*fixes 5th/6th of Feb 2020 for final verdict
By AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
The House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions has directed the managements of the Nigerian National Petroleum corporation (NNPC) and Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company (WRPC) Ltd to maintain the status amidst ongoing rumours of downsizing of the workforce at the nation’s most viable refinery.
This followed the failure of both the NNPC and WRPC or their representatives to appear at the 12th Dec 2019 initially slated for verdict on the petition brought against the NNPC & it’s Subsidiary, WRPC, by the “Support Staff” of the Refinery.
Recall that the Support Staff of WRPC had petitioned both branches of the National Assembly over the deplorable conditions in which they have been made to work by both NNPC & WRPC, employing the tactics of intimidation, deception and denials when cornered at various times. An example of such acts of denials played out during the Senate ministerial screening of Dr Ibe Kachikwu for the then position of Minister of State for Petroleum Resources in 2015, wherein he struggled to deny any knowledge of using Casual/Contract Staff for any of the NNPC operations nationwide.
The Support Staff have persistently complained of being made to work in very dehumanizing conditions which can aptly be described as MODERN DAY SLAVE LABOUR (with no access to medical care, no leave or any other bonuses & incentives as applicable to other Staff of the Corporation, no pension, and of course, no job security). NNPC/WRPC response to all of these complaints have varied from trying to explore loopholes in the system to circumvent the Labour laws by inventing nomenclatures such as “Back Up Staff”, “Third Party Staff”, “Temporary Staff” etc in favour of Casual Staff designation which is what is known to law for obvious reasons; deceptive tactics by undertaking several verification and biometrics capture exercises to keep hope alive for the support staff; arbitrary retrenchment of personnel deemed to be vocal enough to attract attention of the public and regulatory agencies; and where all these fail, they resort to outright denial of having any knowledge of the existence of Casual Staff in the employ of NNPC.
It is noteworthy that the Support Staff of WRPC is composed of eminently qualified (both academically in various science and engineering fields up to PhD level as well as in huge wealth of technical expertise), and hardworking Nigerian youths who have spent a large chunk of their productive lives in service of the Nation through their endless & selfless contributions to the enviable status that WRPC has continued to enjoy as the most productive and viable refinery in the country over the years. One then wonders, that given the level of proven competence and technical know how that has been displayed by these crop of young Nigerians so far, NNPC have gone ahead at different times to recruit personnel from the outside rather than maximise the human resources & talents available to it internally. Instead, it deliberately sets conditions which are designed to preclude the vastly experienced “Support Staff” from taking part in publicly advertised recruitment exercises. There is also another compelling side to the debacle. And that is that, a vast proportion of the Support Staff are indigenes of the host communities to several of NNPC facilities & installations and other communities & states across the Niger Delta region (calling to question the corporate social responsibility reputation of the organisation) which are impacted in various ways. And added to this, is also a large contingent of Nigerians of all ethnic nationalities from far and wide who have journeyed long distances with the hope of eking out a sustainable means of livelihood for their families.These are therefore very troubling developments indeed, that at a time the Government is trying to ameliorate the sufferings of the teeming youth population in the country, particularly of the hydrocarbon exploration impacted Niger Delta region by providing requisite skills & employment opportunities, the National flag bearer in the oil industry (NNPC) will be engaged in such acts of disregard for human dignity in labour.It is on record that the “Support Staff” in a bid to secure better working conditions have embarked on several lawful moves aimed at finding an amicable resolution of the issues. Some of these efforts culminated in several high level meetings between the top management of NNPC, WRPC, Representatives of the Delta State government, members of the Delta State House of Assembly, Representatives of the Kings’ Palaces of Uvwie & Itsekiri kingdoms, Representatives of both Uvwie & Warri South local government Councils, Representatives of host communities to NNPC SBUs in Warri & environs as well as Executives of the Delta State Ethnic Nationalities Youth body. Several of such meetings were held both in the boardroom of the Executive director of Services (WRPC) and at the NNPC Towers, Abuja, and communique were released at some points. However, rather than implement the terms of the understanding reached in those meetings, NNPC have embarked on their usual acts of denial & refusal to take responsibility and instead have resorted to intimidating the “Support Staff” with threats of sack through a purported downsizing exercise. Consequently, it is very safe to say that the decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions to ask for the status quo to be maintained is most laudable. This is especially so, given that the miserly paid “Support Staff” have already been horribly stressed & stretched thin owing to several months of unpaid salaries despite giving their all in such hazardous environment and without access to Medicare. No doubt, adding the horror of being out of work at this time could be likened to a suicide sentence.Information available to our sources reveal that in a letter addressed to the GMD of the NNPC, Mr Mele Kyari, & the MD of WRPC, Engr. Mohammed Abali, the legislators frowned at the inability of the respondents to appear for the hearings or send representatives. It will be recalled that the NNPC also failed to appear in two previous hearings on the matter and only did appear at the third time following threats by the legislators to exercise their powers should the NNPC management continue to frustrate their constitutional functions. The matter was therefore adjourned for final hearing & verdict on the 5th/6th of Feb 2020 at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja.