Nigerian Oil Unions To Go Ahead with Strike Plans

Nigeria's oil unions will press ahead with their plans to strike from Jan. 1, 2004, in protest against the government's plans to privatize the country's four refineries, The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.

The two unions, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, or Nupeng, and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or Pengassan, also criticized government's claims that it had spent over $700 million repairing the refineries in preparation for privatization.

Peter Akpatason, Nupeng's president, said it isn't enough for the government to say they have spent $700 million on the refineries.

"They should, for instance, let Nigerians know the contractor who got which contract and why," he said.

"No questions have been asked or anybody arrested over why the job was not done after so much money changed hands," Akpatason added.

Last weekend, the leaders of the two unions agreed to begin a nationwide strike, if the government failed to withdraw plans to privatize the refineries by Dec. 31.

The government has said it will sell 51% of the shares of all refineries to core investors. The unions insist that the four refineries - with a combined capacity to refine 445,000 barrels of crude oil a day - should be repaired first, as they are now virtually inactive. The refineries are located in Kaduna, two in Port Harcourt and another in Warri. A report published in November by the Department of Petroleum Resources, the oil and gas industry regulator, said only the second refinery in Port Harcourt was operational during the period, producing half of its normal 150,000 b/d capacity.

As a result of the poor performance of the refineries, Nigeria now depends on imports to meet domestic requirements for refined products.

"It is clear that the government wants to perpetually import fuel," Brown Ogbeifun, president of Pengassan, told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview Sunday.