‘We Are Not Against Petroleum Bill’

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What I mean by that is if there is need to build more refineries please build. If it’s to revamp the existing ones they should do that. They should also allow private refineries, to be built by encouraging multinationals to establish refineries this would make petroleum products very much available.

 

Comrade Smart Jack has a way of grapping your attention as a reporter. As chairman of the South-South Zonal office of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) he dives into many issues at a time.

A week ago reporters cornered him at a public function in Port Harcourt where he spoke on many issues ranging from the oil industry to politics. In all the questions thrown to him Comrade Jack expressed angst at the country’s wobbling oil and gas industry.

He told reporters, “A situation where we export and import finished product is not acceptable,” adding that, “our product must be driven by use.”

Many would have thought that as a labour leader he would kicked against deregulation policy being promoted recently by the federal government, but he responded that PENGASSAN was in support of the policy to a limited extent.

He declared, “we have made our position known to them that we are not even against PIB (Petroleum Industry Bill)” now under consideration on the floor of the National Assembly.

Comrade Jack asserted that the position of the union was hinged on the fact that the industry should be import driven. “What I mean by that is if there is need to build more refineries please build. If it’s to revamp the existing ones they should do that. They should also allow private refineries, to be built by encouraging multinationals to establish refineries this would make petroleum products very much available.”

The PENGASSAN Chief disagrees with the widely held view, that oil and gas in the Niger Delta has been a curse to the region. He believes that the problem of the oil is predicated on the deep rooted corruption in the system.

“What is God’s gift is a blessing, it can never be a curse. It’s only man that is striving to make it a curse. God is never foolish. He never made a mistake to make it available in Niger Delta,” he remarked.

Explaining further he observed that what was being experienced in the region was temporary considering the huge agitation now ongoing to reposition the area.

Following steps taken by the late President Yar’Adua to right the wrongs, he stressed that so far President Goodluck Jonathan was also in the right direction by showing the will to develop the Niger Delta region.

Aside the problem of refining petroleum in the country Jacke frowned at the continuous flaring of Nigeria’s gas. He was worried that the federal government has not shown enough political will to end the menace.

“I think it’s inability of will from the federal government to tell the multinationals this is the deadline and we cannot continue to negotiate a shift further.

“When government takes such decision, I think the oil companies would sit up. But when  you give them room for negotiation they can’t be serious.”

In addition to that he said the environmental hazards are equally huge as the ozone layer was being depleted on daily basis. Jack maintained that the target year of 2010 was unattainable.

He equally commented on the problems the union  experienced in the sector, “my major challenge is on the management of the oil firms, who engage people who are not well educated in human resources management. They engage people who don’t have a background in daily PR business to handle the position. It’s very disappointing that some of them happen to be past leaders of the union now planning anti-union policies.

The recent stiff position of some oil firms against unionisation of workers he argued paints the union in  bad light. He was of the opinion that such policy would further cause bad blood between management and workers.

With management and workers pitched against each other, instability is created. In the light of this he appealed to the various management in the oil firms to recognise unions, “most people think that trade unionism is all about fighting but it’s not like that. The main thing is that you can have a leadership you can liaise with and discuss unbehalf of workers.”

On the problem of casualisation? “No casualisation has been existing for a very long time,” he declared, “we are against it even though management intend actually to save cost.”

Part of why the body was against casualisation he explained was because a lot of workers lost their entitlements and retirement benefit. For him casualisation “is complete wickedness.” It’s like a slavery in modern society.”

The union has been on the lead to abolish casualisation according to Comrade Jack but he expressed worry that some oil firms are fast evolving by resorting to another tactics of cheating workers.

The new method he argued stems from some of the employment tactics the oil firms have resorted to. In his words:  “In a multi-ethnic country like ours there is a feeling that a particular geographical area is being dominated by others since  independence.”

This scenario is however being redressed with the recent political development in the country. The emergence of President Jonathan was one of them Comrade Jack stressed “so we give God the glory and hope that the shift of power will reach every group irrespective of where you come from, you can have right to defend the country.”

It was in this light that Comrade Jack enthused that the country has not performed badly in the past 50 years,” of course we have achieved much but it could have been better.

He went on, “you have to understand that the country has passed through tumults, misunderstanding and crisis. God still held us together up to this point in time, making us stronger and stronger. I think we have achieved much.

“Some countries never had the crisis we have had and still remain one; I think somehow God loves this country. No matter the misunderstanding we are blessed, so we have come out stronger and united in the past 50 years.”

Speaking on the Ogoni/Shell face off the PENGASSAN boss believed the federal government and the Ogoni people should agree on the way found,  “As far  as I’m concerned if the federal government ask Shell to build one storey building for every Ogoni man, they will do it. If they change their law, Shell will change their pattern as well.”

Responding to the question whether the oil giant should return to Ogoniland, Comrade Jack replied, “As far as I’m concerned I don’t have a comment … We did not negotiate with Shell. If federal government says Shell should come Shell would, but if they say otherwise Shell should go. It’s not our business.”

Finally, he submitted that whatever the position of the federal government was on the matter, the most importation thing is for government to use the people’s resources for the betterment of the country and its populace.