In spite of Federal Government’s efforts to restore normalcy in fuel supply, indications are that the crisis may linger for a while, as long queues of anxious motorists continue to build outside filling stations across Nigeria.
On Wednesday, Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja that ?the ?g??overnment was ready to pay the marketers the outstanding N156 billion debt in order to remove all bottlenecks in the smooth distribution of fuel in the country.
The current crisis, which worsened over the weekend, has been blamed on the National Association of Road Transport Owners whose members withdrew their services to the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria over alleged N21 billion debts.
MOMAN is the umbrella group for the six major oil marketers, including Oando, Conoil, Forte Oil, MRS, Total and Mobil Oil, which control more than half of the fuel distribution outlets in the country.
NARTO had directed its members to halt further lifting and transportation of petroleum products from the depots to the six marketing firms’ retail outlets till the outstanding debt, accumulated since December 2013, were fully settled.
The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers affiliate is insisting they do not have sufficient funds to continue loading and transporting petroleum products for major marketers.
Though NARTO said they were still servicing the NNPC Retail, and other independent marketers as well as the Depot & Petroleum Products Marketers Association, all filling stations belonging to the six major fuel marketers in Abuja and environs were out of stock since Monday.
However, MOMAN said it would not be able to pay its debt to NARTO unless the Ministry of Finance fulfilled its promise to its members to settle the foreign exchange differential and interest charge on loans covering the period 2013 and 2014.
The Executive Secretary of MOMAN, Obafemi Olawore, said government had reneged on assurances by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala in February to settle the N256.2 billion outstanding debt.
Mr. Olawore said since the release of N100 billion after the meeting with its members in February, no other payment was made.
He said its members were afraid the in-coming administration may not pay them on assumption of office.
The Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, Farouk Ahmed, said on Wednesday he was instructed by the Minister of Petroleum Resources met with officials of NARTO on Monday to reassure them of government’s readiness to pay the debt.
He said during the meeting attended by the Minister of State for Finance, Bashir Yuguda, the marketers were told that government had approved the payment of the import charges differential of N56 billion to them.
The PPPRA scribe said additional N100 billion in sovereign debt note issued by the Debt Management Office a month ago would also be released to the marketers as it matures on April 30.
“The DMO has already sent messages to the marketers to submit their account details for the payment to be transferred to them,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Our hope is that the marketers will pay NARTO their N21 billion as soon as possible so that the issue would be resolved.”
According to the PPPRA boss, the problem was not with stock of petroleum products, as the NNPC has sufficient stock at the depots, apart from several imported cargoes yet to be discharged at the ports.
“The problem is with the outstanding payments,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Resolving the situation depends on how fast the marketers sort out their disagreement with the marketers and restore their services. The PPPRA and petroleum and Finance ministries have done all that is possible to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.”