Hundreds of youths and members of staff of the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company on Wednesday shut down commercial activities at the Warri Refinery in Ekpan, Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State, over alleged management’s failure to regularise their engagements.
The protesters drawn from across the Niger Delta states vowed to continue with their protest and ensure that major activities at the refinery remained shut until the management of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation resolved the issue.
Our correspondent observed that the protesters had all the entrances into the refinery under lock and key, accusing the management of NNPC of reneging on its earlier agreement to convert them from contract staff members into full staff members of the company.
The casual workers, including members of the host communities (Ekpan, Ubeji, Aja-Etan, Ifie-Kporo and Ijala-Ikeren) to the WRPC, however, rebuffed efforts by security operatives, including policemen and officers of the Nigerian Army to have them vacate the major entrance into the refinery.
Some of the protesters, who spoke with our correspondent, lamented that they had spent their productive years working for WRPC, alleging that despite series of promises to fully absorb them, they were not invited for the second batch of staff recruitment for the corporation in Abuja.
One of the protesters, Edemerukewan Emedwor, claimed that even though most of them were graduates and certified skilled workers that had been effectively doing the jobs, the company recently came up with some criteria such as having a First Class or Masters Degree, as conditions to become full staff members.
Emedwor, who, however, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to wade into the matter so as to ensure they were employed in line with his administration’s “Next Level” mantra, added that their current terms of engagement amounted to “slavery,” considering that the company continues to recruit outsiders.
He said, “We are not slaves; we are putting our strength and resources into this job. What do they need to do for us? It is to convert us so we can have job security.”
Similarly, Samuel Ihadieu, stated that in spite of the exposure to toxic elements and the hard labour put in every day by the casual workers, their services were not being rewarded for contributing their quota to national development.
A Niger Delta youth leader and National Secretary of the Itsekiri National Youth Council, Jemi Mene-Ejegi, told journalists that they would not vacate the premises until the managing director of NNPC visited the refinery to address the matter, otherwise the protest would remain a standstill.
Mene-Ejegi said, “Initially, we wrote a letter and they called us, excluding the casual staff members, that the issue will be resolved. We told them to attend to the casual workers first. The second time, the same thing happened, which prompted the first protest. “They (WRPC) again called for calm. We accepted, with the thought that this is our country. But from then till now, nothing has been done. Instead, they are playing a backyard game.”
Addressing the protesters, WRPC’s Chief Security Officer, Hope Akpodiete, and Administrative Manager, Mr Solomon Siakpere, both pleaded with the protesters to allow officials who had engagements to be allowed to go ahead.
Their pleas, however, fell on deaf ears.
Siakpere, while addressing the workers who comprised mostly of young people, said, “We are familiar with what is ongoing. As we are gathered like this, we must be able to translate the gathering into action, not make noise, so that we can make progress. This is to get attention and that has been achieved. Rest assured that our corporate management is aware.”
When contacted over the demands of the protesters, NNPC spokesman, Ndu Ughamadu, said there was no discrimination in the corporation’s recruitment process, saying that he was not aware of any agreement to convert the protesters into full members of staff.
Ughamadu said, “We have been announcing the various stages for recruitment. In that “If they didn’t fall into the first category, they may fall into the second category. That is what we are on. We don’t have casual workers only in the Warri Refinery, we have casuals in all of our subsidiaries, including the headquarters and many of them applied, and they are undergoing interviews now. There’s no discrimination in the process. I am not aware if there was an agreement with them.
“I’m appealing to them to exercise some restraints. We’ll continue to engage them to ensure that an amicable resolution is reached.”