Workers in the petroleum and gas sector have threatened to embark on an industrial action to protest the abuse of court order and the Nigerian local content law by the Nigeria Agip Oil Company.
The workers, under the auspices of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, made this known in Port Harcourt on Tuesday.
In a statement jointly signed by the Port Harcourt Zonal Chairman of NUPENG, Godwin Eruba, and his PENGASSAN counterpart, Azubuike Azubuike, the unions also called for immediate payment of the overhaul allowance of Arco workers, which accumulated between 2007 and 2012 at OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants.
“NUPENG and PENGASSAN strongly condemn the quit order given to Arco Petroleum (Nigeria) Plc by NAOC to vacate their plants at OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale with immediate effect to give way for Plantgeria (Nigeria) Limited, to take over the plant,” the statement reads.
“The unions hereby make reference to a subsisting Federal High Court injunction barring NAOC from taking any action till October 26, 2015 when the case is to come up for hearing.
“The unions hereby draw the attention of both Federal and Rivers State Governments on the plight of Arco workers, whose entitlements of over nine years are at stake, if NAOC management carries out this inhuman order.
“Both Unions hereby call on General Electric (GE) to immediately pay the Arco workers their overhaul allowance which was accumulated between 2007 to 2012, at OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale Gas plants.”
The unions noted that during a meeting held at the instance of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity in Abuja, Agip had agreed to pay the accumulated allowances.
They also called on Arco to immediately put all machineries in motion to pay their members their accrued nine years terminal entitlements, saying that the workers would not vacate the gas plants until they are paid.
“Both unions hereby resolve that if NAOC is not called to order to rescind its decision and follow due process as required by law, which include demobilization, if and when Arco is to leave the contract, the unions will have no option than to embark on a zonal industrial action to address the injustice meted out to our members,” the groups vowed.
The two unions also expressed anger over the ordered issued by Agip for Arco to vacate the OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale plants to pave way for a new contractor, Plantgeria, to take over the maintenance of the facilities.
They vowed to take every lawful measure to ensure that the Italian oil firm does not rubbish the Nigerian judiciary and the country’s local content law.
The unions called on President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Nyesom Wike to intervene and ensure that Agip respects the Nigerian law.
While they would not be willing to ground the nation’s economy, the unions said they would not hesitate to order their members to down tools if Agip violates the injunction of the court.
The Italian oil giant Agip and Arco, a foremost Nigerian oil and gas firm, have been locked in prolonged dispute over the maintenance contract for OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants.
Arco had dragged Agip, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited, and the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) to court early in the year, stating that under the Nigeria Content Act, Agip was under obligation to it, in the award maintenance contract of OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants.
Having successfully maintained the OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas facilities for many years, Arco had averred that it had the prescribed equipment, machines and skilled manpower to execute the contract and further prayed the court to grant it several other declarative and injunctive reliefs.
But Justice Akanbi had expressly directed parties to the case to maintain the status quo in the maintenance contract dispute for which he had previously ordered Agip to stay action until motion on notice was determined.
He also adjourned the case to October 26, for determination of jurisdiction.
But on Tuesday, the Chairman of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASAN, Arco Chapter, Clinton Amadike, said his colleagues were ordered out of the gas plant in Omoku, Rivers State.
Mr. Amadike said Agip, through a Joint Venture Partner, General Electric, gave the order after staff of the indigenous oil company reported for work.
“Agip has violated the court order. They have asked our staff to surrender operations to Plantgeria,” the union leader said.
“GE is the company that is supervising the contract. Once GE gives orders, Arco obeys. But we are asked to stay out of the process. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We don’t know whether they will allow us into the plant.
“Our staff are currently in confinement. We have locked ourselves inside the workshop to prevent any form of harassment either by NAOIC and security operatives at the plant.”
But reacting to the development, Mr. Sagay said strongly argued that nobody has the right to disobey the order the court.
“Nobody or entity or organisation has the right to disobey the order of a court in Nigeria. A court order is binding until it is vacated by that court that granted it or a superior court,” said the legal luminary.
“Unless that happens, the court order is binding and must be respected. Anyone who refuses to carry out that order is guilty of contempt of court.
“And from the facts of the matter, if there is no contrary court order from a higher court then obviously Agip is guilty of contempt of court and what it is doing is illegal.’
On the recurrent case of disobedience to court orders by some multinationals operating in the country, Mr. Sagay advised interested parties to commit the leaders of the offending companies to jail.
He insisted that the managing director of the Italian oil firm should be committed to prison to serve as a deterrent to others.
On his part, Mr. Hon said, urged the court to commit the leadership of Agip to prison for disobeying a legitimate order of the court.
“If any action has been after the court had issued an injunction, it means Agip is in contempt of court and its leadership should be held responsible. The judicial powers of the Federation are vested in the courts and the rule of law has also been established in the prosecution,” Mr. Hon said.
“Nobody is above the law and no organisation should operate in such a way as to be seen to be above the law.
“If indeed Agip has flouted the court order, the affected party should urgently take steps to reverse it through restorative injunction. The court has the powers to restore what Agip has caused to be done wrongly.”