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‘N1.18bn MTEL debt caused fuel scarcity in Abuja’

By Oscarline Onwuemenyi

ABUJA—Fresh facts have emerged yesterday over the reason behind the strike action by Petroleum Tanker Drivers and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, which led to acute scarcity of petroleum products in some cities of the country, especially Abuja .

The two-day strike by the oil workers, it was learnt, stemmed from an order from NUPENG following a recent court judgment which favoured one B.B. King Oil West Africa over a debt of over N1.18 billion owed the company by the defunct telecommunications company, MTEL for petroleum products supplied from 2005 to 2008 by petroleum products dealers and principal suppliers of diesel to the telecom company.

This was even as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its subsidiary, the Pipelines Product Marketing Company (PPMC) have insisted that they were blameless for the biting fuel scarcity, adding that they had over 170 tankers to supply the capital city before the blockade by the tanker drivers.

NUPENG had in statement directed officials of its affiliate body, PTD, to “embargo the supply of petroleum products to MTEL and BPE, including the Federal Capital Territory until the debt is settled.”

This directive was to take effect from Tuesday, November 24, 2009 but, according to PTD officials, they decided to wait until after the Sallah celebrations in order not to cause difficulties during the festivities.

According to the statement by the General Secretary of NUPENG, Elijah Okougbo, these petroleum dealers and suppliers took loans from UBA, Skye Bank and Access Bank to transact their products supply business.

It added, “Today these banks are in distress for unpaid debts as evidenced by raids, arrests and prosecution of debtors in Nigerian courts with unlimited jurisdiction by the EFCC.

“Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Oil and Gas Suppliers branch of NUPENG, Mr. Benneth Korie, guaranteed the loans from the banks and he also doubles as the Managing Director of B.B. King (W.A) Ltd, one of the major petroleum products suppliers.”

It pointed out that the petroleum dealers and suppliers now find it difficult to pay their employees because of lack of funds as a result of MTEL’s dereliction.

“In the circumstances, therefore, you (PTD) are hereby directed to embargo the supply of petroleum products to MTEL and BPE (which is currently in charge of MTEL) and the Federal Capital Territory until the debt is settled,” the statement stated.

Meanwhile, thousands of passengers in the capital city were stranded as motorists still grapple with acute fuel shortages, with long queues waiting for hours outside petrol stations which have supplies.

But during a briefing yesterday, the Group General Manager, Public Affairs Division of the NNPC, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, announced the decision by the petroleum tanker driver and NUPENG to call off the embargo on lifting of petroleum products to the FCT and environs.


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