The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) has threatened to embark on nationwide strike tomorrow if the federal government fails to pay subsidy arrears to fuel importers.
President of the union, Comrade Achese Igwe, disclosed this yesterday during a press briefing at NUPENG office, Jibowu, Lagos.
He said: "If the government fails to address the payment of subsidy, the union will embark on nationwide strike on Wednesday (tomorrow) because the jobs of our workers are on the line.
"It is against this back-drop that we call on the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to pay all outstanding subsidy payments to the NNPC and private depot owners, who are being asked by the same government to import fuel."
The union president stressed that failure of the minister to meet the NNPC and marketers payment obligation would be seen as a deliberate ploy to inflict hardship on Nigerians.
He said: "We also stated emphatically that if the government is sincere in its subsidy payment without having any selfish interest, why are they not fully implementing the findings of the ad hoc-committee on subsidy set up by the House?"
Achese also refuted Okonjo-Iweala's statement that the union is being used by oil marketers to embark on the strike action, insisting that there was absolutely nothing of such.
"The union considers the statement as an insult to the integrity of NUPENG and the struggle for the enthronement of democracy.
"The minister should bury her head in shame and resign in order for genuine patriots to come on board to move the nation forward," he added.
According to him, NUPENG cannot be used by the federal government, institutions or companies as it is a major stakeholder in the petroleum industry.
He also said that, "The struggle for the emancipation of Nigerians from the hands of military cannot be rubbished or swept under the carpet by some ministers like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and her cohorts in the same boat who have failed to take the country out of economic woods."
Igwe further claimed that the union was involved in the ongoing strike in Abuja to demand for payments of subsidy, saying that its traditional role is to protect workers who are Nigerians and members of NUPENG.
He also decried the untold hardship and unfair labour practices meted out to the union workers by two giant multi-nationals, the Shell Petroleum Development Company and Chevron Nigeria Limited.
Meanwhile, Achese told newsmen that one of their members was recently kidnapped in Lagos but paid a ransom before his release. He therefore called on Governor Babatunde Fashola to put more security in place to combat kidnapping in the state.
Payment cannot be at expense of national interest - Okonjo-Iweala
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance said it has made its position clear that fuel subsidy payment would not be done at the expense of national interest.
The senior special assistant to the coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Paul Nwabuikwu, told LEADERSHIP that as earlier stated by the minister, payments have been made for those marketers whose claims have been verified. In all, between April and August this year, in respect of 2012 PMS claims, N42.666 billion have been paid to 31 oil marketers.
For others who have minor issues, he said, talks were still ongoing to ensure that the issues are settled in good time for payments to be made.
According to him, the minister was in Lagos on Sunday to dialogue with the second group of marketers.
"The solution cannot be for the nation to just pay whatever claim the marketers put forward without verifying the claims before payments are made."
The ministry had said earlier that discussions were ongoing with the second group of companies with relatively minor infractions for a quick resolution of their issues.
According to Okonjo-Iweala, government is prepared to settle their claims under the following circumstances.
For oil marketers under investigation and who may make possible refunds to the government, their 2012 outstanding claims will be netted out against their expected refunds to government and those with a positive net balance, that is, outstanding claims greater than expected refunds will be processed and paid.
Secondly, for marketers with a negative balance with government, that is, they owe Government more in refunds than Government owes them, the Aig-Imoukhuede Committee will accelerate review of their documents after the Sallah break so that their claims can be processed and settled, if cleared, without further delay, while marketers that were not in the above categories but who have other issues or claims, would also be attended to with the same dispatch.
FG set to resolve fuel crisis - Okupe
In another development, the federal government has said it is making serious and intense efforts at averting what may seem to be a looming industrial crises involving NUPENG, oil marketers , Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria staff and the Nigeria Labour Congress.
A statement by the senior special assistant to the president on public affairs Dr. Doyin Okupe said the approach taken by government at resolving this crisis was multi-faceted and multi dimensional.
He said, "The ministers of labour, power, and other high level officers of government have met for several hours with the aggrieved PHCN workers and virtually all their demands have been agreed upon except for the issue of payment of severance benefits to workers. While the workers insist on their terms of employment, government's proposition is based on the provision of Pension Act of 2004. However, this matter will most probably be resolved favourably within the coming week by the presidency," it said.
The statement said the coordinating minister of the economy and finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala, had shifted her base temporarily to Lagos in spite of the holidays and had been engaged intensively also with the aggrieved marketers , union members and other stakeholders in the downstream sector.
It said there were indications that favourable resolutions would be reached and all matters would be resolved within the week, as efforts were being made to ensure that the crisis that had caused a lot of hardship to commuters and motorists was not unduly prolonged.
The federal government therefore urged Nigerians to be calm, saying as all hands were on deck to ensure that normalcy returned soonest.
On why the NNPC filling stations are out of fuel, a source within the corporation said it is an industry issue which is beyond the call of the NNPC.
The source who did not want to be named because he is not authorised to speak on the matter said "as long as tanker drivers are on strike, there is no way the NNPC stations can have fuel. Tanker drivers belong to a union, and once the union goes on strike everybody down tools. So both NNPC stations, major and independent marketers will all be out of the product. The union has made sure that no fuel is brought into Abuja."
On NUPENG's threat to commence a nationwide strike tomorrow, he said "all I can say is that the NNPC have over 40 days of petroleum products in its reserve, but the tanker drivers' have decided not to lift because of their differences with the ministry of finance. But we hope that the matter will be resolved amicably and we hope that NUPENG will reconsider their decision and cooperate with government."