By CLARA NWACHUKWU, YEMIE ADEOYE, VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG & EVELYN USMAN
FOLLOWING the lingering fuel scarcity that finally brought Lagos and other neighboring states to a standstill yesterday, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has put the blame on the doorsteps of the Nigerian Navy and the Customs Service, saying the security agencies had been arresting vessels laden with petroleum products at the Apapa ports.
Speaking exclusively to Vanguard over the phone yesterday, the Group General Manager, Public Affairs, of NNPC, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, accused the Navy and Customs of being responsible for the current scarcity rocking the nation.
He said there was an armada of ships on the Nigerian waters waiting to berth and discharge petroleum products but these vessels are unable to discharge due to the arrest of a petroleum products laden vessel right at the discharge point.
However, Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, an arm of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, attributed the scarcity of petrol to shortage of supply, lamenting that since the commencement of the probe of subsidy administration, major marketers had not imported products.
Lagos Zonal Secretary of PTD, Comrade Atanda Adebayo, dispelled rumours of any industrial action by members, insisting that members were ready to lift fuel but the product was not available.
He said: “We are not on strike. We are ready to lift product, but the product is not available. The scarcity is what we all know about. Many of the people involved in the business, since the House of Representatives started the fuel subsidy probe, have stopped importing the product as they believe the House is too harsh on them.
The industry is now left with fewer importers who cannot meet the existing demand of Nigerians. This goes to say that the existing importers are too few to serve the bigger population in the country. Petroleum is an essential commodity in Nigeria which needs more hands to handle the importation.
I believe the Federal Government knows what it is doing and has promised to proffer solution to the problems. Let us keep our fingers crossed and watch how far it can go.”
Meanwhile, oil marketers are making concerted efforts to avert fuel scarcity in Lagos, as long queues crept into the metropolis over the weekend just as the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, the regulator of the oil and gas industry, insists there is no cause for alarm. Marketers are optimistic that shortages will be cleared within the week, in view of the quantity of petrol that has come into the system.
Hold Navy, Customs responsible – NNPC
Blaming the security agencies for the scarcity Ajuonuma said: “We have no problem with the Navy and other sister agencies of government carrying out their statutory functions, but we appeal to them as a sister government agency to allow the ships to berth and discharge as failure to do so would have serious multiplier effects across the country.”
He wondered why the arrest had to be at the discharge point rather than on the high sea. “If you arrest a vessel at the discharge point, other vessels would be unable to berth and discharge and the result is what you are seeing across the country now. The Navy could have effected this arrest at sea rather than at the point of discharge.”
Asked the reason for the arrests, the NNPC image maker said the Navy claimed that the arrested vessel came into the country two years ago without a temporary import permit.
Contacted, the Public Relations Officer, PRO, Western Naval Command, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Omodara, told Vanguard on phone that he was not aware of the development.
The Customs Public Relations Officer, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, also said the issue was strange to him and that he had no such details and as such could not comment on the development.
NIPCO Plc, the marketing arm of the independent marketers also feigned ignorance of the development, claiming that the company remained well stocked with products as all its vessels had been berthing and discharging.
Ajuonuma however appealed to the Customs Service and Nigerian Navy to desist from acts that that were inimical to the nation’s development especially as regards national supply of petroleum products.
Marketers, others up efforts to avert scarcity
The marketers and bankers’ efforts to avert scarcity was on the backdrop of a meeting held last week at the instance of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to avert national crisis in fuel distribution.
Vanguard gathered that banks were reassured of Federal Government’s willingness to continue with the subsidy regime, and as such should not be weary of giving facilities to marketers to import.
Already, the marketers confirmed to Vanguard that cargoes laden with premium motor spirit, PMS or petrol came in at the weekend, even as more are being expected within the week.
However, the marketers blamed the current supply hiccups on the Federal Government’s delay in building in subsidy payments into the 2012 national budget.
A major oil operator said, “Government’s assurance to reimburse oil marketers came in a little late because it was not originally part of the budget. In fuel distribution, any delay of any kind will lead to distribution hiccups, such that a day’s delay, might require a week to resolve.”
Government on New Year Day announced the removal of subsidy on petrol, thus skyrocketing the pump price of the product from N65/per litre to N142.50/L. Even after the reduction in price to N97/L, following nationwide protests led by labour, government did not formally indicate that it will continue with the payment of subsidy, which was discovered to be fraught with corruption in its management and administration.
Consequently, banks became reluctant to extend loan facilities to marketers to bring in the product, until government had to include the sum of N688 billion for the payment of subsidies for the year.
However, the inclusion, according to marketers came a bit late, in view of the turn around time for fuel distribution.
In the light of government’s promises to pay, major and independent marketers as well as depot operators have placed orders for petrol, as already, a 33,000 metric tonne cargo is discharging at the Apapa depot, said to belong to the NNPC while Honeywell Oil and Gas, a depot throughput operator has also brought in a 30,000MT cargo, while the majors are expecting a cargo of another 33,000MT this weekend..
Also confirming the availability of the product, t NIPCO Plc Spokesman, the marketing company for the independent operators, under join venture operations with Pure Bond of UK, Mr. Lawal Taofeek, said the company’s cargo of 33,000MT came in over the weekend.
“Our PMS vessel of 33,000MT just arrived, and we have started discharging. Since yesterday (Sunday) we started doing overnight loading, and this will continue throughout the week.”
He noted that due to the backlog in distribution, it would take a while for the system to normalise, especially as the banks were already hounding marketers to pay up their outstanding debts, when they felt government had abandoned the subsidy regime.
A top official of the DPR, told Vanguard in confidence that “although imports are not as robust as they used to be in the past, this does not mean there is product scarcity. Let me reiterate that the queues are not synonymous with scarcity because Mondays usually experience shortages even in regular situations, because not all tankers load during the weekend, so there is no need for panic buying.”
The NNPC constantly reassures the nation of 60 days sufficiency, but a number of regions including Abuja have been experiencing distribution shortages.