Intervention By The Senate Has Caused A Strike Call-Off By All Striking Unions In The Petroleum Sector As Finance Minister Exposes Marketers N233bn Fraudulent Subsidy Claim
The Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream and Downstream) made a successful last-minute intervention yesterday to save Nigerians from undergoing further ordeal from the ugly crisis of the fuel scarcity, which had been on for about a month now.
After a meeting, which lasted for nearly three hours, the major stakeholders agreed to call off their strike and make the petroleum products available at filling stations within six hours.
But the decision to suspend the strike did not come easy as Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, accused marketers of a deliberate decision to shut down the nation in an act aimed at sabotaging government.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala who alleged deliberate sabotage, asked the major oil marketers to tell Nigerians why diesel was also scarce even when it had been
deregulated. She also accused them of fraudulently building some N233 billion into subsidy claims owed by the Federal Government, adding that government had kept to its side of the bargain in subsidy payments.
“I am not sure I know what is going on. I really want to sympathize with the suffering Nigerians, who are going through untold hardship because of the present situation.
“This government has done quite a lot. It has done enough to cushion the ordeals of Nigerians regarding fuel crisis in this country.
“Diesel has been deregulated and has not been subsidized, even during the administration of President (Olusegun) Obasanjo. So, the major oil marketers should, at least, tell us why there is no diesel at the filling stations.
“Nigerians must know that we have paid, and we have even paid up front. Our last payment was N154 billion. N233 billion was fraudulent from the
N1 trillion that is being investigated. “The country is being shut down for N200 billion, even when diesel is not subsidized. There is a deliberate attempt to sabotage this administration,” she alleged.
Responding, the Executive Secretary of MOMAN, Mr. Obafemi Thomas Olawore, who confirmed that N154 million was paid to MOMAN, however, explained that MOMAN could not import because it did not receive bank guarantee.
At this point, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Senator Emmanuel Paulker, urged MOMAN to consider the suffering of Nigerians. Thereafter, Abe called for a closeddoor session with the concerned parties. Speaking, after a 25-minute closeddoor session with the concerned parties, Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Senator Magnus Abe, disclosed that they had reached understanding that would bring immediate solution to the problems in the supply and distribution of petroleum products nationwide.
Abe, who further disclosed that they had clear information that NUPENG and PENGASSAN strikes had been called off, following the intervention of the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Engr. Joseph Dawha, also disclosed resolutions
reached at the closed-door session.
“We have agreed on the following: The Minister of Finance will give an undertaking to the major marketers and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) that the work of that committee being headed by the CBN would be concluded in verifying the outstanding claims.
“If it is concluded before the end of the life of this administration, it will be reflected in the handover note. If it is not concluded before the end of the life of this administration, then the fact that such a committee is set up and working will be reflected in the handover note, and a copy of the letter conveying the existence of this Committee will be sent to Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and Depot and Petroleum Products
Marketers Association (DAPPMA) and also to this Committee.
“So, on the basis of that agreement, MOMAN will offer whatever cooperation that is needed to enable lifting of products nationwide to begin within the next six hours. MOMAN has also agreed to give a similar undertaking to National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) to pay existing transport cost as have been determined by them.
“Not all existing, but the portion that had been agreed by them to be paid. MOMAN will give that written undertaking to NARTO and a copy will also be sent to this Committee. So, NARTO and its members and affiliates nationwide will commence lifting of products from all available depots within the next six hours.
“DAPPMA is to instruct all their depots that have products to open those depots for lifting. Lifting must commence within the next six hours. “We have also agreed with DPR that any depot that has product and failed to begin lifting within the next six hours should have their licenses revoked immediately in the national interest.
“NARTO has complained about two roads that are critical to their operations and that have made lifting of products nationwide difficult if not
impossible. That is the Eleme Junction in Port Harcourt leading to the Port Harcourt Refinery, about 11 kilometers, and the Ilorin-Olorunjegba Road in Kwara State, which is the only link between the North and the South-West, particularly Lagos, where these products are available at this time.
“We have agreed that MOMAN will discuss this with their members with a view to looking for a permanent solution to those places and if need be take up the matter with government. But a joint team of MOMAN and NARTO officials will go around the country to address the drivers and other stakeholders on this understanding.
“We have also agreed that NNPC is to direct all relevant staff at all depots to work 24 hours, including Saturdays and Sundays for the next two weeks
until normalcy returns to the sector. “We have also agreed to reach out to the Lagos State Government to facilitate this agreement and reach some
kind of arrangement with the tanker drivers that will allow access to the relevant depots to enable the lifting of products to commence. So, within the
next six hours, we expect that products will begin to move and that normalcy will begin to return,” Abe said.
Present at the meeting include: the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Pipeline Petroleum Marketing Company (PPMC), Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA) and Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN).
The agreement to bring the crisis to a halt on Monday, however, did not come easy, as Okonjo-Iweala, traded blame with the major oil marketers and PPPRA on the reasons behind the prolonged unavailability of the petroleum products in the country.
Capital Oil and Gas Ltd had on Sunday commenced the loading of 13 million liters of petrol from its depot in Apapa for distribution to the various states to reduce the current scarcity. The Chairman of the company, Ifeanyi Uba, had told journalists in Lagos that more than 2,000 trucks would be loaded before May 29 to boost the country’s economic activities. He said the company’s facilities had the capacity to load 13 million liters of the product within the period.
“This comes to approximately 500 trucks of petroleum products on daily basis. With this, it is our belief that once again our citizens will begin to smile and return to normal family and work life.
The strike has difficulties in the country as consumers spend their fortunes and time at interminable queue to procure petroleum products that are never available.
In Lagos, the situation has taken a turn for the worst, as black marketers sold a liter of petrol for as much as N500. As at Monday, those involved in the sale of the commodity on the International Airport road, sold 10 liters for N5, 000. The same situation was obtainable at Agege area, Maryland, Ojota, Ikoyi and its environs.
The development was further compounded by the refusal of some filling stations to open their outlets. Those which opened sold at N130 and N150 per liter instead of the official pump price of N87 a liter. Motorists, commercial motorcyclists and other petrol users now patronise the black market operators who sell the product at between N300 and N500 per liter.
Some of the operators who spoke to our reporters said they were making more profit because of the situation. They said they usually sourced the commodity from other towns and sold to customers at exorbitant rates. Meanwhile, the fuel shortage had grounded the country as virtually every sector went comatose with banks and other financial institutions reduced their operations to half day.
At the weekend, some domestic airlines cancelled their flights, as a result of inability to source for Jet A1, ditto for telecommunications outfits, which had given notice of likely shutdown of some base stations over their inability to source diesel to power generators Mobile phone operators had on Sunday warned that their networks faced shutdown due to fuel shortages that had crippled the nation for the past few weeks.
Airtel said the situation was impacting negatively on its commitments to delivering quality services and seamless telephony experience to Nigerians.
MTN said, “We are currently doing everything within our means, as well as going the extra mile, to ensure that all our base stations and switches are up and running. It is sad to note that it is becoming increasingly difficult to replenish current stock of diesel due to the lingering scarcity of the products.
“If diesel supplies are not received within the next 24 hours, the network will be seriously degraded and customers will feel the impact,” it added on its Twitter handle, @MTNNG.
“Diesel generators power most of MTN’s base stations and switches across the country, but fuel supplies are running low,” MTN Corporate Services Executive, Akinwale Goodluck, said.
President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Remi Bello, had also told The UNION that most economic and social activities had been paralyzed with an imminent shut down of the entire economy.
– Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja