July 8, 2016 - 3:20 AM EDT
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Another Fuel Crisis Looms As Oil Workers Begin Strike

Nigerians are uneasily bracing up for another round the gruelling fuel crisis as oil workers under the aegis of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria ( PENGASSAN) yesterday commenced an industrial action to press home their various demands from the federal government.

The union has announced the gradual withdrawal of its members on the offshore, loading bays and flow stations.

But debunking a media report in one of the television stations which claimed that the strike had been called off, the association said that the strike had actually begun despite the Eid el-Fitr public holidays declared by the federal government.

A statement by PENGASSAN's national public relations officer, Comrade Emmanuel Ojugbana, declared that "there is no iota of truth in the report that the strike has been called off or suspended. As we are speaking now, some of our members in the offshore have been withdrawn, while others who are on critical equipment have commenced gradual shutting down of such equipment before their final disengagement.

"Our members, especially those in offices and downstream sector, will join tomorrow (Friday) as they resume from the Eid el-Fitr holiday."

Comrade Ojugbana reiterated that the strike was aimed at pressing home PENGASSAN's demands for government's attention to some critical challenges affecting the survival of the nation's oil and gas industry.

He listed some of the challenges to include lingering irregular Joint Venture (JV) funding and cash call payment arrears, lack of a clear-cut direction on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), forceful co-option of government agencies in the industry into the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the spate of redundancy and retrenchments in the oil and gas industry.

He also said that the union could not meet with government as a result of short time given to it as it has mobilise the members.

FG tells Oil Workers To Halt Strike, to meet union on Monday

The federal government has appealed to the PENGASSAN leadership to halt its intended industrial action and embrace dialogue.

Meanwhile, the meeting earlier scheduled for yesterday between the government team and PENGASSAN will now hold on Monday.

A statement from the deputy director (Press) in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Samuel Olowookere, reads in part: "In consideration of the season and national holidays, the conciliation meeting has been rescheduled.

"The minister of labour and employment, Chris Nwabueze Ngige, and the minister of state, Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, will now hold the crucial meeting with PENGASSAN on Monday to find a lasting solution to the lingering problems in the oil and gas sector.

"The ministers appeals to the entire leadership of PENGASSAN to stay the intended strike in view of ongoing negotiations and in the spirit of social dialogue."

PENGASSAN president, Olabode Johnson, confirmed to journalists that a meeting had been scheduled for Monday.

Nigerians express dismay

Nigerians have expressed their exasperation at having to go through another harrowing experience of fuel scarcity that the new strike by oil workers would cause them, describing the situation as unacceptable.

A cab driver, Timothy Sani, said: "It is another slap on the government of the day and also a sign that the government is not tackling issues head-on. Nigerians have been magnanimous enough to pay as high as N145 for a resource that is abundant in our country. The strike is unacceptable and unwanted at a time people are already suffering."

Another respondent, who did not want his name in print, said: "The government, by this feat, is about to disappoint Nigerians after making unfulfilled promises in the past. The spirit of the change they preached in the face of the ordinary man has been dashed. This lacklustre tendency has the capacity of not only jeopardizing the welfare of the people but can also put the country on the precipice. Government should stand up and face the issues squarely before things get out of hand."

A government worker, Dr Bassey Sunday, asserted that the strike can only make life more difficult than it is already.

"This should not be happening at this time at all!" he cried out. "If the strike goes on, it will affect negatively the already battered economy. Again, if it is not checked, other sectors will be coming up with their own threats of strike. Our economy has suffered so much that this action will not be good for all the people involved - the government, PENGASSAN and the masses," he said.

Senate Begins Probe Of NNPC Joint Venture Cash Calls

A joint committee set up by the Senate to investigate the operations of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation's (NNPC's) joint venture cash call obligations from 2011 to 2015 has swung into action.

The investigation follow the debate on and adoption of a motion by the Senate on Wednesday on the urgent need for effective implementation of the Joint Venture Cash Calls obligations by NNPC in accordance with various Appropriation Acts of the National Assembly and pursuant to Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), as amended.

The joint committee, comprising committees on Gas, Petroleum Upstream, Finance and Appropriation, has already requested organisations and the general public to submit written memoranda before the end of July 2016 on the operations of NNPC Joint Venture Cash Call obligations from 2011 to 2015.

The committee, chaired by the chairman, Senate Committee on Gas Resources, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan (Akwa Ibom North East), is expected to hold an investigative hearing on the matter.

Some of the organisations expected to submit memoranda at the investigative hearing include, among others, the Nigerian Extractive industry and Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Federal Ministry of Finance, the Petroleum Club, Forum of State Commissioners of Finance, oil and gas industry stakeholders and other interested parties.

At its inaugural meeting last month, the committee had mapped out the scope and framework for the investigations.

Speaking at the meeting, the chairman of the committee, Senator Bassey Albert, said the investigations will be guided by Sections 88 and 89 of the country's constitution as well as provisions of the various Appropriation Acts passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by the president.

Senator Albert noted that the issue of joint venture cash calls is as a result of appropriation acts passed by the National Assembly, adding that any such bill signed into law by the president becomes the law of the federation.

"So an infraction of such law is a serious issue," he said. "The framework and scope for the investigations into the cash call operations will be taken from the point of view of provisions of the annual budgets passed by the National Assembly."

Senator Albert informed members of the committee that "we need to come up with recommendations that will lead to a better management of cash calls by the NNPC."

Also speaking at the meeting, the chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), Senator Tayo Alaosaodura, described the issue of cash call arrears as a "mystery that must be unravelled."

The chairman, Appropriation Committee, Senator Danjuma Goje, remarked that now was the right time for government to get to the root of the matter, taking into cognizance the turbulence in the oil market. He called for cooperation among stakeholders to solve this problem facing the country's oil and gas sector.

The investigation into the cash call operations by the NNPC is due to the failure of the corporation to meet its joint venture cash call obligations, put at over $7 billion.

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Source: Equities.com News (July 8, 2016 - 3:20 AM EDT)

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