Alhaji Tokunbo Korodo is the Lagos State zonal chairman of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and state chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). He speaks on issues including the removal of fuel subsidy and accidents involving tankers in this interview with SUNDAY ROTILEFON. Excerpts:
Nigerians are still in the dark over the Federal Government’s decision on petrol; has subsidy really been withdrawn?
It is a tactical removal and with what we are seeing in the industry, it is gone. That is confirmed; it is a tactical withdrawal.
Nigerians protested efforts by past administrations to remove subsidy, why the muted response this time?
When the last administration wanted to remove the subsidy, NUPENG also joined other labour unions to kick against it. The then government had lots of problems, especially lack of trust from Nigerians and stakeholders in the oil industry. Nobody was ready to collaborate with them and thank God we did not allow them have their way in the light of ongoing revelations, particularly Dasukigate. The same thing would have happened to money saved from subsidy removal.
People are silent now because we can see a little bit of sincerity on the part of the present administration and what they need most is encouragement. We are partnering with them to give them a trial and they have been responding very well. But if they fail to deliver what they promised Nigerians, the same labour movement that is playing along with them will challenge them.
Are you saying that NUPENG is supportive of the subsidy removal?
We never against subsidy removal in spite of the fact that we did not completely trust the last government; we gave them some conditions that must be met before subsidy was removed. In fact, we said their interpretation of deregulation is quite different from what we expected. We don’t want an import driven deregulation; if government wants to deregulate the industry, let there be local production. Then, our pipelines also needed to be rehabilitated so that any revenue being generated within the industry would be invested in the economy. Their own was import driven deregulation that will not do us good while the importers will be smiling to the bank at the detriment of the masses. We cannot support that and we maintained it. We are giving the present administration a trial and they are still performing.
Why is it difficult to refine oil in Nigeria?
There’s nothing difficult in it. It was because past governments did not invest in the industry; nobody wanted to invest whereas everybody ought to invest but because importation was lucrative, everybody jumped at it and they did not invest a dime. The present government has started producing petrol, only that the capacity is not yet to the level we are expecting. Continuous production can lead to the expected capacity. That is why we considered it a welcome development and are giving them a trial.
What caused the last fuel scarcity experienced from around November to the early part of January?
We are facing challenges including non-payment of the subsidy claims of marketers and the activities of some cabals that wanted government to bend towards them.
But some marketers are still selling above the approved pump prices
None of our members can sell above the pump price because it’s a government directive that everybody should sell at the stipulated price. Anybody found selling above the pump price is doing so at his own risk.
Some Nigerians consider NUPENG trouble makers; do you always place the needs of your members above that of the nation?
Those that tag NUPENG trouble makers are not patriotic and are not conversant with the activities of the Union. Nigerians perceive us differently but if you see us as stubborn when our rights are being infringed upon, we expect that. However, we are a reliable organization that does not joke with the welfare of members; if we have any reason to react, we don’t keep quiet. We are troublesome to protect the job of our members. It is better to be troublesome than to see our members jobless. As a social and corporate organization, we believe that an injustice to one is an injustice to all; we believe that we need to enforce our right. We have a very responsible leadership fighting for our rights.
Given the plunge in crude oil prices, what’s the future of the oil industry?
There is a future and we have not lost hope. When oil sold for over $100 per barrel was when our leaders ought to have saved and invested for the dry season. They should not complain now that the table has turned; nobody thought about saving because of the corruption in our system.
What are you doing about the congestion at Apapa Ports?
It is not the problem of NUPENG; the congestion emanated from lack of planning on the part of government. Wherever you build a tank farm, tanker drivers that will patronize them will move there. There must be a consideration before you build a tank farm, there must be parking lots for the tankers as loading bay but a situation whereby any available space is allocated to build tank farm is an eyesore. Lack of proper organization and planning led to what people are experiencing in Apapa.
In advanced countries, you dare not build a shopping mall without a large parking space unlike here where you have a lot of shopping malls without a single car park. Our laws can only be corrected if government is doing the right thing at the right time. Tanker drivers should not be blamed; if the tank farm owners give us where to park we shall gladly move our trailers there. The ongoing construction of roads at Orile Iganmu has reduced the number of tankers that we can park there. We are even considering how to relocate or expand the space allocated to us. The stakeholders met with both the federal and state governments and we created a corridor for small vehicles to park so that it will reduce complaints by the residents.
What is NUPENG’s position on the proposed sales of refineries?
We don’t support outright sales of the refineries but we encourage partnerships. We cannot continue selling our heritage, it is not done. If the government hands the refineries to private investors, they will be dictating to Nigerians since there is no government regulation. We don’t encourage that.
What is your position on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)?
We are one of the agitators calling for its urgent passage but we need to know all of its contents to know how it affects not only members of NUPENG but also PENGASSAN. Though the version we have now has gone through second reading, we need access to it to clear all areas of differences because if it is passed into law and we have anti labour clauses, there will be agitation.
We call on the leadership of the National Assembly to allow us have access to it and make input before it is passed into law. We had submitted our observations in the past but we don’t know whether those observations were considered or not, that is why we are asking for the draft before it is passed into law.
What are you doing about accidents being caused by tankers on our high ways?
The high incidence of accidents prompted us to increase training of our members. We partnered the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to train tanker drivers nationwide. Aside this, we have re-introduced safety measures that need to be carried out on all trucks. We have also introduced compartment measures such that if any truck falls, its content will not spill.
We have also embraced the speed limit device that will become compulsory by March 1; any truck that does not have the device will not be allowed to load nationwide. We have resolved with the FRSC to check over speeding by tanker drivers because it is over speeding that is causing most of the accidents on highways.
We have a regulation that trucks should not speed more than 60 kilometres per hour; there is no amount of acceleration you apply, the truck will not move because of the speed limit device. We are not happy seeing tankers involved in accidents, we are all responsible leaders and that is why we resolved that every truck must have a safety device.