For more than two months, the fuel situation has been unpredictable. Today there is product and the next day – the pumps at the filling stations are dry. Major players in the oil industry say the government should go beyond products’ importation. They are pushing for a friendly Foreign Exchange (forex) rate, a good road network and reduced security checks, among others, writes Emeka Ugwuanyi.
THERE seems to be no letup in the blame trading game over who should be held responsible for the perennial fuel scarcity.
Since the queues returned to filling stations across the country at the turn of last year, the Federal Government and those in the distribution chain of petroleum products have been passing the bucks.
The supply flow has been unsteady following the withdrawal of oil marketers from importation, leaving the business to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The fuel queues, which began on December 7 in Abuja, eased on January 2 but re-surfaced on January 5. They have been off and on in the FCT and many parts of the country.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said the petrol supply and price situation deserved an urgent and lasting solution.
Its local chapter chairman in Anambra State Jerry Nnubia said it was expected that the price of petrol would return to normal soon after the Yuletide period but the crisis had lingered.
According to him, the unofficial hike in the price of petrol was having a severe effect on Nigerians, especially workers.
Nnubia said: “The Federal Government should ensure that the sector returned to normal through massive supply products.
“You are aware that petrol is the driver of every other sectors of the economy and you can see the suffering this hike has brought to the people.
“The labour is holding government responsible for what is happening because they are the only people that can save the situation.”
Some unions have warned that Nigerians may have to contend with irregular supply for now. They blamed persistent queues on Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN), Foreign Exchange (forex) rates, decaying infrastructure and security checks, among other factors.
According to them, the insatiable quest of DAPPMAN members for maximum profit as major players in the distribution chain has not been helping matters.
They alleged that the depot owners sell product to others for distribution above the rates fixed by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
The development, they explained, leave with two options. They either stop restocking their filling stations or retail at above the litter price.
To them, the second option is the devil’s alternative as officials of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) deployed to enforce compliance with the PPPRA ceiling constantly sanction erring stations.
More than 78,000 litres of petrol were dispensed free of charge to motorists in Abuja from the various stations that were caught selling above the approved pump price of N145 per litre during a six-day monitoring by the Joint Task Force at the turn of last year.
Seventeen fuel stations were at the weekend sealed in Niger and Anambra states by DPR monitors.
Isah Jankara, Operations Controller of DPR in Niger State, where 13 stations fell under the hammer, told reporters: “If you want to sell petrol in Niger make sure you sell at government’s approved rate of N145 per litre. Also, make sure that you don’t divert the product because if you are caught you must face the penalty.”
Jankara said that all the affected stations must pay necessary fines before they would be allowed to re-open for business.
He said: “All marketers whose stations have been closed down for violation of the N145 pump price per litre are to pay the sum of N100, 000 per pump as penalty through the TSA (Treasury Single Account) and submit receipts of payment and bank teller to the Head of Operations before their stations will be re-opened for sales to the public at N145 per litre.”
Jankara said that before now earring filling stations were only compelled to revert to government’ approved rate without sanction.
Two of the four filling stations sealed in Anambra State were for alleged fuel diversion and the operators of the two other outlets were reprimanded for selling the product above N145
The DPR officials forced five other stations to sell at the approved pump price.
In Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha, fuel sells for between N185 and N200 per litre.
DPR Head of Safety, Environment and Health Department, Linus Ikegbunam, who led a five-man enforcement team, said the marketers were suspected not to have discharged products meant for their stations accordingly.
Ikegbunam said the filling stations sealed for suspected diversion had the product designated for them as contained in their manifests.
He said DPR was worried over the rising cases of product diversion, especially at this time of supply challenges but assured that the agency was ready to combat the menace.
Ikegbunam wondered why a marketer who procured as much as between 40,000 and 50,000 litres of petrol would not sell to the people rather divert them to other locations.
He said the stations would remain closed until investigations were concluded on them and warned that those found culpable would be made to face the full wrath of the law.
“Selling above government approved price of N145 is an offence and that is why we enforced compliance at some stations. Those who are habitual offenders were also sealed and penalised,” Ikegbunam warned.
The Chairman of Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Salihu Butu, confirmed to reporters at the weekend that the retail business has become unprofitable for his members.
Besides paying higher for products at the depots, IPMAN, which accounts for 80 per cent of the retail outlets in the country, get 10 per cent products to sell, Buto told reporters on the tarmac of the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC), at Suleja depot, Niger State.
According to him, they buy above the ex-depot price to keep their stations open and remain in business.
DAPPMAN, it was learnt, gets the product at N117 from the NNPC, the sole importer, and sells to marketers at N152 as against the approved ex-depot price of N133.80.
Butu said: “The private depot owners do not sell to us at the official price. We buy at the unofficial price. How do we break even?
“Our stations sell at N180 – N190 because when you get to the depots, you are presented with two accounts for payment: one for the actual price and the other for the extra, otherwise you cannot lift.”
On the way forward, Butu said only President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly could intervene in the fuel situation.
He said: “Only President Muhammadu Buhari can solve this. He should come in, people trust him. When he increased price, people accepted, no questions asked. We knew it was for the better.
“The National Assembly also should invite all aggrieved members to get to the bottom of this. There should be equity in distribution. NNPC depots should be stocked back to back. Only Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) is loading.
“Mr Umar Ajiya of PPMC held meetings with us. We decided to cooperate and so, I went to Aba, Warri, Mosimi and found that our members are given two-three trucks to share.
“To keep their stations open and stay in business, our members have to buy. All these should be looked into.”
A marketer at Seaman’s Petroleum in Anambra State, Geoffrey Anioke, said it has been difficult procuring products in the last two months, making it impossible to sell at the government approved price.
Anioke said selling petrol at N145, when the landing was between N165 and N170 was a huge loss for them.
He urged the Federal Government and the NNPC to supply enough petrol to eliminate the black market and artificial price increase.
He said: “We get fuel from N165 to N170 at the moment and it is not possible to sell at N145 and forcing us to sell at that price is punishing us and driving us out of business.