No fewer than 8 officials of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Akwa Ibom State branch, were apprehended over the weekend in Uyo, the State capital.
In the last couple of days, the State has been under emergency situation as strike by fuel lifters crippled socio-economic activities and raised the official pump price of the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) to N120 per litre.
The tanker drivers, it could be recalled resolved to call out their members on indefinite strike following incessant harassment and seizure of their products by the surveillance team of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
According to the feuding fuel lifters, the government had promised to intervene in the matter with a view to addressing their plights to no avail, forcing them to resort to strike.
But the spokesman of the Akwa Ibom NSCDC, Mr. Ime White, in an interview in Uyo, flayed what he described as unwholesome attitudes of the tanker operators, whom he alleged, were in the habit of flouting the established regulatory framework governing their operations.
According to him, the need to clamp down on the tanker drivers became necessary following frequent violations of the rules guiding fuel management and operations in the State.
For instance, White disclosed that the tanker operators were in the business of diverting the products as well as engaged in other illegalities including bunkering and fuel adulteration for more gains which, he noted, constituted economic sabotage.
He explained that the Corps saddled with the responsibility of ensuring best practices in the sector, could not look the other way while fuel distributors have their field day at the detriment of the survival of the nation. The leadership of IPMAN in the State also flayed the resort to strike by the fuel lifters, describing their action as untoward and against the good intentions of the government to improve the living standard of the people.
The State IPMAN Chairman, Nseobong Umanah and the Secretary overseeing the Calabar, Cross River State axis, Ubong Isong, condemned the strike, saying it was out of order to take such action at this time.
Disturbed by the development, which has forced transport fares to rise by about 50 percent as PMS price has risen to N120 per liter, the Governor was forced to broker negotiation with the feuding fuel tanker drivers at the weekend.
It was resolved that the striking oil lifters should return to work while owners of filling stations should resort to the official pump price of N87 per litre.
But the Chairman of the government task force on Petroleum Matters, Chief Essien Esema, expressed disappointment over the flouting of the agreement as some filling station owners were still selling the product above the official pump price of N87.
Speaking after monitoring whether the truce was holding in the State, Esema disclosed that his findings revealed that some filling stations breached the agreement, leading to the arrest of 8 officials of IPMAN and warned of drastic consequences.
Meanwhile, the governor has called for the liberalization of the petroleum downstream sector “to give room for interplay of market forces for correct pricing of fuel to hold.
Also, governor Emmanuel has disclosed of plans to unbundle the sector, assuring that some investors would soon float three refineries in the State to curb frequent energy crisis in the oil producing Niger Delta State.
Worried by the situation, governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, had waded-in and reached agreement with the aggrieved tanker drivers for the strike to be called off.
– Iniobong Ekponta, Uyo