By Preye Odede-Graham
Due to the strategic position of the petroleum sector in national development,the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) is seen to be the bargaining agent for blue collar employees in petroleum industry and in the past four decades has gained great bargaining power and has time after time exploited power to their benefit in the basis of championing the demands of the workers who are their members.
Unfortunately,the integrative bargaining technique used by this union (NUPENG) in conflict resolutions in the petroleum sector has sharply declined due to greed, avarice, recruitment error, lack of transparency, accountability, absence of forensic audit and gap of administrative and managerial expertise, since Mr. Afolabi Olawale took up the position as the General Secretary of the union in 2019.
For those who might not know, trade unionism is basically an integral part of liberal democratic society,it is an important part of the fabric of Nigerian society, providing social, economic, political and psychological benefits for its members,but Afolabi has ruined all that for his own selfish interest.
It is so heart-rending that in recent times, NUPENG in Nigeria is now witnessing serious challenges that tend to militate against its performance and the glory it used to be known for, during the days of Chief Frank Kokori, Joseph Akinlaja, late Elijah Okugbo, Isaac Aberare, Joseph Ogbebor and Alhaji Adamu Song respectively.
Currently,stakeholders are in serious shock that Afolabi Olawale’s lack of operational expertise, show of arrogance, resentment,vindictiveness and administrative incompetence in the union has led to the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) Branch of NUPENG in having two factions.
There is Lucky Osesua faction which had its delegates congress in Abuja and the Augustine Egbon which also had its own congress in Ibadan, Oyo State at the same time on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Both factions were in Abuja on Wednesday, November 1, 2023 engaging themselves in supremacy battle..
Comrade Lucky Osesua,who is believed to be the authentic National Chairman of the PTD Branch of NUPENG having held his own election in Abuja in line with PTD bye-law was said to have the possession of the Branch Secretariat in Majekodunmi Street, Utako, Abuja under his control for the purpose of swearing in, until Afolabi came to distrupt the process through executive fiat.
This unhealthy behavior and abuse of office by Afolabi apparently triggered anger amongst irate PTD members who took laws to their hands by beating, striping, disgracing and humiliation Afolabi in full public glare, while also warning him never to interfere in the affairs of the PTD Branch without recourse to decency, good manners or rule of law.
According to a video seen on the internet, on Wednesday Afolabi brought shame to himself,he blazingly desecrated the sanctity of the office of the General Secretary of NUPENG, he personally stripped himself of distinction and all the respect accorded to that highly respected office because of his overzealousness and sheer high-handedness; total repugnant behaviors that are alien to the ethics and ethos of oil workers union.
If you are truly loved by the people you sworn to protect and defend you will not be beaten by them, it is a red signal for rejection and also validating that the office of the General Secretary is already vacant.
More shameful is the fact that under Afolabi’s order which he is even gloating and boasting about is that, great members of the union who had put in their best for the survival, growth and success of the union for many years are now being put in Prison remand. For peace to reign and in the interest of industrial harmony all trumpup charges against Comrade Dayyabu Garga, Comrade Lucky Osesua and Comrade Humble Obinna must have be dropped forthwith.
One found it so difficult to believe that it was the same NUPENG which Frank Kokori nurtured and brought to limelight when he was the General- Secretary. His struggle during the June 12 saga will never be forgotten in world history. Kokori will be remembered for the pivotal role he played in the protests against the annulment of the 1993 election by the military regime.
This highly revered veteran singlehandedly paralysed the country’s socio-economically by instigating workers in the petroleum sector to go on strike. Being a monolithic economy, with the military regime capitalising on oil which was then one of the most sought-after commodities by world economic powers, the mass action by the Kokori-led union had a significant impact on the military government’s coffers.
Some political historians have likened how Kokori’s NUPENG and his compatriots in PENGASSAN tackled the military government to the late legendry Michael Imoudu and his comrades, who played a combative role in the anti-colonial struggle. Thus, this school of thought links the 1945 strike action to the 1993/1994 action.
The Gen. Sani Abacha-led regime was said to have offered Kokori ‘juicy’ appointments and cash gifts – bribes in the real sense which the labour leader rejected in the face of intimidation and military dictatorship. He stood firm on his pro-democracy principles. Afolabi never learned anything from these enduring and shining principles but succeeded in bringing disrepute to the great union.
However,stakeholders in the union especially the veterans, aggrieved Union members and staff are now putting on notice security operatives like the Police, DSS, Ministry of Labour, media, civil rights society, legal practitioners, NLC, TUC, etc, to beam their searchlight on NUPENG look at their financial records and operations and particularly investigate Afolabi Olawale, advising him to recuse himself from the office of General Secretary, and to further ask him some critical questions, on how he suddenly amazed so much wealth to himself, building hotels, recreation centers, palatial houses in Nigeria and United States within the shortest time of his reign as the General Secretary of NUPENG.
Afolabi has frustrated many illustrious Secretariat staff out of the Union by way of demoting and intimidating them, he has single-handedly sacked some of the staff with no recourse to extant rules, he forced some into compulsory retirement and setting others up by recording their audio conversations and using it as a basis for their exit from the union.
Meanwhile, there are indications that many more whistle-blowers are ready and willing to expose Afolabi and his criminal liabilities.
According to Steven Covey, “Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, and treating people with respect.” Steve Brunkhorst also said “Supporting the truth, even when it is unpopular, shows the capacity for honesty and integrity.”
Tom Hanson on his part also added “Creating a culture of integrity and accountability not only improves effectiveness, it also generates a respectful, enjoyable and life-giving setting in which to work.”
Therefore,for NUPENG to survive the current storm it is presently witnessing, the oil Union must intentionally embrace the common phrase “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
Preye Odede-Graham, a member of PTD Port Harcourt Zone wrote from Trans Amadi Layout, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.