By Celestine Okafor, Innocent Oweh, Obas Esiedesa and Joe Egbodo, Abuja
Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) said on Tuesday that Federal Government’s failure to pay marketers for petrol imported into the country in the third and fourth quarters of last year was responsible for the ongoing scarcity of the product nationwide.
IPMAN President, Abdulkadir Aminu, told newsmen in Abuja that the current fuel scarcity will not abate because there is a supply gap due to the fact that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which is now the sole importer of fuel, can only supply 50 per cent of the country’s needs.
And, as the interactions between the marketers and the newsmen were going on, members of the House of Representatives joint Committee on Petroleum (Upstream, and Downstream) were also having a shouting match with the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, in the National Assembly Complex over the fuel scarcity saga.
It was when the minister had appeared before the committee to present an appraisal of the 2013 appropriation and also defend the 2014 budget estimates of her ministry.
But Allison-Madueke also told the joint Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream, Downstream and Gas) at another forum that privatisation of the nation’s refineries remained the best way to tackle the problems in the petroleum sector.
Meanwhile, the IPMAN president explained that while the NNPC could continue to import petrol because it is an agency of government, private marketers could not do so because of liquidity issues.
He, therefore, called on the Ministry of Finance to begin payment immediately to allow marketers import the product.
According to him, “Shortage in supply today is as a result of non-payment of marketers’ oil subsidy; partly Q3, Q4 completely not paid and we are in Q1. For our national consumption today, NNPC supplies 50 per cent of the national consumption.
“I want to reveal to all of you here today that it is only that 50 per cent of NNPC product that is in circulation. They have stepped up their supply, trying to do what every stakeholder is doing but it is evidently clear that they cannot do it alone.
“I therefore use this medium to appeal to the Minister of Finance as a matter of urgency to intervene and pay marketers accordingly so that the augmentation of this shortfall can be achieved in a short while and this scarcity will be a thing of the past.
“We are talking about major fracture in the system. Only 60 per cent of Q3 subsidy claims has been paid. The whole of Q4 has not been paid and we are in Q1.
“I am aware that there are some companies with a large heart and they are still importing. We have NIPCO still importing in Apapa and they have brought in their Q3, Q4 and 50 per cent their Q1 but they cannot continue.
“Once you cannot access product then all other issues become minor and secondary because what is important is that there should be smooth supply of petroleum product. If there is interruption at the source then whatever effort you are doing down is useless.
“Definitely there are problems of payment and until that is addressed then the other minor issues can be looked into and that is the truth.
“The way out is for the Ministry of Finance to act as quickly as possible because there is nobody that will do a job that is not being paid and you do the second one and the third and it is not paid. I am sure he will not do the fourth one,” Aminu said.
Soon after the meeting between Allison-Madueke and the Committee began newsmen had been asked to leave the hall for a closed-door session by the two parties.
However, while the closed-door session was going on, members were heard shouting at each, as the journalist waited outside.
At the end of the meeting, the lawmakers refused to make official comments on the reasons why they engaged one another on a shouting match during the closed-door session.
However, a source at the meeting told Daily Independent that trouble started when a member of the joint committee, Yusuf Bala (PDP-Kaduna), accused the chairmen of the component committees of plots to shield the Metroleum Minister, especially in matters relating to the lingering fuel scarcity.
The lawmaker, who the staged a walk-out of the meeting, was seen pouring invectives, as some other more members of the committee went on his trail, trying to calm him down.
He, however, did not heed their call.
But Allison-Madueke told newsmen at the end of parley that the ministry has begun an inquiry into the ongoing fuel scarcity in the country.
She hinged the blame on hoarding by marketers and some persons who are diverting of the product.
She assured that punitive measures will be taken against the culprits.
Allison-Madueke gave assurance that the situation was now under control, as the ministry was set to flood the market with the product in the coming week.
Denying the alleged plan to increase the pump price of petrol, the minister said: “There was also some strange rumour that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources was going to announce an increase in the pump price of petrol which also helped to instigate some of the hoarding and some of the diversion.
“And I have said categorically over, and get that, we have no plans to increase the pump price of petrol anytime in the near future.”
After a similar parley with the Senate Committee, the minister assured that the Federal Government was continuing with the rehabilitation of the refineries.
Allison-Madueke explained that the process of privatisation would have been concluded if the various trade unions within the petroleum industry had not protested the action.
“The way forward is the privatisation of the refineries because government should not be involved in the business of fuel sales.
“I wouldn’t call the current fuel shortage, a recurring development because there has been no shortage in the last three years until two weeks ago.
“The shortage has a lot to do with a number of issues. First, there seems to have been some scare or rumour that the Federal Government wanted to increase the pump price of petroleum products and I have said it categorically that the Nigerian government had no intention of increasing the pump price of petroleum products, anytime in the near future. That is for certain.
“Secondly, whether it is as a result of rumour or supply issue, there was a certain level of burden and we found out too that there was a certain level of diversion of petroleum products as well.
“All of these we are trying to ensure that they are brought to an end very stoutly in this period and as a result I have been going out to monitor the fuel distribution and talk to petrol station owners in Lagos and to consumers as well just to get an understanding of where they had had the worse shortages over the last couple of weeks but it is coming under control now.
“We will be flooding the market with petrol over the next few weeks and beyond to ensure that whatever it is that is causing the shortage, whether it is fuel diversion or rumours or pump price increment, it is dampened by force and we will ensure that going forward, those that are found to be actually diverting fuel or hoarding even after all that we had done, during the period, will undergo punitive measures.”
The All Progressives Congress (APC) also on Tuesday alleged that the Federal Government was “acting out a clandestine script to increase fuel prices through the back door”.
The party believes that the ongoing nation-wide fuel scarcity may have been induced to make higher fuel prices a fait accompli for Nigerians.
In a statement in Lagos on Tuesday by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, APC said the fact that the scarcity has persisted despite the claims and counter-claims by the government and the oil markers, and the failure of measures purportedly taken by the government to ameliorate the situation, is the clearest indication of official deception.
‘’The more fuel trucks the government claims to have sent to major cities to ease the scarcity, the more difficult it is for Nigerians to obtain the product.
“This is an old trick and Nigerians should not be hoodwinked into believing there will be no increase in fuel prices. The only deterrent is to let the government know Nigerians will resist any price hike,” APC said.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) equally alleged that the Federal Government has an alliance with oil marketers in a “cruel conspiracy” to increase fuel prices.
The congress, in a communiqué jointly signed by its President, Abdulwahed Omar, and General Secretary, Chris Uyot, on Tuesday threatened that workers would resist any attempt under whatever guise to hike fuel prices.
The communiqué, issued after a Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting of the NLC condemned the present nation-wide fuel shortage, describing it as a cruel conspiracy between the government and the marketers to impose hardship and trauma on the poor and hapless Nigerians with a view to ostensibly increasing fuel prices.