policy and give their verdict, that is the essence of being carried along. Because at the end of the day, for management to succeed, labour must be carried along. They can ensure that all goes well in an organisation, but if they are taken for granted, they can equally sabotage management.

This May Day, we want to tell government that the leaders must always be carried along on anything that they want to do which will impact positively or nega­tively on the workers. There must be proper collabora­tion, because they may be the one to help government during crisis. No one can work in isolation. Government, employers and employees must work together for the survival of the organisation. We should also pray that God should turn our situation around and by that time we should all live to enjoy the benefits. Government should also realise that Nigerian workers have made sacrific­es, and should be able to enjoy the benefits. It’s also important that government should inject more funds into the power sector to alleviate the suffering and hardship of Nigerians now so that they can finally have that assurance that they voted for change and after so much suffering there’s light at the end of the tunnel.


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