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Job loss looms in oil sector over long wait for N720bn subsidy arrears from FG

Disquiet has overshadowed activities in the nation’s downstream oil and gas sector over protracted wait for the clearance of about N720bn being debt pileup growing from outstanding subsidy on the importation of petroleum products, accrued interest on loans from banks to exchange rate differential.

Due to the debt, several marketing companies employing thousands of Nigerians are now finding it hard to pay salaries and are set to sack workers to avoid accruing more salary debts while waiting game with the government lasts.

Already, the nationwide strike called by the United Labour Congress of Nigeria (ULCN) which commenced on Monday had led to the shutdown of fuel depots in Apapa, Lagos and other parts of the country as the federal government will today meet with officials of the group for conciliatory talks.

Besides, the NNPC had assured that it has enough to sustain the country for months; hence there is no need for panic buying of petroleum products. There has been no sign of scarcity in any part of the country including Lagos and Abuja as at Tuesday morning.

In a statement by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), there are fears that many of the affected companies are set to sack their workers if the Federal Government fails to settle the N720bn debt owed the marketers as soon as possible.

However, checks at the Ministries of Petroleum and Finance in Abuja on Monday, showed that the lamentations of the oil workers are not on the table of discursion even as the sack gathers momentum.

The statement signed by the National Public Relations Officer of PENGASSAN, Fortune Obi, said in parts: “The debt is the outstanding subsidy on the importation of petroleum products, accrued interest on loans from banks and exchange rate differential, which made the marketers to halt importation of refined petroleum products, leaving only the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to do the business.”

“The government should try to separate genuine claims by the importers from spurious ones and pay them because we will not like to be involved in the mistakes of the past where briefcase marketers milked the nation through dubious subsidy claims.

“A situation where workers in the industry bear the consequences of the inability of the government to honour its obligations as part of the importation deal will be unfair and unacceptable. This is against the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration policy of job creation.”

“As a responsible trade union, as much as we will support any move by the government to end subsidy regime and spurious claims by the marketers, we are also canvassing the payment of debt that can hinder the growth of the downstream sector and attract investments into the sector.”

According to the statement, over 70 per cent of workforce in the subsector has plummeted in the last five years due to disruptions in repayment of subsidy claims.