The Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, last week groaned under the multiplier effects of the threat of a strike action by members of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG.
As workers struggled to get to their offices, even the effect of the power outage was made worse by the non-availability of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, known as petrol, to power generating sets.
The development came at the instance of NUPENG which accused Federal Government of failure to honour agreement it had earlier entered with it. These, according to the union, were: payment of 2012 petroleum subsidy arrears, non-payment of salaries and threat to job loss; state of the nation’s refineries and roads, labour issues in Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, and Chevron as well as restructuring of loans of Depot Owners and Oil Marketers.
But unlike its previous strikes which people were aware of, NUPENG did not prepare the minds of residents of the city by publicly announcing its intended action.
Sunday Vanguard discovered that the leadership of the tanker drivers group mounted surveillance in major entry points of the federal capital last and ensured that no products was delivered into Abuja.
This, the drivers have vowed, was meant to have been replicated across the country last week had the crisis continued.
So it was a big relief to Abuja residents when they heard the action had been suspended temporarily.
Minister of Labour and Productivity, Emeka Wogu, who read the communiqué said: “In view of the above understanding, the ongoing strike by NUPENG is hereby called-off”.
“After extensively discussing the above points in dispute, it was resolved that Federal Government and the Unions should work together towards finding a lasting solution to all the issues in dispute”.
Other resolutions of the meeting according to the communiqué, were that both the Federal Government and the Unions agreed that all those accused in the fuel subsidy scam should endeavor to submit to the ongoing verification exercise, the confirmation that the Federal Government has been paying all verified claims, setting up of two subcommittees to respectively look into issues concerning unfair labour practices in SPDC and of Penalty Clauses in the PPPRA Rules, agreement between Federal Government and unions to provide a platform for Federal Government, Labour and all critical stakeholders to meet and discuss efforts being made in the provision of infrastructures and rehabilitation of the refineries with view to finding a way forward, agreement that depot owners and oil marketers should keep their facilities open and pay the salaries of their workers as well as agreement to meet in two weeks to review the status of implementation of all issues in disputes.
At the meeting which lasted for two days were the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, who led Federal Government’s delegation, Chief Wogu, Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Lawan Ngama, Group Managing Director, GMD, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Mr Andrew Yakubu, and Executive Secretary of Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA.
Labour was led by Acting President of NLC, Comrade Promise Adewusi, with the Acting General Secretary, Comrade Chris Uyot. Others were President, Acting General Secretary and Treasurer of NUPENG, Comrades Igwe Achese, Isaac Aberare and Williams Akporegha, respectively.
Representatives of Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN; Jetties and Petroleum Tank Farms Owners of Nigeria, JEPTFON; Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association, DAPPMA and Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, MOMAN, also attended the meeting.
This development did not only bring temporary relief to the residents of Abuja but those in government, especially Chief Anyim who stood in for the Federal Government.
Those who saw him that Thursday night after the eight-hour meeting with the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the striking National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, would not but agree that Pius Anyim’s countenance was more of a man who had conquered after intense battle at the war front. This was contrary to his looks the previous day which had pictured him as someone who was so restless over the development in the country.
When he returned to take his position after newsmen had been ushered into the SGF Conference Hall to be briefed on the outcome of the meeting Anyim did not hesitate to show through his body language that all the issues that led to the industrial action had been laid to rest.
The President of the NUPENG, Mr. Igwe Achese, who spoke with newsmen after Chief Wogu read the communiqué, expressed satisfaction with the resolutions reached even as he threatened that his union would not hesitate to start another strike if at the end of the two weeks agreed upon, government reneges on the terms reached.
Chief Benneth Korie, National Chairman of the Oil and Gas branch of NUPENG, also told newsmen that he was satisfied with the resolution reached. He expressed hope that government would keep to its promise of honouring the agreements.
The main reason for the union’s action, according to him, was due to their employers’ Jetties and Petroleum Tank Farm Owners of Nigeria (JEPTFON), which had issued out notices of intention to sack workers due to alleged inability to keep afloat.
When we received notice, “we went on air to plead with government to intervene and government called for a meeting. We went for the meeting at the Ministry of Labour where we met with Minister of State for Finance, Minister of Labour, the PPPRA Executive Secretary, GMD of NNPC, and other stakeholders. A communiqué was read by the NUPENG President where we agreed to suspend our planned strike. In that meeting, we agreed that, within two weeks, they will pay the subsidy money to JEFPTON members and, at the same time, restructure the loan and fix the roads, particularly the road to the Port Harcourt refinery where the Minister of Works promised that by next Monday they would commence repairs. Till now, no action has been taken concerning the issues we raised but with this development, we hope all these issues will be quickly addressed especially as we agreed to meet here in two weeks time to review the situation”, he said.
But for a government that is very adept at reaching agreements and breaking them with impunity, two weeks are not too long.