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Scarcity To Worsen As Depots Dry Out

Prospects Of Early Solution To Lingering Petrol Scarcity Thin Out As Govt, Marketers Talks Deadlock Over N200 Bn Subsidy Claim

Sopuruchi Onwuka

No respite is underway for motorists and sundry travellers in the country as the prevailing fuel scarcity is set to worsen in days following comprehensive import failure by players in the domestic market. The import failure came as direct result of inability of the government agencies managing internal fuel subsidy to reach a resolution with the marketing groups in the country over an outstanding N200 billion claim. Field survey by The UNION showed that most private fuel depots in the country have drained out and all marketers including major and independent operators rely on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for supply. Our investigations yielded that NNPC brings in some 60, 000 metric tonnes of petrol from its strategic reserves for allocation among major and independent marketers, with special focus on megastations operated by the corporation and the five major marketers in the country.

A source at one of the depots visited by our reporters stated that all private marketers in the country have halted importation on the fears that the incoming administration of the government might not honour subsidy claims incurred by the outgoing administration. According to him, it would be too risky for any marketer to stake funds in fuel importation in the face of the new posturing by the incoming government whose spokesmen have overtly criticized the domestic subsidy administrations and promised removal of subsidy. Our source said importation by private marketers might continue after the new government which comes on board on May 29 has posted a clear market policy expected to govern commercial operations in the domestic fuel market. When contacted, the Executive Secretary of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Mr. Thomas Olawore, said the marketers currently have no funds to finance importation, following unresolved N200 billion subsidy claim.

He said all entreaties by the marketers on government to pay the outstanding subsidy and associated interests had failed to yield the desired results, confirming that all marketers have run out of stock and currently rely on NNPC for supply allocation from its strategic reserves. According to him, the current supply predicament in the country has put the claims by the corporation that it maintains one month supply sufficiency to test. He said that engagements with the Ministry of Finance on the payment of the outstanding N200 billion had been deadlocked, adding that MOMAN and sister associations in the market had started losing hope that the outgoing administration would pay the debt before May 29 handover date. However, hints filtered in that the key figures of the in-coming government are making overtures to the marketers on how to resolve the lingering fuel scarcity but such moves might not translate into physical payment since they are yet to access instruments of fiscal control.

Meanwhile, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has failed to keep track in the market as, our observations show, the prevailing scarcity is sustained primarily by sharp market practices and panic buying by desperate motorists across the country. The DPR which is the technical regulator of the industry is mandated to enforce sound market operations and sanction players that engage in sharp practices. A manager at one of the filling stations visited said that DPR inspectors also were involved in sharp market practices, adding that most of the officials of the agency operate filling stations and offer protection to some of the marketers.

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