I am delighted to be part of this epochal 5th Quadrennial Delegates Conference of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). I must commend the leadership of NUPENG for putting together this well-organized Delegates Conference. I must say that every aspect of the planning of this Conference had a touch of class. Particularly, I am impressed by the intellectual disposition of this Conference, both in terms of the choice of your theme for the Conference and the quality of resource persons you have mobilized to do justice to this theme. This clearly shows that your great union understands and appreciates the critical role of relevant knowledge and education in equipping workers and building virile trade unions.

The theme of your Conference this year – Just Energy Transition: for Oil and Gas Workers Social Welfare and Security – is very apt especially at this time when the world is witnessing a global energy crisis as a result of the Russian war against Ukraine. Before the current war in Ukraine, our experience in the global energy supply chain is that of historically low oil prices, mass lay-offs as well as job destruction in energy intensive industries. All these events have boldened the quest for a Just Transition especially a transit from fossil fuel to greener energy. 

But we must not forget the role of the energy especially the oil industry to global, regional and national socio-economic development. Historically, national and international energy companies have provided millions of direct jobs and many more indirect livelihood opportunities. Energy companies also drive job creation and economic growth in other sectors of the economy through the high value chain derivative nature of oil companies as they provide the raw materials needed in many other sectors of the economy. The petrodollars revenue from oil companies have come handy for many developing countries of the world including Nigeria in the funding of their national budgets.    

The Just Transition Center of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) describes Just Transition as an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, greenhouse gas emissions are at net-zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient. The International Labour Organization (ILO) in its Framework Guidelines for a Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All – identified eleven thematic guidelines that must inform our approach to a Sustainable Future of Work.

Out of the eleven guidelines, five major pillars could be identified as the rallying bases for a Transition that is Just. The first is Social Dialogue which is one of the four pillars of Decent Work. This pillar demands that Just Transition cannot happen without meaningful engagement with social partners who are directly affected by the dislocations that accrue from the shift in global energy production systems. Workers being the most vulnerable social partners in the Climate Change conversation must occupy a central place in the negotiations for a Just Transition from fossil fuel to carbon neutral economy and green future. In Nigeria, this means greater role for trade unions such as NUPENG whose members face existential threats of Climate Change induced job losses.

The second pillar is Social Protection. In April 2021, the Nigeria Labour Congress organized a National Security Summit. At the summit, it was the consensus of invited expert discussants and participants that the paucity of social protection cover for Nigerians is at the root of the physical insecurity all over the country. This observation motivated the NLC to organize a National Social Protection Roundtable on the 29th of September 2021. The Roundtable discussed extensively on strengthening and expanding social protection cover of pension, mortgage, universal health insurance, employee compensation and industrial training. In light of the social welfare focus of this Conference and its nexus to Just Transition, it is crucial that government must prioritize adequate, scalable and sustainable pension benefits, mortgage facilities, industrial training, compensation for job losses and universal health insurance for workers at the risk of losing their jobs and livelihood as a result of the global shift from fossil fuel to cleaner energy.

Just Transition must demand that no worker should be left behind.

The third pillar is employment. In the global discussion on Climate Change and Just Transition, the jobs versus environment binary have become a major concern. According to a 2018 Report of the Just Transition Research Collaborative, a United Nations Commissioned Study, it was established that there is a growing fear that addressing the climate change challenge will compel a difficult choice between protecting the planet or protecting workers and the economies that sustain people. Our comrades in the oil and gas industry are conversant with this industrial dilemma. The way to fix this fix is create new employment in green energy and cleaner production processes. 

The fourth and fifth pillars consolidate the third pillar and illustrate how to make the third pillar stand firm. To be able to create sustainable employment in green energy in order to foster a Just Transition, there is the need for increased commitment to research and investment. It is appalling that the dearth of investment in research and innovation has been the bane of our under-developed economy thus making Nigeria to be dependent on foreign countries for the supply of our most basic needs. This sad reality is most exemplified in our oil and gas sector especially the downstream petroleum sub-sector where Nigeria is about the only OPEC country that imports almost 100 percent of its petrol. 

The recently launched Nigeria Workers Charter of Demands calls for the rehabilitation of our refineries and the building of new ones. Local refineries will not only ensure satisfaction of domestic petroleum products demands but would also create jobs and ensure energy security for our country.  This is our own interpretation of deregulation. Unfortunately, the recent acute scarcity of refined petroleum products has once again validated our position that the policy of wholesale importation of refined petroleum products at the expense of local refining is a misnomer, unsustainable and a recipe for national chaos. We must use our votes in 2023 election to change this ugly narrative.  

The fifth pillar harps on and promotes capacity building and training for workers whose jobs are endangered by the switch to green energy. Government must invest in providing oil workers with new skills especially now that some major oil companies have decreased their investment in fossil fuel and are investing more in cleaner energy. Some international oil companies have divested from Nigeria on this account. 

In 2021, 78% of oil industry employees globally felt less secure in their jobs than they did in 2020. As we speak, around 80% of the workforce in the oil and energy sector now work for outsourced companies. It is in response to these threats to jobs in the energy sector and pursuant to the Just Transition agenda by the global working class, that there are now discussions at the international arena for a tripartite initiative led by the United Nations focused on Just Transition in the energy sector. The proposed initiative is expected to promote new Global Just Transition Agreements between international energy companies and trade unions. Such an agreement will help secure decent jobs in the oil industry and their supply chains, support them to accelerate transformation, shift to new assets and move to net zero emissions. 

It is noteworthy to mention that almost every country in the world now has big ambitions and investment plans for the clean energy transition. It is heartwarming that Nigeria has also incorporated clean and green energy in its national development plan. Nigeria as part of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to the reduction in greenhouse gases emission has pledged to cut down on gas flaring, develop green transportation especially through increased adoption of natural gas, and deploy increase the contribution of renewable energy to power production in the country. These initiatives have implications for jobs. 

As trade unions, we are concerned the global transition from fossil fuel to greener energy will affect existing jobs in the oil sector. We have a number of questions that need very urgent and objective responses to: 

  • how many decent jobs will be created by current transition plans? 
  • when the proposed green jobs materialize or be available?
  • how many workers in the fossil fuel industry will be trained or are being trained to take up jobs in the emerging green economy?
  • what green skills should be prioritized for adoption by workers in sectors which are vulnerable to climate change related displacements?
  • what policies and investments do we need to secure good, decent and sustainable jobs during the period of transition from fossil fuel to cleaner and greener forms of energy and production platforms?

While we all push for a sustainable greener future, our cardinal objective is to ensure that no worker is thrown under the bus. That would be an Unjust Transition! Workers must be consulted through effective social dialogue. As part of the impact amelioration strategy, workers must access and enjoy robust social protection and welfare packages. We must also make plans to ensure that the evolving green energy dispensation absorbs workers currently working in climate change threatened sectors especially the oil sector. We must put pressure on government and employers to devote more finances to the re-skilling and re-tooling of workers to make them relevant in a nonfossil fuel production world. Such efforts should prioritize the creation of new green jobs through investment in research and innovation.

In specifics, we expect owners of filling stations to begin to train their workers on the handling, installation, dispensing and maintenance of electric chargers for electric cars. We expect more workers currently working on oil platforms to be trained on how to operate wind turbine cum solar farms and platforms. Technicians specialized in repairing combustion engines should be re-skilled to handle electric cars.

In the pursuit of a greener economy, we must embrace the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities as set out in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development bearing in mind that the developing economies of the world including Nigeria have contributed insignificantly to the current crisis of climate change. Thus, developing countries should not be hurriedly weaned off carbon resources that support their economies. A Just Transition must be gradual and at equal pace with the adoption of mitigation and adaptation measures including transfer of green energy technologies from advanced climes. 

It is also important to increase investment in Natural Gas which is climate change compliant. We call for the development of Nigeria’s Natural Gas extraction, processing and distribution infrastructure including the trans-Sahara gas pipeline which will reposition our country and continent as a strong competitor in the expanding global market for natural gas. We must also note that there are crude oil bye products needed in renewable energy. Ethylene used in the copolymers is a critical component in solar panels. Propylene and Xylene are also critical in the manufacture of wind turbine engines and rotor blades.

Comrades, I cannot over emphasize the point that at the heart of our engagement with Climate Change and Just Transition must be huge consideration for workers, preservation of jobs and sustenance of livelihoods. A recent research work in 2021 on Organizing Opportunities in Nigeria on Just Transition Framework reveals that about 74 percent of our trade unions do not have a Just Transition or Climate Change Policy in place. This means that we are leaving our people vulnerable to the swift climate change induced changes sweeping all over the world. This kind of nonchalant attitude to the need of the hour compromises our readiness for the future of work. 

As I conclude this address, I wish to remind all of us of the conclusions drawn in the submission of the Global Commission for the Future of Work set up by the International Labour Organization (ILO) – a Report that was launched at the 2019 ILO Centenary International Labour Conference. The Report which calls for a Human Centered Approach to Recovery recommended that governments and employers must show more commitment to a sustainable future by increasing investment in Human Capabilities, Institutions of Work, Decent and Sustainable Work. 

Comrades, it is not patronizing to say that NUPENG has been in the forefront of agitating for the welfare of its members and putting up enduring structures such as the ultra-modern new secretariat complex of your union which is under construction. It is heart-warming that the current leadership of your union led by Comrade Williams Akporeha has shown astute leadership in managing the affairs of your union and has remained very visible in our collective fight for improvement in the material condition of Nigerian workers. This shows that the legacy of your former leaders such as Late Comrade (Chief) John Enas Dubre – NLC Pioneer Deputy President and the founding President of NUPENG,

Chief Frank Kokori – a veteran of the June 12 struggle and Hon. Peter Akpatason – your former President and currently the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives and others – remain intact.  

While I wish you a successful Conference with best wishes for your incoming leadership, I pray us all journey mercies to our destinations. 

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni