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Relief as NUPENG suspends strike, tanker drivers resume fuel loading

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Bridget Chiedu Onochie and Collins Olayinka, (Abuja) Kelvin Ebiri, (Port Harcourt) Roseline Okere, Sulaimon Salau (Lagos) and Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu (Benin City)
26 May 2015   |   4:12 am
WITH a collective sigh of relief, Nigerians received the news late yesterday afternoon that all key stakeholders in the petroleum industry had reached an agreement with the Federal Government to put an immediate end to the protracted fuel crisis.

Ifeanyi Ubah to the rescue as Nigerians queue to buy petroleum products at Capital Oil Petrol Station, Omole, Lagos …yesterday

• N762b paid to marketers in 2014, 2015, says Okonjo-Iweala
• How to end crisis, by NLC, Senate panel, DPR, Ubah 

WITH a collective sigh of relief, Nigerians received the news late yesterday afternoon that all key stakeholders in the petroleum industry had reached an agreement with the Federal Government to put an immediate end to the protracted fuel crisis.

After a closed-door meeting convened by the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources at the National Assembly yesterday, the news was broken that the oil marketers had agreed to commence lifting within six hours.

Those at the meeting were the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Major Oil Marketers’ Association of Nigeria (MOMAN); Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); Pipeline Petroleum Marketing Company (PPMC), Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA); Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR); Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) and Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO).

Also, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) has suspended its days-long strike, as tanker drivers resumed loading of products.

The South-West Chairman of NUPENG, Tokunboh Korodo, who confirmed this to The Guardian yesterday, said: “We have suspended the strike and our members have started loading products to all parts of the country. We hope the situation will normalise soon.”

The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Capital Oil and Gas, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah has, however, called on President Goodluck Jonathan to carry out needed reforms of the downstream sector before handing over to Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, May 29, 2015.

Ubah, who was reacting to the suspension of tanker drivers’ strike in the wake of his decision to begin loading of petroleum products, also expressed happiness and satisfaction that his bold “intervention to save Nigerians from further crisis is what gave rise to the suspension of the strike later yesterday by the oil workers.

“I felt I would be acting irresponsibly to watch Nigerians dying in hospitals, languishing in filling stations without buying the product and keep quiet.

So I had an obligation as a Nigerian not to allow that continue, and I bet you that if I did not make that move, the strike would have been on today.”

Ubah lamented that a situation where hospitals are shut down, telecoms threatened to stop operations and power supply crippled is uncalled for.

He said: “One can understand the extent and enormity of the crises when even banks threaten to close shop because they don’t have fuel to power their generators since the public power system has also crumbled. So I felt it a duty as one that operates the largest fuel supply base in Nigeria to turn around the situation.

“By today, I am sure we have already achieved the 13m litres or 400 truck-loads target and we have product in the jetty and will not stop pumping.

I am assuring Nigerians that what we did on Sunday was not a flash in the pan but real action and resolve to make sure the scarcity is defeated. In a few days, it would be over.

That is why we call on the president to declare total deregulation even a day to his exit.” On its part, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has called on the Federal Government to blacklist any stakeholder that is found sabotaging smooth distribution of petroleum products nationwide.

It also called on all the stakeholders in the downstream sector to move swiftly against the fuel scarcity.

President of Congress, Ayuba Wabba, who stated this in a statement yesterday in Abuja, also berated Joe Ajaero, Issa Aremu and Igwe Achese for parading themselves as officers of the union.

“The outgoing administration should blacklist all those private sector companies involved in the massive blackmail of Nigerians and ensure that their licences are revoked as a punitive measure to serve as deterrent to operators that it doesn’t pay to blackmail and hold a nation to ransom,” NLC stated.

NLC blamed the marketers for arm-twisting government into paying fuel subsidy claim by starving the system of the much-needed fuel to run the economy.

His words: “Clearly, the objective of the cabal in the current impasse is to arm-twist the Federal Government to part with billions of dollars, which it had not earned, in the name of fuel subsidy payments.

More curious, however, is the fact that the Federal Government has allowed this cabal to continue to hold the entire country to ransom thereby escalating the regime of impunity and unimaginable corruption which had taken complete hold of the operations of our petroleum sector causing the country to lose billions of dollars over the years.”

To be sure, petroleum marketers who are being owed by the government deserve to be paid their claims. But must they blackmail the nation and create artificial scarcity to punish the citizens because they are being owed by the government? The marketers had threatened that they would withdraw their services if they were not paid. So, it is indeed curious  that DAPPMA could now come out to say that its members are not on strike but that they only lack funds to import petroleum products. The marketers must be told in unequivocal terms that Nigerians would not forget how they have subjected them to hardship and history will judge them harshly for this continuous exercise in blackmail. Indeed, their action at this time is tantamount to a threat to national security. The government must investigate all those involved in this blackmail with a view to bringing them to justice.

He said since Jonathan is still in office till morning of May 29, he should take firm decision to ensure return of normalcy to the troubled sector and bring any group that attempt to host the Nigerian people to ransom.

And as a panacea to acute scarcity of petroleum products across the country, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has canvassed for the removal of fuel and urged Nigerians to invest in modular refineries.

Investors have, meanwhile, blamed the failure of the Federal Government to guarantee crude oil supply to 18 companies granted licence in 2004 to build refineries, for the inability of any of the companies to commence operation till date.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), ‎Magnus Abe who announced the resolutions taken during the meeting which lasted for only 25 minutes, said: “I’m glad to announce to all of us that we have been able to reach some understanding that we believe will bring immediate solution to the immediate problems in the supply and distribution of petroleum products nationwide.

I also want to thank the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Joseph Dawha, for his determined intervention with the unions within the NNPC that also resulted in a solution to the problems of the strike just in the course of our meeting right now.

“So, as we speak now we have clear information that NUPENG and PENGASON strike has been called off following the intervention of the GMD of NNPC.

“So, we have agreed on the following: The Minister of Finance will give an undertaking to the major marketers and PPPRA that the work of committee set up to verify outstanding claims being headed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would be concluded. If it is concluded before the end of the life of this administration, it will be reflected in the handover note.

If not, 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 MOMAN and 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.”

According to the resolution:‎ “MOMAN has also agreed to give a similar undertaking to NARTO to pay existing transport costs as have been determined by them.

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 off 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 licence 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. “ Appreciating the commitment demonstrated by all stakeholders at the meeting, Abe said:

“I want to thank everybody who have participated in this discussion and to thank all those who will implement what we have agreed here and to say that Nigerians are depending on your good faith and on your ability to carry through the agreements that have been reached. So, within the next six hours we expect that products will begin to move and that normalcy will begin to return.”

But before the closed door meeting commenced, Okonjo-Iweala took time to explain how committed the Federal Government had been to making sure that crisis was averted in the sector.

“The first thing I want to say is that this government has done quite a lot to demonstrate at a very challenging time for the country that it has as priority, payment to marketers.

And this is because the economy needs fuel to run and Nigerian families need fuel for all kinds of activities which are important to them and their businesses.

But I want to make one thing very clear: diesel has been deregulated. It is not subsidised since the era of President Obasanjo.

So, it is very puzzling to me. Nigerians will want to know why diesel is affected? Why is everywhere shutting down? The world and Nigerians need to know that diesel is not being subsidised.

This is a product that should be freely available on the market for anyone to purchase. The first question is: Why is it being included alongside petrol ? What is the issue? So, I too would like an explanation because there is no reason for that.

The second fact that I’d like to put on the table is that we have made very good effort to keep up with payments for the marketers.

And I have the numbers. Between 2014 and 2015 we have paid a total of N762 billion. Since December we have paid about N500billion which is the number that have been quoting.

This year, 2015 we have paid N192 billion. If you look at the pattern of payments we have made in previous years, this is no different. It’s not like this year we are doing anything different. In fact, this year has been the opposite.

We have already paid N191billion this year. There is also provision for foreign exchange and interest rate differentials and a profit margin even for the marketers.

The marketers insisted that this foreign exchange and interest rate differentials must be paid and we did pay them.

Last year we paid N48billion and this year we have paid N93billion in both forex and interest rate differentials.

All I am doing in giving you this figure in various ways is to show that there has been good faith and sincere effort and that the pattern of payment this year is even better than the one we had last year.”

There had been fears yesterday that the state of power generation, telecommunication and banking services may grind to a halt if the scarcity continued.

Major telephony service providers like MTN and Airtel had cautioned that they may not be able to power their stations due to scarcity of diesel.

Banks, such as Guarantee Trust and Haggi had also announced a reduction of their operating hours due to scarcity of fuel to power equipment in their offices.

The resolution of the crisis will be most welcome to desperate fuel users who had resorted to patronising black marketers , paying as much as N500 per litre of adulterated products. One such user in Lagos told The Guardian he bought five litres of what he thought was fuel near NNPC Depot Ejigbo at N450 per litre only for whatever it was, to damage his engine a few kilometres after.