The Federal Government yesterday appealed to petroleum marketers not to hold consumers to ransom as the fuel scarcity bites harder in Abuja. Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs Deziani Allison-Madueke said that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) through the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) had enough stockfor the next 40 days. She expressed regret at the fuel queues, which Alison-Madueke said was not necessary even as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) attributed the scarcity to the strike embarked upon by the National Union of Petroleum and Gas (NUPENG).
But the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala sees the current fuel scarcity as arm-twisting by petroleum marketers. A statement issued on Wednesday by her Senior Special Assistant, Mr. Paul Nwabiukwu, accused those indicted by the Aig-Imoukhuede Committee that investigated fuel subsidy payments of hoarding fuel so as to pile pressure on the government to withdraw the charges against them.
According to the statement, “it is clear that the strike was instigated mainly by marketers who were indicted by the Aig-Imoukhuede Committee which investigated fuel subsidy payments. Their obvious intention is to blackmail the Federal Government in order to escape sanctions for the crimes they have committed.” Government also clarified that its recent withdrawal of charges against four of the subsidy fraud suspects did not amount to discharge and acquittal. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), said that it withdrew the cases, based on fresh evidence, with a view to consolidating and preferring new charges against the affected firms.
The marketers had earlier issued a seven-day ultimatum to the government to pay all outstanding claims on petroleum subsidy or they would shut down filling stations nationwide. But in a telephone interview yesterday, the presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, said the Federal Government was working to ensure the matter was quickly resolved but would not say exactly if government was already in talks with the marketers. “I can assure you that government is not folding its arms, it is trying to meet with the marketers and reach an amicable solution to this crisis. But it is also important to appeal to the marketers not to punish Nigerians by hoarding petroleum products. They have nothing to do with whatever is the cause of this latest crisis.
It can be resolved and government is trying to ensure that is done as soon as possible”. Okonjo-Iweala, while responding to the claim by some marketers that they embarked on strike because the Federal Government failed to pay them for fuel imports, said: “The true position is that the Federal Government had been meeting its obligations to oil marketers in respect of all legitimate claims.”
According to her, “between April and May, 2012, Batches D/12 and E/12 involving 14 oil marketers with a claim of N17 billion were fully settled through the issuance of Sovereign Debt Notes and other relevant documentation.” She stated that since her directive to continue payments of all verified claims, N25.6 billion worth of claims have been fully settled with the issuance of Sovereign Debt Notes. “In all, between April and August this year, in respect of 2012 PMS claims, Sovereign Debt Notes amounting to N42.666 billion have been issued to 31 oil marketers,” she said.
The minister noted that the claims by marketers who have been recommended for further investigation by the Aig-Imoukhuede Presidential Committee have not been paid disclosing that payments or sanctions to this category of marketers would be determined by the outcome of the investigations. According to her, “such tactics will not succeed because the Federal Government is determined to ensure that persons and organisations which did the wrong things do not get away with wrong actions and wrong behaviour.
“As we have communicated severally in the last few months, payment of marketers whose claims have been verified will continue to go on in a consistent and structured way which protects the best interests of the country. “All marketers who have genuine issues to raise regarding their claims are encouraged to come forward for discussions or clarifications.” Meanwhile, all the filling stations in Asokoro and Maitama areas of Abuja were not selling fuel but the black marketers right in front of their stations were having a field-day selling 10 litres of petrol for between N3,000 and N3,500. Regretting the present fuel scarcity, Mrs Allison-Madueke said in Abuja yesterday that government, particularly her ministry, was saddened over the reappearance of queues in the filling stations in Abuja and other parts of the country.
“It with a very deep sense of concern that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources has noticed the increasing queues at our filling stations particularly here in Abuja. “We want to assure the Nigerian public that the NNPC and the PPMC have enough petroleum products. We have 40 to 45 days stock of consumption in our reserves. “Having said that, it is also very clear that the Ministry of Finance is working hard to restore normalcy to the situation,” she said.
Allison-Madueke said government was appealing to petroleum marketers to cooperate with the Federal Government because of the coming Sallah celebration. Meanwhile, the NLC said the indefinite strike embarked upon by NUPENG Wednesday, was as a result of the inability and failure of the Federal Government to settle some outstanding issues and agreement reached with the union some time ago.
NLCs, Head of administration, Emmanuel Ogbuaja, who disclosed this to Daily Sun, said even though Labour was surprised at the sudden appearance of long fuel queues in Abuja, it later gathered from NUPENG that they were as a result of an indefinite strike. He said the industrial action would continue until government fulfills its promises in the agreement.