Key petroleum transporters and marketers in the country yesterday suspended the fuel shipment strike that has caused acute scarcity in the country but declared that the action would resume if government fails to defray the outstanding N200 billion subsidy claims in the next two weeks. Government has however agreed to meet with the marketers on Monday to resolve disputes and dispelled concerns over payment of the outstanding subsidy claims. With the suspension of the strike, fuel tankers are expected to resume shuttle from depots to retail stations to bridge supply gaps and ease out the current scarcity over the weekend.
Meanwhile, The UNION’s field survey showed that almost all the filling stations along Iyana Iba and Isheri areas of Lagos sold fuel but above the official N87 per litre to as much as N130 per litre. Motorists who queued to buy at high prices blamed their plight on the strike by fuel tanker owners. National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) had stopped lifting petroleum products from depots to retail sites following the N20 billion owed them by marketers. The withdrawal of road tanker services caused acute fuel shortage at retail sites. The different marketing groups in the country’s fuel market blamed their inability to pay service providers such as NARTO on the delays in payment of their N354 billion subsidy claims by government.
The strike had stalled all transport services in the country and caused downtime at the nation’s airports as major local and international airlines delayed and cancelled flights due to fuel shortage. On the road, the strike had crippled transport activities for one week as fewer filling stations attended to motorists while cost of commercial transportation shot up. Businesses that depend on fuel, including commercial services and manufacturing, also suffered difficulties as the strike persisted. Government quickly responded with the immediate release of N156 billion to calm the marketers’ concerns and persuade them to work with state agencies in arresting the situation.
Spokesman of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Mr. Thomas Olawore, who spoke on behalf of other stakeholders in the fuel supply chain, declared that some of the marketers have started receiving their sovereign debt notes (SDNs) from the government, adding that the marketers have persuaded NARTO to suspend the strike to give the economy a breather space and allow government time to defray outstanding subsidy debts. As part of the deal, he said, the marketers are to pay transporters part of their bill in the same proportion that government paid them, adding that all would not be well with the market until the government defrays all outstanding subsidy claims within two weeks.
Already, he said, stakeholders in the fuel subsidy arrangement are to meet with the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to work out modalities for further payments. Asked if the marketers wanted the outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan to make full payment of subsidy bill accumulated during its tenure before the May 29 hand over date, Olawore stated said it would be preferable if the outgoing government paid the subsidy debts before leaving. He however pointed out that no credible government would renege on the commitments of its predecessors as, according to him, what changes are administrations while government remains a continuum. He added that the marketers’ demand was legitimate while the money was earned. He said the load had become too heavy for marketers to carry alone.