Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN) on Thursday graced the commissioning of the ultra modern Lagos Zonal Secretariat of the National Union of Petroleum Engineering and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), tasking the union to begin to think ahead about how it can grow opportunities in the petroleum sector.
The Governor who spoke at the ceremony which took place at the secretariat located at Isaac John Street, Fadeyi, Igbobi, Sabo, southwest Nigeria, wondered why NUPENG is not thinking about building refineries and why it is not thinking about building petrol chemical industries which it has the knowledge to engage in, adding that serious thought should also be given to the development of a sustainable model for fuel haulage which is by rail.
“Are we contented with just being a union that will just benefit from crumbs of the oil and petroleum business? You are not involved in making them. Why are you not leading the initiative about cleaning up the Niger Delta or to clean up Baruwa, Alimosho and Diamond Estate in Isheri? You have the men and the knowledge. It may look difficult but if you don’t start, it would not change and you know the process of cleaning can create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that is the most single defining issue today”, he stated.
He charged members of the union especially tanker drivers to set higher safety thresholds everyday so that whenever the conduct of their work result in a loss of human life, the question they should ask themselves is whether their purpose has been served because the purpose of the business is to keep life going in the first place. “So when we do it a such a way that we don’t pay enough regard to human life, any money made at the expense of human life is for me blood money”, he reiterated.
Explaining the negative impact of strikes and shutdowns on the economy, the Governor while speaking on the threat of NUPENG National President to call out its members on strike without notice to the Federal Government, said at the end of the day when there is a strike, no one gains, because the union does not gain, the Nigerian people do not gain and even the people on whose behalf the union went on strike do not gain either.
“If you sit to think what this nation or each state loses any day we shut down and on the other hand we are asking that we want to create employment and we are shutting down business, they don’t seem to me to be compatible. The power to strike is a lawful and legal power of the employees. It must not be the first but the last resort”, he added.
Governor Fashola said until very recently, it seems the DNA of labour unions is that very successful labour leaders are those who fight government, stressing that if government and labour disagree to the discomfort of the public then both parties have failed.
The Lagos State helmsman reiterated that a common ground must be found so that the people being served don’t get hurt while a disagreement is going on, adding that there is a different leadership required for a different occasion.
He explained that at the time when Nigeria was under military dictatorship, the NUPENG leadership of former Secretary General, Chief Frank Kokori was very defining in the country, noting that after the exit of the military and coming on board of civilian rule, the DNA of the leadership of NUPENG now must change to reflect the times.
“There are laws that regulate the affairs of unions in this country and we should ask ourselves if we have complied with those rules. When we decide to strike, do we call AGMs? Do we set the motion for the strike before the union and its members? Did we vote and do we send the returns of those procedures to the employers to say that in a meeting called to consider whether we should strike or not, 10 people voted yes and two people voted no.
“Sometimes we have found out that strike is caused only by the feeling of the leadership that there should be a strike and we have found out occasionally that sometimes members don’t know why a strike is called and therefore some of the strikes that have been called would not have stood legal scrutiny if the employers had gone to court”, he added.
Fashola asserted that there is nothing wrong with strike but that it must be a tool to be used as the last resort and that it seems people are now getting insulated from the effects of strikes with conviction that even if the unions go on strike, the same union would call back its members after three days.
While responding to the request for land for a Tankers’ Park, the Governor said that one existed and was already partly developed and in use under a concessionaire agreement adding that a request for more land would only be considered on its merit. He, however, urged the union members to ponder on what future for oil and gas business in Nigeria and whether it is one of tankers or the rail wagons.
“If you are looking to a future of tankers, I ask you to look back 40 years ago, was this business organized through tankers 40 years ago? Is this how it would be in another 40 years? So as you commit for more space for tankers, I ask you to check your business model again. I know that this pain will go away and that one day, we will move our oil and our gas in the way that it is moved across the world with rail wagons.
“I know that it would happen, if you want to lead that change because it is change that does a lot of us a lot of good. Our roads have short life span because of the tonnage of luggage that passes through it. No country can have good roads if it is used to transport tankers, heavy duty trucks, metal steels, tonnes of food. It is not possible. No country in the world has done that before. Heavy tonnage goes on rail. Those are things that I think you should be looking at”, he reiterated.
The Governor said the country was witnessing a period of mixed blessings and mixed feelings when so many families are mourning the loss of young and innocent lives. He prayed for the peaceful repose of the soul of the young Nigerians.
“I think it is a moment when we must stand up as a nation in whatever language we speak, whatever faith you practice, whatever ethnic tribe you claim, this is a time that we must show that no matter how diverse we are, we are still one people, this is the time when colours and flags do not matter, when political ideologies mean nothing.
“These are times we must show our respect and values for the lives of fellow citizens and fellow Nigerians. Therefore we have a duty to think on how to solve this problem. Those who are the problem must resolve also to start being part of the solution”, Fashola said.
Still on the issue of security, the Governor said it should be everybody’s concern as everyone must roll up his or her sleeves and forget the partisan instincts while becoming more Nigerian in thought and in action.
According to the Governor, the first line of defence for any nation that is facing insurgency is the Customs and Immigrations Department as it concerns those who are coming into the country and what they are coming to do.
“All those landing cards that we fill, are people going through them? Are they checking those who came in? Whether they had gone? What did they come to do? What did they bring? This is the basic place to start, because only then, no matter the guess that the security agencies make in terms of reaction, so long as the borders remain porous, more guns will come in”, he emphasized.
While thanking the NUPENG leadership for choosing to dedicate the Hall at the Secretariat to him, Governor Fashola rededicated it as the NUPENG PEACE HALL in memory of the slain students at the Federal Government College in Yobe State.
Speaking earlier, the National President of the NUPENG, Comrade Achese Igwe thanked the Governor for his assistance to the union especially in fulfilling the promise to assist in renovating the zonal secretariat.
He also sought the assistance of the state government in providing land for NUPENG to construct a Tankers Park in Lagos, giving a commitment that once this is done there would be no issue about parking of tankers anymore.
Also speaking, the Lagos zonal chairman of NUPENG, Mr Tokunbo Korodo, thanked Governor Fashola for his kind gestures and special support to the union especially with regards to the redesigning and renovation of the zonal office.
He added that beyond this, the union is appreciative of the strategic and logical processes that the Governor has put into governance in Lagos State, making it evident clear that Lagos has been carefully crafted to become one of the first ten developed cities in the world.
The Governor later cut the ribbon to commission the secretariat at the event which attracted personalities like former NUPENG general secretary, Chief Frank Kokori and other dignitaries.