The Lagos State Government on Tuesday said it would not succumb to the attempt by the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) to blackmail it into paying a questionable N224 million debt.
While reacting to a demonstration carried out by members of the association at the Lagos State House of Assembly, the state government said though it was not against peaceful protest by aggrieved citizens, it would not be stampeded into taking any action without strictly following due process and rule of law.
NUPENG had alleged that the N224 million was for payment for the supply of diesel and kerosene to the state government for execution of direct labour projects in Ojodu between October 2014 and May 2015 during the administration of former Governor Babatunde Fashola.
South-West Chairman of NUPENG, Alhaji Tokunbo Korodo, had last week threatened that members of the association would embark on the protest with over 1,000 tankers, and that Lagosians would experience scarcity of fuel if the request was not acceded to by government.
He said the contract was financed by Skye Bank and the bank had been asking for repayment of the loan.
Korodo said NUPENG had formally informed the Department of State Security (DSS) and Commissioner of Police on their proposed action.
Chairman, House Committee on Health Services, Segun Olulade, met the protesters on behalf of Speaker Mudashiru Obasa.
Korodo, who said NUPENG mobilised not just its members but the general public to vote for Ambode regretted what he called the governor’s “payback” for their support.
Announcing a seven-day ultimatum for the government to pay, the union leader said, “We have been harassed, molested by the Skye bank that sponsored this project.
“It’s going to be a painful and shameful thing that you get an LPO from Lagos State government with holistic belief that by end of three months your money will be paid.
“After a year we are still begging for this payment, it is a big shame and it’s sending a very strong signal to all our members that if you are going to transact business with any government, not only Lagos State alone, we should be very careful.”
But in statement signed on Tuesday by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, the government recalled that the said transaction took place between an independent marketer and the Lagos State Public Works Corporation (LSPWC) before this present government assumed office.
Ayorinde said the company wrote the government about the transaction and government replied that it wanted to investigate the claim.
According to Mr Ayorinde, “The investigation proved that the claim by the company was fraudulent but while investigation was still ongoing, the company went to NUPENG, and the association agreed to demonstrate on behalf of the company.
“Our position is that the Lagos State Government cannot be stampeded or blackmailed into making payments that have not been verified for which investigation is still ongoing.
“While government is not against peaceful protest by aggrieved citizens, we would like to urge Lagosians to go about their businesses peacefully.
“No amount of blackmail will stop the government from strictly following due process and rule of law,” Ayorinde said.
The government also urged the national leadership of NUPENG to prevail on its Lagos chapter to stop using the union to pursue personal gains.
Besides, Ayorinde said the Lagos State Government never entered into any transaction with NUPENG on the issue but a private company, and as such it was strange that the union was now being used to blackmail the government.
Olulade, however, appealed to the protesters “on behalf of over 20 million Lagosians that you allow us to mediate in this matter.
He told them “this matter is coming to us for the first time, to our notice as a House, and by so doing we will invite all those who are involved and we will hear from them.”