He can be controversial
and blunt, but one thing you cannot take away from the chairman, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Rivers State, Comrade Chika Onuegbu, is his oratory process.
While speaking to journalists on the on-going strike by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), on Thursday in spite of his sweet flow, the message conveyed doom to the nation’s economy, especially to those who are abreast with the precarious state of the economy.
Onuegbu threatened that, if by next week, (which happens to be this week) the Federal Government failed to address the issues that resulted to the PENGASSAN industrial action, the crude export-line would be shut down.
Shutting down the crude export-line simply means, no more sale and no revenue to the Federal Government. The states and local government areas which already owe months of salary arrears to their workers due to poor allocation from the central government would be worst off, as they will be at the rescue of the meagre and poorly Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
The impact of that action by the senior oil workers would not only affect the three tiers of government but worsen the socio-economic situation presently faced by Nigerians.
PENGASSAN had listed non-payment of cash-call or Joint Venture financial obligations, saying the multinational oil firms are being frustrated by the Federal Government’s indebtedness.
This situation has resulted in serious reduction of IOCs operations in Nigeria, led to sack of thousands of oil workers and in the words of the Rivers State TUC chairman, “a big threat to the oil sector.”
Apparently, in clear understanding of the urgent implications of the PENGASSAN’s threat, the Vice President, Yomi Osinbajo, yesterday promised that government was prepared to do everything possible to ensure that issues leading to the strike would be properly addressed to avert the impending doom.
While grappling with the situation, the ravaging Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have not only sustained their campaign of mass destruction on the oil and gas installations in Niger Delta.
In fact, they had extended its operations to Rivers State and threatened to expand more until they completely crumble the economy of the country, unless their demands are met.
Like the PENGASSAN, the NDA has also listed its grievances, demands and conditions for ceasefire, but while Federal Government can possibly resolve with PENGASSAN, analysts have expressed doubt on the possibility of resolving NDA’s demands.
NDA wants equitable number of oil blocks for the sons and daughters of the region, which the government has promised to consider. But those other demands as creation of Niger Delta Republic, release of the Biafra’s lead-agitator, Nnana Kalu, amongst new conditions being reeled out, analysts still doubt the possibilities of resolving.
While government and NDA are yet to agree on common front, the militants’ actions have resulted in escalation of pollution in the Niger Delta which was already highly polluted due to sabotage and unacceptable practices by oil multinationals. Only God knows how polluted the ecosystem is, considering the increasing discharge of pollutants into the air, seas and land and how many centuries it will take to clean up the mess.
Since 1958 when crude oil was struck in commercial quality in Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the oil sector has never experienced a more trial period as being faced presently in Nigeria.
For over one year since oil lost its value in the global market, the economy of Nigeria has never remained the same. Instead of improving, the sector is being burdened the more by increasing problems such that virtually all activities are directly affected.
Devalued by global market, reduced in production value by NDA campaign of mass destruction on its installations and ubiquitous illegal bunkerers, the current PENGASSAN’s threat to cut off the crude export line will certainly bring the bleeding oil sector to its kneels.
The only saving grace is for Yomi Osinbajo to live up to the promise of Federal Government to intervene by resolving PENGASSAN’s strike before the union turns off the nob of the crude export line. Unfortunately, more Nigerians are losing confidence in promises by the Federal Government particularly through the Vice President or the Minister of States for Petroleum Resource, Ibe Kachukwu, in view of their not fulfilling them and as at when due.
The nation’s oil must not be allowed to bleed to death because of the attitude of those managing the resources. Federal Government must not wait until PENGASSAN shuts down the nation’s crude export line, otherwise, the IOCs will further reduce their operations which will entail more sack of the workforce and other unpleasant consequences.
One wonders what will happen if the Federal Government stops getting revenue at all due to shut down of this line. The states which are already owing salaries for several months will completely stop paying. More companies will shut down and the much dreaded doom’s day would be here with us.
Only recently, the blackout due to destruction of gas infrastructure by the Niger Delta Avengers impacted on supplies to Ghana which depends on Nigeria for their steady supply of electricity.
In finding an enduring solution to the myriage of challenges confronting the nation’s oil and gas sector, an analyst, Mr Chidube Bon, believes that the approach must be holistic.
Bon said, “the issue should go beyond addressing the demands of PENGASSAN, the agitations of the NDA and other emerging militant groups in the Niger Delta should make government have a general overhaul of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill before the National Assembly.”
“The public analyst traced the problem in the sector from the land Use Act forced on Nigerians by the former military government in the 1970s.
He expressed the view that only a Petroleum Industry Governance Bill that accommodates fairly all genuine interests of the government, oil host communities and other agencies will bring about a sustainable solution to the divergent agitations.
Also expressing a similar view, the National Co-ordinator, Niger Delta Youth Coalition (NDYC), Prince Emmanuel Ogba, said allocation of oil blocks in the sector must be urgently reviewed to correct obvious injustice.
According to Ogba, Federal Government should be fair in allocating a reasonable number of blocks to those from the area where the oil is gotten.
He also charged the Federal Government to always live up to its financial responsibilities in joint venture deals as well as contributions to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The youth leader queried the moral responsibility of the Federal Government to urge other contributors to NDDC fund to pay, when it has failed to pay her own part of the counterpart fund.
“Hundreds of billions of naira are being owed NDDC by the Federal Government and having failed to live up to her financial responsibilities, other contributors also failed, thereby denying the commission the much needed fund to develop the region, he said.
According to him, if NDDC has performed well as an interventionist agency, there would have been a significant development and the high level of agitation by people of the area who complain of marginalisation would also be reduced.
He said, the rot in the oil sector preceeds the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, noting that while he is not in support of fraud, it is obvious that if the probe in the sector by President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration extends to the other past administrations, much more corruption would be discovered.
It would be wrong to blame oil for the economic challenges the nation is passing through either before or at present. It is obvious that operators and regulatory agencies in the sector have failed woefully in managing fortunes derived for over five decades since oil was discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria.
There is nothing to show that the impact of the billions of dollars reflect on the communities where the black gold is being exploited from.
Many Nigerians are of the opinion that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), be probed further and those culpable, punished accordingly.
The ravaging NDA must be invited to the negotiation table at all cost not minding their demands whether there are real or not because NDA has assumed the position of a tsetse fly perching on the scrotum of Nigeria’s economy and must be pampered out to save the zone before the oil bleeds to death.