Much as the recurring Nigerian nightmare of fuel supply disruption occasioned by the industry’s striking workers turned out to be short-lived, with the union calling off the strike last week, it has again reopened the lingering debate on why OPEC’s sixth largest exporter of crude cannot refine enough crude for its domestic population.
Until mid-last week, Abuja and its environs were in virtual lockdown– the aftermath of the strike embarked upon by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), to force the hands of the Federal Government to resume subsidy payments to oil marketers.
Among its many grouses – the union had alleged non-payment of subsidy claims by the Federal Government to the oil marketers; this the union saw as threat to the job security of its members working in the companies. The failure, it claimed, was a breach in the agreement it reached with thegovernment on July 27. The union noted that the regime of fuel importation was a burden which the Federal Government brought upon itself by its neglect of the refineries, hence its responsibility to carry the can by fulfilling its obligation to the fuel marketers. In all, the union alleged that about N200 billion is being owed by the government.
The Federal Government however saw things differently. According to Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, “the true position is that the Federal Government has been meeting its obligation to oil marketers in respect of all legitimate claims”. She gave example of the Sovereign Debt Notes in the sum of N17 billion in favour of 14 oil marketers between April and May. She also referred to another Sovereign Debt Notes amounting to N42.666billion issued to 31 oil marketers between April and August.
The minister of course did not deny that some categories of payments were being withheld. She insisted however that these were mainly those companies indicted by the Aig-Imoukhuede committee which probed the administration of the subsidy funds. Accusing the companies of using the unions as foil to blackmail government, she insisted that their eligibility for payments would be determined by the outcome of investigations.
Both parties are in our view, right and wrong. The union is absolutely in order to defend the interests of its members and to fight perceived threats to their gainful employment. That is assuming that the oil companies have claims that are truly legitimate.
On its part, the government’s insistence on withholding further payments to the indicted firms pending the time all issues connected with the fraud are resolved is unassailable.
Having said that, we note that a legion exists out there who would not want to give the government the benefit of the doubt, given government’s notoriety in not meeting its obligations to creditors.
The same – unfortunately – holds no less true for some of the marketers who appear to have perfected the art of reaping even when they sowed nothing, as the subsidy probe has revealed. It seems to us therefore as the height of intransigence, or worse, an abuse of power for NUPENG to resort to the strike weapon to force the hands of government to surrender when a crime is alleged.
Should the regime of fuel importation be a licence for the criminal behaviour by some marketers?
The union’s role, in our view, ought to be one of getting both the marketers and the government to act right: the former to go to court to prove their innocence or to pay restitution for their crimes; and the latter to settle legitimate claims timely. Nothing in the role allowed for either threats or blackmail. Last week’s dialogue and its outcome should therefore be seen as affording the lesson that there is no such a thing as a lesser evil to choose from. It’s high time the government put in motion the machinery to halt fuel importation.
Source: The Nation