By Franklyn ISONG
“Give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.”
I choose my fight wisely. I decide which battle to go into and when to go into such battle. As a journalist, I have fought countless battles. I win some and lose some. This is expected in the human race.
I have chosen to speak up on this interesting conversation in order to expand the scope of the discussion and to bring onboard other aspects that have not been highlighted by other commentators on the subject. When a lie is told repeatedly, people are tempted to accept the lie as the truth.
I am very conversant with the Spy Police/Mobil Producing Unlimited (MPN) debacle. I am one of the labour activists who took active part in the struggle to get justice and fairness for the sacked Spy Police personnel of the MPN. Again, it is not my style to give account of any battle I am involved in the public, afterwards.
I hold sacred the maxim that ‘injustice to one is injustice to all.’ This is my guiding principle in the over four decades of my sojourn in the human rights community. I believe we should live for others. Hence, I don’t need to be a staff of an organisation or to be directly or indirectly affected by a bad policy of government or any organisation before I speak up against such policy and advocate for a better and conducive working environment for workers of such organisation. This is part of my daily routine as a journalist and conscience of the society.
It would have been a disservice to my readers if I skip this conversation, refraining from contributing to it as one who took part in it and as a commentator on contemporary issues.
As a feed forward and by way of laying a foundation to the discussion, let me shed light on the genesis of the crisis so that those who missed the gist can catch up with others.
It all started on the 15th of March, 2005 when some security staff (otherwise called, Spy Police) of the MPN filed a matter in the Federal High Court, siting in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital against the company, seeking to be seen and treated as employees of the MPN as against being personnel of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF). They had joined as defendants, MPN, the Inspector General of Police, the Akwa Ibom Commissioner of Police and the Nigerian Police Council. They were about 900 in number. They also sought amongst the reliefs, to be paid about N50m each by MPN as special and general damages.
On January 24, 2006, the court presided over by Justice Gladys Olotu, delivered judgment and held that the Spy Police were not employees of MPN, but of NPF who merely seconded them to MPN. The Spy Police were to go on appeal and on the 21st of May, 2009, the Court of Appeal, Calabar, delivered judgment which upturned the decision of the lower court in favour of the Spy Police and the MPN went on appeal to the Supreme Court.
Consequently, on the 20th of April, 2018, the apex court delivered judgment, agreeing with the Court of Appeal that the Spy Police were staffers of the MPN and not that of the NPF, since their recruitment process did not conform to Section 18 of the Police Act. This was the end of the litigation.
The MPN accepted the judgment and took responsibility of the Spy Police but, had to terminate their appointments.
There were negotiations and dialogues as to what should be their payoff and other entitlements. To arrive at something reasonable, a lot of stakeholders got involved in the process and arrived at reasonable packages against what the MPN had intended to offer the Spy Police. The payoff ranges from N15m, N20m and above. This was made possible through stakeholders such as the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN).
In the course of this conversation, Akwa Ibom people have been fed with several perspective of this issue. We have heard from several individuals, those directly involved and those not directly involved. We have heard from virtually all the stakeholders, but have not heard from one major stakeholder who played a key role in the entire episode, taking side with the Spy Police, that is the PENGASSAN.
PENGASSAN was there with the Spy Police during and after the storm. I remember that at some points, PENGASSAN had to mobilised their members against the management of MPN because of the Spy Police issue. They shut down all activities and operations of the MPN in Eket, Ibeno, Lagos and other oil fields of the company, demanding for justice and fairness for their colleagues – the Spy Police.
With several versions and perspective of the matter being told. Some of which to misinform the gullible in Akwa Ibom State; and to blackmail even those who ought to be appreciated for standing by the Spy Police throughout the struggle. With it becoming a political tool of some sort, in certain quarters against certain individuals in the state. As someone who was involved in the struggle, I think that the society has been fed with misinformation and cocked up stories on the matter for too long.
Enough is enough! I think that clarification and better insight into the matter should be offered for the sake of posterity and to set the record straight!
I thought it wise to reach out to my friend and comrade in the human rights community whom we weathered the Spy Police/MPN storm together. I am talking about the current chairman of PENGASSAN Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited branch, Comrade Razaq Obe. I got him to also join this conversation in order to provide a better insider account on the Spy Police crisis and how the struggle ended!
Comrade Razaq Obe and I share some things in common: He is fearless, bold and committed to any struggle he gets involved in. We deployed these elements into the Spy Police struggle and obtained result in favour of our fellow comrades – the Spy Police personnel, to God be the glory!
However, in this conversation, Razaq Obe, an indigene of Ondo State will take my seat as the commentator while, I will be the reporter, reporting all Obe has to say in this discourse as an insider and chairman of the MPN workers’ union (PENGASSAN). Watch this space!
• Franklyn Isong is a public affairs commentator and science of the society.