Oil workers under the aegis of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG) workers have expressed doubts over the Federal Government’s sincerity on the statement that it would not sell any of the country’s four refineries.
Speaking, Thursday, through his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, President Goodluck Jonathan had said government was not going to sell any refinery contrary to earlier statements by some government officials.
“There is no such plan and there is no presidential approval for such. Nobody, not even the Minister of Petroleum has the powers to sell any government property,” Abati stated.
Top officials of the unions were however not convinced the government’s statement was in all sincerity, and would therefore not rely on Abati’s statement until they met formally with relevant officials of government, who are directly linked to the planned privatisation exercise next week.
The oil workers argued that since the planned exercise was first announced by the Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and confirmed by the Bureau of Public Enterprise, BPE and the Presidency, which set up a steering committee, it would be too hasty to accept the government’s denial of its initial plans.
“The minister announced it to the whole world. BPE confirmed that they had been given presidential approval to commence action and the presidency set up a steering committee to drive the process.
“For the same government to deny that no approval was given for these actions means that tomorrow, they can also say that the President did not give approval to Abati’s statement,” said one of the leaders of PENGASSAN, who spoke to Thisday on condition of anonymity.
In a separate interview, Western Zonal Chairman of NUPENG, Tokunbo Korodo, also said that the unions would not react to Abati’s statement until after the meeting with the government.
“Who is fooling who? If the Minister of Petroleum can make such pronouncement in London, informing the whole world that Nigeria is set to sell its refineries, how can somebody say that the president did not give approval? We are not going to comment until we confirm from the government. As far as we are concerned, we want to hear from the government. So, let us hear directly from those involved and not Abati,” he said.
Also reacting to the statement by Abati, the Lagos Zonal Chairman of PENGASSAN, Rev. Folorunso Oginni said Abati’s denial was an indication that “someone is trying to fool someone.”
According to him, the unions had directed their members not to take Abati’s statement seriously, so as not to be caught off guard.
Oginni said the unions would also insist that the January 7 meeting should involve the Minister of Petroleum, instead of only the Minister of Labour, who is convening the meeting.
A source close to Alison-Madueke said Abati’s pronouncement was an embarrassment and a shock to the ministry, Thisday reports.
“We are shocked because the pronouncement is coming weeks after the setting up of the steering committee to implement the exercise. The presidency should have asked the minister to reverse herself immediately after her first public pronouncement on the issue instead of waiting for so long to embarrass her,” he said.