All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain Adams Oshiomhole said yesterday that former Military President and restructuring advocate General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida owes the nation an apology for helping to bring it to its present level.
Oshiomhole also said that the clamour for diversification of the economy cannot succeed unless it begins with the oil and gas sector which, he said, employs about 40 percent of the working population.
The former Edo State governor, who was represented by the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers, Comrade Issa Aremu, at the 5th Triennial Delegates Conference of the Petroleum And Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) in Abuja, said it was under the Babangida regime that “the economy was restructured” and the naira devalued.
The former National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), who was the guest speaker, spoke on the theme: “Emerging trends in the oil and gas industry and impacts on Labour Movement in Nigeria’’.
Oshiomhole argued that a lot of misinformation was being fed to youths – that the Nigerian nation was too big and, therefore, needed to be divided. Nigerians must be careful about the ongoing clamour for restructuring and quit notice to fellow Nigerians to leave their place of residence, he said.
He advocated a review of the constitution to replace citizenship with residency, pointing out that indigeneship should not have a place in the constitution.
Admitting that the former Nigerian leader may have been converted, Oshiomhole said Nigeria “should not be a debating society, but a production economy.
“The discussion now is about restructuring and I think those of us in the Labour circle must be careful about some words. I heard Babangida talking about restructuring. Although he could have been converted, this is a man under whose tenure the cabinet was dissolved and for almost a month, he was alone, ruling the country.
“I thought that he should have apologised to the whole country, but there is nothing like that from him. But it is now fashionable for him to talk about restructuring. It was under him that the economy was restructured. He devalued the currency and downsized workers. It is important that we prioritise these terms.”
In the former governor’s view, “what we need to do is organise and not agonise. Let us quit our problems and not quit ourselves. We are giving quit notice to ourselves and as Nigerians we cannot afford that,” he said, adding:
“We are just victims of xenophobic attacks. How can we be looking for global sympathy when misguided South African youths are attacking other African countries that fought for their liberation only to come back home and be giving quit notices to ourselves.
“I think we should quit poverty, lack of electricity, import dependency, exporting crude oil and importing refined products, unemployment, but we should not quit ourselves. It is time for us to make a case for the amendment of the constitution in such a way that residency should replace citizenship, not indigeneship.
“There are many workers who have worked outside their homes for several years more than their home states. They should have a right to remain there, contest election. I think that is the way to go. Nigerian leaders should think ahead. Africa is the way it is now because Nigerians are no longer on duty. We must regain Nigeria for posterity. What we need is development and not disintegration.
“Development is the way to go. South Sudan was lured into having a new country and today, they are in a permanent state of war within themselves. Nigeria cannot afford that. Nigeria should not only remain united, but lead the campaign for a United states of Africa.”
Asking organised labour and all progressive minded Nigerians to rise up and speak for the country, Oshiomhole said “the conference is taking place at a time when Nigeria is facing a lot of challenges. There has been a lot of discussion about the future of this country.
“The forces of retrogression and backwardness are at work. Progressives groups, which include organised labour, must wake up and speak for Nigeria. We should advice all those people who are trying to undermine Nigeria to learn from PENGASSAN.
“There is a lot of misinformation, and misconception by our youths that Nigeria is too big and that the only solution for us is to break up. Yes, Nigeria is big when you compare us to Togo or to Benin or Ghana. But even Ghana, we are only bigger in terms of size, but in terms of budget per capital, Ghana is bigger.”
He said though the government’s attention was on diversification of the economy from oil, diversification must begin from the oil and gas sector itself, with the nation adding value to its oil production by stopping the exportation of crude and importation of refined products.
Oshiomhole said: “It is now fashionable for us to be talking about diversification of the economy, which is fine because of the collapse of price of crude oil as well as the challenges facing the oil and gas industry. But in most cases when we talk about diversification, the assumption is that we move from oil and gas or other sectors like agriculture and solid minerals.
“In spite of the challenges taking place in this sector, oil and gas industry matters more than ever before and there is no diversification of any sector without the talk of non oil and gas.
“As a matter of fact, no diversification can take place in agriculture and solid minerals without the necessary available resources that are still accruable from oil and gas. It is obvious that 40 percent of national employment comes from this sector and 95 percent of foreign exchange earning of Nigeria comes from oil and gas, while 16 percent of out GDP also comes from this sector.
“With 37 billion cubit reserve of crude oil as well as 183 billion cubit of gas, which makes us to have 30 percent of total gas reserve of the entire world, it is clear that we cannot ignore the fact that the oil and gas industry still matters. We should salute all workers in this sector, keeping it alive in spite of all the challenges.
“From the figures we have just been given of our reserve for oil and gas, it is clear that he future of Nigeria lies in the fact that Nigeria is not just an oil producing country, but is gradually becoming a gas producing country.
“The point here is that when we talk about diversification, it is not just moving from one thing to the other. It is an entire value chain. In fact, the diversification must start from the oil and gas industry first. We are just exporting crude oil and not adding value the way that we should because there are close to 120 derivatives from crude oil alone.
“There are lots of upstream and downstream activities that can be generated to revive the industry. It has also become fashionable for major operators in the oil and gas to shift the burden on the working people through cut in jobs, downsizing, among others. I think it is time to revisit some of these issues.”
In Oshiomhole’s view, the industry cannot be revived by shifting the burden on the workers. “It is time for corporate operators respected collective agreements and put an end to arbitrary sacking of workers.”