ABUJA— President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, directed the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to pay with immediate effect all outstanding monies owed to oil marketers so as to end the current gruelling fuel scarcity that has crippled the nation and caused untold hardship to millions of people.
This came as the fuel scarcity in Abuja and other cities worsened further, yesterday, despite assurances from the Federal Government of improved supply, as motorists experienced increased difficulties in their quest to purchase Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, from petrol stations.
The President who restated his commitment to Nigerians in Abuja, yesterday, said the public need not bear the burden of needless bureaucracy as is presently the case, and that they don’t need excuses but solutions which must be provided.
Consequently, petroleum marketers are, therefore, meeting Federal Government officials today with a view to resolving all outstanding issues leading to the current fuel crisis.
FG, marketers meet today
Okonjo-Iweala who spoke to journalists in Abuja, said the queues were due more to pipeline vandalism and logistics and not payment of claims to marketers.
Her words: “Government is very concerned about the fuel queues which have appeared in Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country. As Nigerians can attest, the Petroleum Ministry and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, have worked very hard to give out the message that there is no need for panic buying and that it is trying to reduce the queues to the barest minimum.
“We are working with them and in fact, the marketers are coming to meet with us tomorrow (today). We have also agreed to pay the interest rate and foreign exchange differentials.
“Tomorrow (today) we will be making part of that payment when the marketers are here and on the outstanding balance, we will be issuing SDN (Sovereign Debt Notes) to them so that the banks will know that the government has undertaken the obligations.”
According to the minister, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has also spoken with the banks so that all marketers who want to open Letters of Credit could do so, adding: “We have cleared with the marketers that this is how we will go about it.”
Scarcity not about payment issues—Okonjo-Iweala
Okonjo-Iweala said last December, the government paid N320.8 billion debt owed marketers. The money, she revealed, came from Excess Crude Account, which she said “shows the seriousness with which the government takes issues about payments to marketers.”
She insisted that the current fuel crisis was not over payments to marketers, adding: “I want to emphasize that contrary to some unfounded speculations, the queues are not caused by payment issues. As you know, we paid the marketers a total of N320.8 billion from the Excess Crude account in two instalments in December last year.
“This underscores the fact that we are taking payment of marketers very seriously indeed. We’ve been in constant touch and talking with the marketers and a week ago we reached an agreement with them on their core concerns which we have addressed.”
The minister commended members of the Major Oil Marketers Assoaiciation of Nigerian, MOMAN, who she described as very cooperative and urged Nigerians to question the motive of others who even refused to open Letters of Credit, LCs.
She said: “It is clear that while the union and most members have been cooperative, some of their members are not. Some of these people have even refused to open LCs to facilitate their payments.
“We salute the union and the members who are working hard to end this unfortunate situation. As for those who are working in the other direction, Nigerians should ask them what their motives are.”
Transporters hiken fares by 100%
Meanwhile, transporters have hiked their fares by over 100 per cent, as the fares within a short distance of Abuja city centre which used to cost N50 were increased to N100, while some charge N150.
Also, large numbers of commuters were stranded at bus stops and parks across the FCT, as only a few vehicles were seen on the roads.
Major roads in the FCT, especially traffic-prone areas, were virtually free, as the roads were almost deserted due to the fact that a large number of vehicles were parked at petrol stations hoping to get fuel while others left their vehicles at home after having run out of the commodity.
Sharp practices at petrol stations
The situation also gave rise to sharp practices at petrol stations, despite warning by the DPR, as some stations used the opportunity to hike the price of the product, while some others resorted to manipulating their pump volume and extorting extra cash from motorists before allowing them gain entrance into the stations.
A chaotic scene was recorded in almost all the petrol stations across the FCT, with soldiers and other law enforcement agents deployed to some stations to maintain law and order,
When Vanguard visited Total petrol station opposite the Nigeria Police Headquarters, Abuja, which was dispensing the commodity slowly, a huge crowd of motorists were struggling to buy the product.
Other petrol stations that were selling amidst long queues of motorists include: Oando Mabushi;Forte Oil opposite Transcorp Hilton; MRS, Kubwa Expressway;NNPC Mega Stations, Gwarinpa and Kubwa Expressway among others.
Things are getting back to normal —NNPC
This was in spite of assurances by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA and the Pipeline Products and Marketing Company, PPMC, of a reduction of fuel queues following increase in products supply.
Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Joseph Dawha, had on Monday assured Nigerians that the fuel scarcity situation will ease by yesterday, stating that the corporation is working hard to ensure that the crisis is nipped in the bud.
He maintained that things are gradually returning to normal and it is hoped that within the next two days, the situation will normalise.
He further stated that it is working with the PPMC, the PPPRA and the DPR, to ensure the increased supply of the product across the country.
He said: “Things are getting back to normal. The stations we just visited have confirmed the availability of products. The queues are disappearing and supply is improving, by tomorrow and day after tomorrow, everything will go back to normal.”
Speaking in the same vein, Haruna Momoh, Managing Director of the PPMC, lamented the absence of effective pipeline network, due to the continuous vandalisation of pipeline across the country, saying it is a major challenge to fuel distribution across the country.
He, however, assured that the fuel situation will normalise in the next few days as, according to him, supply is improving with the arrival of a number of fuel vessels over the weekend, while more vessels are expected to arrive in the next couple of days.
He further stated that the PPMC is expanding its depot across the country, adding that it is commissioning two of the depots in a few days time.
He saisd: “Despite the increase in our depots, we have to make sure that our pipelines work. When they work, fuel distribution across the country will be much easier.”
He advised Nigerians not to engage in panic buying, saying that the situation has been brought under control.
DPR warns fuel station owners
Also speaking, Mr. George Osahon, Director of the DPR, threatened to deploy law enforcement agents to petrol stations found to be hoarding fuel across the country and compel them to sell to motorists at the regulated price.
He also disclosed that the DPR will not hesitate to sanction any marketer found engaging in sharp practices, especially in the hoarding of the product and in manipulation of prices.
He said: “We are going to make sure that those people who are possibly hoarding fuel, don’t hoard fuel. We will try as much as possible to minimise the number of petrol stations to shut down.
“For anybody who hoards, we will get law enforcement agency to go in there and make sure that they are forced to sell and sell at regulated prices. And we are doing that in filling stations across the country to ensure this crisis eases off as soon as possible.”