Fidelis Soriwei, Everest Amaefule, Okechukwu Nnodim and ’Femi Asu
Oil workers, under the aegis of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, have threatened to shut down the country should the Federal Government carry out its plan to sell national assets to augment revenue shortfall.
Also, the Trade Union Congress on Sunday said it would join PENGASSAN to shut down the country if the government remained adamant on its plan to sell some national assets.
PENGASSAN, in a statement on Sunday by its National Public Relations Officer, Mr. Emmanuel Ojugbana, said the government should look into other ways to increase its revenue base while plugging loopholes and leakages in government’s finances.
The union, which described the plan to sell the national assets as a self-destructive move for Nigeria, said, “The plan meant to solve short-term financial obligations is targeted at handing over our collective wealth to a few individuals and further impoverish the rest of our countrymen and women.”
It said government at all levels should pump money into the economy through the execution of capital projects and payment of workers’ salaries to revive the economy.
PENGASSAN said it would not sit back and watch the sale of national assets, especially those in the oil and gas industry, such as the Nigeria LNG that had become a huge revenue-earner for Nigeria; refineries and shares in the upstream oil and gas JV operations being shared among those in power and their cronies.
It said, “Any attempt to sell these national assets will be met with stiff resistance from the association, as PENGASSAN will galvanise every support, including that of our sister union and labour centres to shut down this country by ensuring that every activity in the oil and gas sector is brought to a complete halt.
“Some opportunists in the clothes of businessmen and short-sighted politicians had earlier advocated the sale of public assets such as the NLNG, four state-owned refineries, Nigeria’s stakes in the Africa Finance Corporation, the nation’s airports and reduction of government’s shares in upstream oil joint venture operations and this was approved by the National Economic Council.”
Reacting to the recent approval of the sale of the national assets by the NEC, Ojugbana said the sale of the assets would further compound the economic and security problems in the country.
He added, “They should tell us what will happen after the recession if we have sold the assets to greedy individuals. Will the country go cap in hand begging those individuals who bought the assets and borrowing from them?”
He said the plan “is ill-timed and unwarranted as it does not serve national interest,” adding that no nation could develop, survive or feel secure after selling all its national assets.”
PENGASSAN stated, “Doing this will further mortgage the future of our great country in the hands of few cabals. These individuals are just looking for advantage to further loot the country through illegal acquisition of the national assets as in the case of various oil blocks held by a few powerful Nigerians.
“The sale of national assets is not only surprising but also embarrassing for a nation experiencing economic recession. The proponents of the sale of national assets are those who have been actively involved in the operations of the nation’s economy in the past. They were part of those responsible for the country’s current economic situation.”
According to him, such sales in the past, including the power and steel sectors privatisation, are just a shift from public monopoly to private monopoly, which has further worsen those sectors.
“It is, therefore, the candid position of PENGASSAN that such a plan should be thrown into the trash bin. Government should continue to seek better ways to address the present economic challenges and reduce areas of wastage. The long overdue calls for diversification of the economy should be driven with all seriousness; more action is required urgently than propaganda mechanism,” he said.
The President of the TUC, Mr. Bala Kaigama, said on the telephone on Sunday that the Congress would collaborate with the two major unions in the oil sector because the planned sale of the assets was flawed.
He noted that if those who invested in the assets had sold them, the current administration would not have met them.
Kaigama said, “We will solidarise with them. You cannot sell vital assets like that. You don’t. If those who invested in the assets had sold them, would they have met them?
“Of course, these business people, who are saying sell and sell, let them pay the appropriate taxes. Those people who are not paying the appropriate taxes, let them pay the appropriate taxes and money will accrue to the Federal Government.
“TUC will solidarise with NUPENG and PENGASSAN to shut down the country.”
The Nigeria Labour Congress, on its own, said while it would take necessary steps on the issue, it had not taken the decision to shut down the country.
The General Secretary of the NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, stated on Sunday that the congress would inform Nigerians when the decision was taken.
Ozo-Eson added, “No. We are a democratic organ; we have our processes. We have not taken a decision; when we take a decision, we will let the country know.
“If individual unions have announced, we have no quarrel with that. We are opposed to it (assets sale) and we will take the necessary steps. We have not yet taken that decision of shutting down the country or whatever. We will inform the nation when we take that decision.”
Selling national assets signifies panic, says don, activist
Also, a frontline economist and Executive Chairman, African Centre for Shared Development Capacity Building, Prof. Olu Ajakaiye, has said selling national assets because of the current economic recession in the country will amount to taking a panicky measure.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday, Ajakaiye said rather than selling national assets in a hurry, the government should undertake a comprehensive study of the funding gaps required to bail the nation out of recession in order to determine the best step possible.
He stated, “The highly publicised Medium Term Expenditure Framework and similar basically financial programming tools do not contain specific screened, selected and prioritised projects and programmes to which Nigerians can relate. Resource gap determined from such tools can be dangerously misdirecting and can create unnecessary panic. Sale of assets in a panic situation like was done carelessly during the late 1980s should not be repeated.
“If the resource gap includes recurrent, sale of assets to close such gap will be inappropriate because it is tantamount to consuming capital and that will be irresponsible. Moreover, what happens when the proceeds of the sale is exhausted? What are we going to sell to pay the next salary, for example?
“If the resource gap is exclusively due to bona fide capital projects that have been properly screened, selected and ranked in order of priority based on their direct and indirect contributions to national development goals, alternative financing options should be carefully considered. The first step is to surgically consider cutting excesses and illegitimate as well as unreasonable components of recurrent expenditure.”
Ajakaiye said the personnel cost component of government should be cleaned up by sustaining and generalising ongoing application of technology to eliminate all forms of impurities in the system including ‘ghost’ workers.
He argued that no attempt should be made to retrench workers, saying this would be inconsistent with the goal of reducing unemployment and legitimately reflating the economy.
He added that salaries and allowances of political and public office holders should be drastically reviewed downwards.
Ajakaiye said, “This is consistent with the slogan of Change Begins With Me. Change should begin with those at the top. The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission should quickly propose such reductions so as to make it mandatory. Very few political and public office holders followed the example of the President and Vice-President because it is optional.”
A civil rights activist, Imma Okochua, said savings from the removal of petrol subsidy as well as monies recovered from looted public funds should be used to fund gaps in government resources.
He said, “If the recession was caused by the fall in oil price and especially by the reduced production and exportation due to militancy, why don’t you solve the militancy problem? Is it impossible to solve?
“When you have sold our national assets and we have consumed the proceeds, or the government has squandered it, and oil prices remain low and the militants remain undefeated or persuaded, what will the government do? Will they sell us to the highest bidder?”
He urged the government to ensure that it made effective use of the N50 stamp duty it was collecting from payments into current accounts.