One of the lessons learnt from last month’s nation-wide strike, called by organized labour in protest against Federal Government’s deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil and gas industry is ‘power is not a good unless he be good that has it’. For, if ill-managed, power of any kind could be a double-edge sword capable of wounding even the holder.
Another is the invaluable caution against calling a strike when all else at reaching meaningful ends through responsible dialogue has not been exhausted. And finally, that some sectors of the economy should at all cost, persuade themselves against such actions for the interest of both humanity and the country.
This understanding accounts for why some disciplines are categorized as essential, their workforce, essential workers. Among such categories are medical doctors whose duty it is to save lives; the mass media, required to alert a striking nation of likely external dangers while at industrial war; the power sector and from our January experiences, the oil and gas sector, among others. Can anyone imagine a strike action by the Nigerian Army, Navy, Airforce and Police for say, a month? Or Tanker Drivers refusing to convey petroleum products from one depot to another service spot, for say , two months?
Here in Nigeria, the oil sector has proved to be one of the most volatile sectors because of the country’s near total dependence on the commodity and its ripple effects on transportation, and by extension, trade and commerce. In fact, there is hardly any Nigerian household that does not feel the impact of fuel scarcity either negatively or positively, depending on whether one is selling or buying, profiteering or being short changed.
Frankly, each time the oil sector sneezes Nigerians complain of acute malaria of a rare economic kind. This is indeed why those engaged by the sector as essential workers are not only very well paid, they are depended upon to exercise their power to punish the fragile economy with some measure of responsibility, good conscience, nationalism, maturity and indeed patriotism.
This accounts for why last Friday’s threat by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) that it would shut-down completely, all oil and gas operations in Rivers State, came to The Tide, as it did many, as a rude shock and disappointment. For the records, Rivers’ operations service 10 states of the zone, namely, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers State.
In handing down the seven-day ultimatum to the Rivers State Government and management of Vam Onne Nigeria Limited, PENGASSAN vowed that if within the period, the industrial relations crisis in Vam Onne Nigeria Limited was not resolved, ostensibly in the association’s favour, oil and gas operations would be shut indefinitely.
Their grouse, according to a release last Friday, is that Vam Onne, in alleged collaboration with some politicians had sponsored thugs numbering over 15, armed with dangerous weapons, to harass, manhandle, assault the PENGASSAN members and ultimately disrupted a peaceful protest organized by the Port Harcourt zone of the association against the Vam Onne management.
In a petition addressed to Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, dated February 8, 2012 and signed by its Assistant General Secretary, Comrade Sunday Onyemachi, the workers said, “ As a result of this development, our National Secretariat has directed that, after seven days, with effect from February 9,2012, there will be a complete shut-down of all oil and gas operations in Rivers State.
“If thereafter, the matter is not resolved within the period, the entire 10 states within the zone will follow suit and this will escalate the crisis”.
PENGASSAN alleged that the country manager of Vam Onne, Mr Eugene Fogli victimized 27 of its members who have been locked out for over three months without salaries.
“It is pertinent to stress that the country Manager of Vam Onne Nigerian Limited, Mr Eugene Fogli, engages in anti-union activities ranging from intimidation, harassment, lock-out, victimization, and enslavement of Nigerian workers, flagrant abuse of our extant laws, and release of Nigerians from employment without clearance from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and more importantly refusal to honour agreement reached between them”, the petition said.
On the harassment of members on a peaceful protest, PENGASSAN further alleged, “the harassment of our members by the thugs took place in the presence of the policemen detailed to monitor our peaceful exercise which commenced on Tuesday, February 8, 2012. The State Security Service (SSS) Onne, were also aware of this ugly development”, the petition stated.
These, methinks, are indeed serious allegations deserving urgent remedies. Why, for instance, should politicians send thugs to assault harmless protesters seeking redress from an employer? Who are those politicians? If these have been reported to the police as should be done, what is the extent of investigation? Who were the policemen detailed to follow the protesters?
Is it true that the protesters were assaulted along with the police detachment detailed to monitor the protest? Is it true that the police- men ran away after witnessing the alleged assault by the thugs to avoid bloodshed? What did those policemen do afterwards? Mum?
These questions require answers from the police high command because the allegations are criminal in content.
The other grievance of PENGASSAN is the industrial dispute with Vam Onne over the lock-out of 27 of their members without salary for three months.
This, if true, is indeed painful and very annoying. How can a diligent worker be eased out of employment, with no valid reason, for as many as three months without pay? This column shares the pains of those workers and would wish that the problem be resolved in timely fashion.
But I have a worry: Is it true that this industrial dispute is already before the Industrial Arbitration Court at the instance of PENGASSAN? If not, why?
Why should Rivers State suffer the punishment of being denied petroleum products over a dispute the association has with a firm at Onne? Is it a Rivers State government owned company or parastatal? If yes, what of the nine other states within the Rivers zone? Or is it a joint-venture firm owned by the states?
I ask because, try as I have to appreciate the rationale behind the PENGASSAN threat to shut down all oil and gas operations in Rivers State within seven days, what I find instead is a clear example of blackmail and fear mongering.
How for instance can an association petition the governor of a state over an alleged wrong-doing of the kind complained against and at the same time, threaten to punish the same governor and his people, if the issue was not resolved within its own time frame? Had there been an earlier petition to the governor on the same subject matter before the February 9, threat?
If the answers to these are in the negative then it smacks of abuse of the power which PENGASSAN enjoys, as operators of the oil and gas sector and must be checked. Should every union rise on the wrong side of their beds and hold Nigeria and Nigerians to ransom? Is this a new jungle nation?
Again, has the association exhausted all avenues of seeking redress before deciding to visit innocent Nigerians living and doing legitimate business in the 10 states of the federation, with an additional threat that it would escalate beyond that point, apparently, another nationwide strike this time, by oil and gas workers? This is not right.
Even more regrettable, if true, is the claim that the threat to shut down oil and gas operations in Rivers State and later, all other nine states in the zone, enjoys the approval of the National Secretariat of PENGASSAN.
Rather than endorse such path of self-destruct, the PENGASSAN high office should have threaded the path of honour, peaceful resolution of the dispute and demonstrate true nationalism in view of the pain the planned action will inflict on innocent Nigerians, who until the seven day ultimatum, were not aware of any such industrial dispute.
What PENGASSAN has alleged as injustice against members by the police, political thugs and the Vam Onne Nigeria Limited are issues that are criminal and industrial in nature. Those of criminal nature should be channeled to the courts through the police and those of industrial nature should follow spelt-out guidelines and peak at the Industrial Arbitration Court and not for the workers to take laws into their own hands, just because PENGASSAN can, and perhaps successfully force the nation to her knees. This also is not right.
Trade Unions must realise that Nigeria is a constitutional entity with rules and laws. And that no single group enjoys the monopoly of abusing the rule or law at will, in this country. Their right to call strikes must be weighed against the rights of all others and be exercised only as a last resort. This, does not appear to be so in this case.
The other day, a Tanker Driver had a brush with some police escorts, and the next day, tanker drivers went on strike. Yesterday, some Tankers Drivers were allegedly arrested, along with others carrying out illegal bunkering, and tanker drivers called a strike which at once, shut up prices of petroleum products.
Today, it is a threat by PENGASSAN to shut-down oil and gas production in Rivers zone, covering as many as 10 states over, wait! The lock-out of 27 Vam Onne Nig Limited staff. Where is this country headed? A union without laws?
PENGASSAN must be told in unambiguous terms that their reasons for the threat to shut-down oil and gas operations seem an over-kill, or at best too flimsy and should be reconsidered.
Besides, there are laid-out legal and industrial steps by which their grievances could be addressed, without necessarily threatening total shut-down.
My Agony is that PENGASSAN has elected to be the complainant and judge, at the same time, in its own case, and appears bent on doing any and every thing to achieve that toga, with or without the Industrial Arbitration Court, the police or all other courts of competent jurisdiction.
This amounts to a vote for the fallacy of two wrongs making one right. It needs not be so.
Wike, Pride Of Nigeria’s Democracy, NUJ Affirms
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has described Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, as an exhibit of pride to democracy in Nigeria.
The NUJ also noted that Wike has redefined governance through demonstration of democracy in action with his service to Rivers people.
The National leadership, the 36 State Executives, and the FCT, including members of the NUJ across the country made the assertion in Port Harcourt during the inspection tour led by the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim of both completed and ongoing projects being undertaken by the governor in the state.
The National President of the NUJ, Chief Chris Isiguzo, said the 1999 Constitution bestows on the media the responsibility to hold governments accountable to the people.
Isiguzo posited that having placed the projects side-by-side with the expectations of the populace, it was obvious that the governor’s investment in critical infrastructure would remain lifelong empowerment tools for the people.
”We were at the Mother and Child Hospital. We took time to look at the facilities there. That can easily be said to be first of its kind in the country.
”At the much-talked about Real Madrid Football Academy, where they are going to train the young ones, we saw that they have good facilities. At the moment, they have also offered admission to 140 pupils.
”That’s also to catch-them-young, and I want to believe that by the time this kind of resources is continuously invested in sports development in Nigeria, it’s just a matter of time, it will gain its pride of place in sporting world.”
On her part, the National President of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Mrs Ladi Bala said that the projects she had seen were entirely unique, unprecedented and very uncommon in the country.
According to Bala, the Emmanuel Chinwenwo Aguma Judges’ Quarters stand out as first of its kind in Nigeria, with its serene ambiance that would translate into enhancing the productivity of judges of Rivers origin.
”I believe that democracy is at work in Rivers State, and, for Rivers people, I want to congratulate them, and to say, this is the true reflection of what democracy should be across board.
”I want to call on other governors across the country to borrow a leaf from what the governor of Rivers State is doing. Wike is working, and we are very proud of what we have seen here”, she added.
In his reaction, the National Internal Auditor of NUJ, Muhammad Tukur, stated that Wike was a committed leader with the vision of uplifting the standard of life of his people.
Tukur, who expressed gratitude to Wike for his support to the NUJ National Conference in Port Harcourt, said that his show of love for journalists confirms his commitment to the welfare of the people.
On his part, Chairman of Oyo State Council of the NUJ, Comrade Ismail Ademola Babalola, asserted that the Mother and Child Hospital, and the Real Madrid Football Academy were part of projects Governor Wike was using to secure a productive future for the youths of the state because they meet global standard.
Also speaking, the Vice President of NUJ North Central Zone, Chief Wilson Bako, commended the quality of the various roads and flyover bridges constructed in the Port Harcourt metropolis to make the city tourists’ destination of choice.
In the same vein, the Vice Chairman of NUJ in Jigawa State, Comrade Larai Musa, said she has confirmed all that the news media had carried about Wike and his projects’ mantra, and asserted that it was leaders like him that were needed at the national level.
Also, Comrade Ikechukwu Ordu of Enugu State Council of the NUJ noted the need for other political leaders to emulate Wike in providing dividends of democracy to Rivers people and changing the fortunes of his state.
Also from the Enugu State Council of the NUJ, Comrade Ugochukwu Chukwudieke, said she was completely overwhelmed by what Wike has done in constructing the Okoro-Nu-Odo Flyover Bridge, Rumuogba Flyover Bridge, and Rebisi Flyover Bridge delivered within one year.
Chukwudieke also praised the quality of work on the Rumuola Flyover Bridge, Ogbun-nu-Abali Flyover Bridge, GRA Junction Flyover Bridge, and the Orochiri-Wurukwo flyover project at Waterlines Junction by Aba Road.
Stop Constitution Review, CNG Tasks NASS
The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), yesterday, called on the National Assembly to suspend the review of the 1999 Constitution, describing it as ill-timed and uncalled for, particularly in the face of the growing agitation for Nigeria’s break-up.
It also urged the National Assembly to invoke the doctrine of necessity to organize a Biafra referendum as the final step towards the separation of the Igbo from the rest of Nigeria.
This was part of the presentation which CNG made before the leadership of the National Assembly against the backdrop of the disturbances created by certain interest groups in the South-East, in the form of the agitation for a separate state of Biafra.
Briefing journalists in Abuja after the presentation, CNG Spokesman, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, noted that the Biafra agitation in the South-East had turned violent, alleging that the aim of the unrest in the region was to instigate reprisals by northerners against people from other parts of the country.
He said, “We demanded the immediate suspension of the ongoing exercise for the review of the 1999 Constitution and to concentrate on the first priority of determining who and what actually constitutes Nigeria as a nation in the present circumstance in which the Igbo, by taking up arms against the Nigerian state for the third time, have foreclosed every hope for the rest of us to continue coexisting with them as one nation.
“In order to achieve the final separation of the Igbo from the rest of Nigeria, we also demanded the NASS to organize a referendum by seeking the cover of the same Doctrine of Necessity invoked by Nigeria’s federal parliament that paved way for former President Goodluck Jonathan’s takeover by declaring the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua unfit.
“We further demanded NASS to prevail on the Federal Government of Nigeria to invite the United Nations as well as the African Union and ECOWAS, to initiate the process of self-determination to mandate the Biafrans out of the Nigerian union by leveraging on the several relevant international treaties and conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory.
“Today, everyone can see that the diabolical scheme planned and exhibited in the actions and clamours of IPOB, supported morally and politically by the vast majority of the pliant and affrighted Igbo elites, politicians, traditional rulers, business persons, and the larger population of this ethnic group has pushed Nigeria to the precipice.
“We are convinced that this renewed violent determination of the Igbo to see through the secession of the South-East from Nigeria is now real and cannot be avoided or deferred any longer without terrible consequences.
“In order to avoid such mishaps and unnecessary devastation on all sides, particularly the South-East whose leaders and agitators are now bent on driving it over the brink into a catastrophe, CNG is of the view that resort to available means of actualising the separation of the South-East from the rest of Nigeria is today a vital task that must be undertaken by all.”
Suleiman also argued that in order to prevent a descent into another civil war, and to forestall mass killings and untold sufferings, CNG has committed to the call for a referendum that will finally separate the South-East from Nigeria.
He added, “In this connection, we are hoping the NASS will come up with a framework to be agreed upon in the course of the referendum and its final implementation in the South-East or any enclave that wishes to secede from Nigeria.
All identified indigenes (Igbos) of the enclave or entity that called for secession (South-East) must leave the territory of Nigeria and assemble in their designated enclave for the purpose of the exercise.
“The outcome of the referendum shall be final, irreversible and shall not be reviewed or reconsidered for any other reasons. Citizens of the breakaway enclave shall be deprived of any automatic rights to return to the territory of the rump Nigeria, or to be admitted to live in any of its parts.
“We are aware that all this while, the North continued to bear the brunt of the violent agitations for secession with equanimity, stoical calm and resignation.
“Therefore, as the CNG recommits to the pursuit of a final constitutional separation with Biafra, we urge the North to remain the bulwark of respect, integrity, dignity, decorum, tradition, decency, morality, civilization, etiquette, good behaviour, politeness, accommodation, and all other positive traits with the assurance that the good will ultimately prevail over evil.”
PDP’s Performance Has Diminished APC In Rivers, Wike
The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike says with what his administration has achieved, and is still doing, in terms of delivery of critical infrastructure, nobody in the state needs to talk about the All Progressives Congress (APC) anymore.
The governor made the assertion at the flag-off of construction work of the Ogbum-nu-Abali/Eastern-Bypass Road project, yesterday, in Port Harcourt.
Wike explained that the previous administration politicised the reconstruction of the Ogbum-nu-Abali/Eastern-Bypass road and actually failed to accomplish it.
The governor said he has defied those political intrigues, and has genuinely interfaced with the people to understand the economic benefits a dualised road in the city centre could attract.
According to Wike, with the level of infrastructural development around Ogbum-nu-Abali, there would be a spike in the value of property and enhanced economic activities.
“I know that the people of Ogbum-nu-Abali resisted the dualisation of this road because of lack of information. When I met with the community leaders, they said look, they have houses bequeathed to them by their grandparents.
“I told them that whether they like it or not, if I don’t dualise it today, tomorrow somebody else will do it. And you don’t know who is coming.
“So, it’s better done now that I am a governor than when you don’t know who is coming. And the economic benefit of this road is too much, which you may not understand now.”
Speaking further, Wike stated that the entire Old Government Residential Area (GRA) has been given a facelift with quality road projects.
“This is the only place remaining. Old GRA cannot be like that and then we will leave this place. We have done the Rebisi flyover, the Oru-Abali flyover. There is no way this place will not be dualised at all. It’s not possible.”
Performing the flag-off, the member representing Port Harcourt Federal Constituency 1, Hon Kenneth Anayo Chikere, said the formal flag-off ceremony has ended several speculations about the possibility of executing the project.
“This day witnesses the eventual actualisation of the Ogbum-nu-Abali/Eastern Bypass Road project. Thank you governor for the Ogbum-nu-Abali/Eastern Bypass Road project!
“Thank you governor, for the Ogbum-nu-Abali internal roads, completed, commissioned and profitably in use. Thank you for being a worthy son and governor! Thank you for the exemplary leadership, the infrastructural and human development in all sectors.”
The Rivers State Commissioner for Works, Elloka Tasie-Amadi, while giving the project description said the dualisation of the Ogbum-nu-Abali Road will extend all the way to the ongoing Eastern Bypass dualisation.
“Today, Ogbum-nu-Abali Road is a 7.3m wide single carriage way, with a cross section of approximately 8.5m width inclusive of the drains on either side of the road. After reconstruction and project completion, we will have a cross section of 18.1m width on the axis extending to Eastern Bypass and 17.35m width along Ogbum-nu-Abali Road.
“This cross section is made up of 2 carriageways, each measuring 7.3m wide, both of which will be separated by a median of 1.5m width along the extension to Eastern Bypass and a median of 750cm width along Ogbum-nu-Abali Road.
It includes 1m wide drains on either side of the road, and of course, street lighting to ease movement at night as well as enhance security.
The commissioner said, the project like many others commissioned or ongoing will be built to design specifications aimed at guaranteeing minimum life-span requirement of 30 years.
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