A sudden closure of all the Filling stations in Abuja last Wednesday by vindictive marketers cripples the Centre of Unity.
The streets of Abuja heaved a sigh of relief by Thursday afternoon when belligerent fuel marketers called off a 24 hours strike. By midday last Wednesday, residents of Abuja began to see queues in filling stations around the City. By nightfall, it had reached a crisis point as the news filtered in that the fuel marketers had given the government seven days notice of strike. By Thursday morning, most of the filling stations, including the government owned NNPC Filling Station, were totally shut. Only the Forte Oil Filling Station, in the Central Business District was dispensing fuel, however, the crisis caused by the stampede to get the coveted product made it impossible for the ordinary person to get fuel. Only the uniformed class elbowed their official cars into the station.
Fuel attendants claimed they had no fuel, but the way the whole stations finished their fuel reserves at the same time was suspicious. Their simultaneous shutdown, it was gathered, was by agreement. Consumers rushed to the government owned NNPC Mega station and were surprised to see it shut. It was gathered that their trucks could not load at Suleja because of the gang-up of marketers.
On Wednesday, three unions in the downstream sector of the oil industry – Major Oil Marketers association of Nigeria, MOMAN; Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria; Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association, DAPPMA, and Jetties and Petroleum Tank Farms Owners of Nigeria, JEPTFON – warned “of imminent fuel crisis in Nigeria.” They affirmed the government not take their warning for granted as together; they control “over 90 percent of functional facilities and market share” and 2.5 billion litres of tank farm storage capacity. They informed the government and the general public of “impending fuel scarcity supply crisis within the next seven days due to the failure of the federal ministry of finance to reimburse us our legitimate subsidy claims since January 2012.”
According to them, the government under the subsidy scheme force them to sell their products below the landing cost, for which they are reimbursed. “Our members companies are under the threat of being driven into extinction due to the non-payment of the huge sums of legitimate money due to them that have been verified under the subsidy scheme.” They emphasised that they imported the products with loans from banks “at ridiculous interest rates which are presently due... Further delays will result in additional charges that may completely erode our slim margins allowed under the PSF Scheme. ”
According to the group, their outstanding claims amount to N200billion. They total interests of N3.7bn monthly at 22 percent interest rate. They regretted that government has earmarked what they called “ a paltry N21bn for the private sector and N30bn for NNPC monthly.”
The group stated their support for the sanitizing of the PSF Scheme, “but (we) take exception to a selective payment process where majority are deemed guilty as a result of an investigation that has lasted seven months.”
They are referring to the EFCC investigation ordered by the government in the wake of the January subsidy crisis. The House of Representatives Report and that of Aig-Imoukhuede Committee set up by the ministry of Finance and the harmonised report by the Presidency have also been submitted to the EFCC for necessary action. Recently, the anti-graft agency began the arraignment of suspects in court with the first batch of 12 individuals and seven corporate bodies who are being prosecuted for diverting a total of N13.4bn.
However, government denied the claims of the marketers. According to Paul Nwabuikwu, senior special assistant to the minister of Finance and co-ordinating minister of the economy, Sovereign Debt Notes amounting to N42.666bn had been issued to 31 marketers between April and May with verified claims. However, claims by marketers who have been recommended for further investigation by the Aig-Imuoukhuede Committee have not been paid. According to him, “It is clear that the strike was instigated mainly by marketers who were indicted by the Aig-Imuoukhuede Committee which investigated subsidy payments. Their obvious intention is to blackmail the federal government in order to escape sanctions for the crimes they committed. Nigerians should not be deceived by their antics.”