The recurring problem of scarcity of fuel in the country, controversies surrounding oil subsidy, issues of the nation’s refineries and other matters associated with the oil and gas industry are parts of the challenges Nigerians battle with on a daily basis.
But, according to the Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Lagos Zone, who doubles as the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Lagos State, Alhaji Tokunbo Korodo, some of these problems in the oil sector are man-made.
Korodo stated that some of the nation’s refineries could work if the government wants them to work and that some cabals in the oil sector are the ones creating problems in the importation and distribution of fuel in the country.
Korodo, who granted us an interview in his office in Lagos recently, also speaks on the crisis facing the NLC and concluded that a faction of the labour union is being sponsored by the government to cause problems in the system.
He speaks more on these in this interview with Oladipupo Awojobi.
It was reported that oil marketers met with the Minister of Finance and that they have resolved the fuel scarcity issue, yet the problem did not abate, what do you think caused this?
Truly, the Federal Government owes the major marketers and for the first time they own up that they owe them. I remember that the Finance Minister, Mrs. Okonjo Iweala revealed that the Federal Government paid the marketers N256 Billion with the understanding that the balance would be paid in two weeks. Now, they are contradicting one another on the balance, while the marketers said that the government has N200 Billion balance to pay them, the Federal Government said the money was not up to that. The two parties ought to have agreed on the total sum before talking about part payment. The part payment is an admittance that truly they owe the marketers. It is not that NUPENG is on strike, but the marketers locked up their loading facilities due to the disagreement between them and the government, and when there is not fuel for tanker drivers to load there is nothing they could do. Some tankers rolled out, when the part-payment was paid by the Federal Government. But, they are only loading what they have in stock, when they exhaust this, there would be a serious problem. Deliberately, some marketers are not bringing in products because of the fear of the unknown. Some of the major oil marketers are quite familiar with the policy of the in-coming government about its zero tolerance for corruption. This is why they want the out-going government to pay their balance so that they would not be speaking grammar, when the new government comes in. The independent marketers are saying that once the government solves the problem of the major marketers, they would also shut their own loading facilities because the government owes them too. They claim that they would not open until they are settled.
There are calls that the government should stop the payment of oil subsidy, what is your advice to the in-coming government on this?
What you are saying came out from the National Assembly and I accused the legislators that they are only window-dressing the problem, where were they before now. They are only trying to dig a grave for the in-coming government so that they would not have any meaningful project to execute. We made our position known to the government through our sister union, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) that we are against deregulation. We are not part of import-driven deregulation, whosoever is selling war implement will never pray for war to come to an end because that would be the end of his business. Anybody that is benefiting from importation of fuel will never pray for our refineries to work, which is the problem. We gave conditions to the government that our own deregulation should not be on importation that would be to the detriment of my members, who are working at the refineries because they would lose their jobs as the refineries would be totally abandoned. I don’t see reasons our refineries cannot work, as I am talking to you right now, Warri Refinery can work up to 70% capacity, but they claimed there is not crude to refine, and millions of litres of crude oil are being exported out to refine outside Nigeria and they bring them back as refined products. The cabals would never allow crude oil to get to Warri Refinery.
How do you think the in-coming government can solve this problem?
I am happy the in-coming government is going to be led by Gen Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.), we know him, Nigerians have passion for him, they believe in him. Those of us in the oil and gas industry should give kudos to Nigerians that actually voted for Buhari to take over the leadership of this country because the 16 years leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is a disaster to us in the oil industry because the whole place has been bastardized. I want the President-elect, when he assumes office to make courtesy visit to all the refineries because he is the architect of the refineries so that he could see how his visions have been managed. I know that as a visionary leader, he would work on them and turn things around. He has said he is going to investigate the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which is the architect of all these, we would give him total support; we want him to do that.
We have about four refineries; do you think they can still be put to work?
Yes, the refineries are four in number, what happened to Kaduna Refinery before they privatized it, it took the intervention of NUPENG and PENGASSAN to reverse this. The reason they gave was that because of the restiveness of the Niger Delta militants they were unable to pump crude oil into Kaduna Refinery. Thank God for the late president Umar Musa Yar’Adua, who God used to bring the relative peace we have in the Niger Delta to bear through amnesty and other programmes. Since that one has been done, is there any justification to sell the refinery again, we said they should pump crude oil to Kaduna Refinery so that it can start working. There are some things that the government is hiding for Nigerians in that area. Majority of the loading points of NNPC has not been put into use since the past 16 years. They lost the control to vandals, who have taken over the pipelines all over the nation. The security men have not been able to protect the pipelines not to talk of the people; all these things would be revisited by the in-coming government. ‘
What do you think is the final solution to the problem in the oil sector?
Let them pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law as it will increase the interest of foreign investors, we cannot do it alone in the sector. No investor is ready to invest in the Nigerian economy anymore, the multinational companies we were having are winding up, they are selling their shares and properties and leaving the country. A lot of my members have been dropped, for how long are we going to be in this mess. The pipelines have been ruptured and vandalized by these so-called vandals, so the pipelines should be repaired. Instead of using the police or the military against us, let them be re-deployed to protect the pipelines. I remember there was a time an Inspector General of Police in Nigeria gave an order that if any pipeline was vandalized in any state, the Commissioner of Police there would be held responsible, the CPs also gave similar directives to the Area Commanders, who also passed it to the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs), who then passed it to the police posts. If we have the willingness of the government to do things right, all these would be achieved.
I could remember the efforts of PENGASSAN and NUPENG in ensuring the passage of PIB into law, but despite all these, the bill has not been passed into law. Is it the cabals that are still delaying it?
You know we had different versions of PIB, the Federal Government had their own version, the legislators had their own and we had our own version. Later, we met at a symposium in Calabar, capital of Cross Rivers State, and we harmonized the three versions and we presented one copy before the National Assembly. We said we didn’t want to know the one they would work on, but we would resist anyone that is anti-labour, and majority of what they packaged in their own is anti-labour. It seems there are some interest groups on the issue. Whosoever partakes in importation of fuel would never want our refineries to work.
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