President of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Comrade Francis Olabode Johnson, speaks with MOSES JOHN on job losses in the sector amongst other national issues.
Do you think upward review in pump price of petroleum is the way out of the current economy challenges?
For me as a Labour leader, any increase in the pump price of fuel now, will be adding to the hardship Nigerians are going through. Well, people are panicking that because the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has increased its product from N141 per litter to N145, that means there is going to be an increase, it is not possible because there is a ceiling which is N145 and if anybody whether NNPC or any other organisation goes above that, then there is going to be problem.
For instance, some other marketers are selling at N141 or N143 and so people can shun NNPC for those stations, just like when NNPC was selling at N141, most people preferred to go and queue there than driving to other stations that were selling N145.
So, for me, I don’t think government would want to do anything without consulting the stakeholders and if they do, we will resist such as Labour because poor Nigerians would be the worst hit.
Also, we know that there is meeting between all stakeholders in the oil and gas industry as regard to sourcing for forex so as to help importers of fuel to source for dollar in a reasonable rate, this is what we have been talking about. Everybody must make sacrifices for the system to run smoothly. I know that with this dollar issue the government is doing, before the end of this year, you will see the price of fuel coming down.
Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said the new price regime would be reviewed quarterly, we are in the last quarter, yet the price remains the same. As stakeholders, is Labour worried?
If you are talking about the first quarter, that means it is January to March and Deregulation started around May. And from May till now we have seen product availability. We can also say there is no plan to increase fuel despite the high exchange rate as well as scarcity of dollar.
Also, Kachikwu told us that there is plans to ease and help marketers to source dollar and so I don’t think government will want to give Nigerians such a Christmas gift by increasing fuel at this period, because once there is increase in pump price of petroleum, everything would automatically go up in the market and I don’t think government will want to do that.
Government promised to put in place palliatives after the last fuel price increase, would you say there is indication that this promise would be fulfilled?
For me as president of PENGASSAN, we, NLC and TUC, were represented at the committee put in place by government, as well as other stakeholders. Our representative said they have been meeting, but you also know the situation in the country. the recession and other challenges the country is facing. I also know they are talking about review of minimum wage.
Will PENGASSAN back sale of refineries?
No, we cannot support the sales. Let me say that what all the stakeholders are saying is that, government should rehabilitate the refineries so that they can work to the desired capacity.
Oil union gave three-week ultimatum and threatened to pull members out at the expiration of the ultimatum if their sacked members are not reinstated. Has your stand changed?
Well, meetings have been held and we are saying that it is not acceptable for a meeting which was converged by government officials, including all the stakeholders in the sector, and decision was reach which led to the unions suspending the strike. But for some International Oil Companies (IOC) to renege on that agreement is a slap on this country.
For instance, Total is from France, Agip is Italy, Chevron and Mobile are from USA, can they do such a thing in their countries? So why must they do that in our country.
We were asked to make sacrifice and government told the IOC to also do same. If they cannot bear what is happening in the country now, it means they can’t do business in Nigeria because what is happening in the country today is just temporary. We will survive it.
I know they are arranging for an urgent meeting to nip the situation in the bud. We don’t want to cause crisis in the oil and gas sector, because of the timing and so they should do something fast.
You had suggested a road map for the sector, would you say the one launched by federal government recently is in synch with yours?
Well, at the inception of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, I spoke with the press, asking for a state of emergency to be declared on the oil and gas sector. Assuming it was declared at that time, the issue of militancy, vandalism, illegal refineries, job loss would have been solved by now, because we said let’s sit and look at how to address most of this issues. But you know it was an advice, and today if you also look at the issue of the seven big wings, talking about Cash call, PIB and some other things, I can say that if all stakeholders work together, the desired result would be met.
What is your take on plans by FG to borrow $30billion dollars for infrastructure development?
If the borrowed money would be judiciously managed, there is no problem. However, a situation where the money would end in few individual pockets is not acceptable.
We are against borrowing that will not turn around our infrastructural facilities.
We were asked to make sacrifice and government told the IOC to also do same. If they cannot bear what is happening in the country now, it means they can’t do business in Nigeria because what is happening in the country today is just temporary. We will survive it