Residents of the Federal Capital City, Abuja, have, in the last one week, groaned under fuel scarcity, occasioned by the strike action embarked upon by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, over alleged failure of the Federal Government to pay subsidy to oil marketers.
Although the issue of verification of subsidy payments between government and the fuel marketers has been in the public domain for several months, no one could have imagined that NUPENG or any other union, for that matter, would make subsidy payments a condition for moving fuel from depots to fuel station.
Abuja residents were therefore practically caught unawares by the strike which started penultimate week and continued last week in the city.
Tanker drivers did not only refuse to lift products from the Suleja Depot to Abuja, they also frustrated the sale of products at the fuel stations.
Consequently, in the first few days of the strike, some of the fuel stations that had stock closed shop in the day only to open at night for “black market” where they sold to their agents who in turn sold to motorists in containers at exorbitant prices.
At the end of the three days, a litre of petrol rose to between N250 and N 400, with the attendant risk of buying adulterated fuel. Those who could cough out such money had to abandon their vehicles.
The alternative was to travel to Nassarawa or Kaduna to fill one’s tank.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government refuted NUPENG’s claim that it was owing marketers for as much as seven months’ delivery. Rather, it accused the union of working for oil marketers indicted by the Aig Imoukhuede Presidential Committee on the Review of Subsidy.
The Federal Ministry of Finance issued a statement clarifying the situation about the last payments made to marketers. The statement, signed by the Minister’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicy, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, read:
“The claim by some marketers that they have embarked on strike because the Federal Government has failed to pay them for fuel imports is not accurate.
“The true position is that the Federal Government has been meeting its obligations to oil marketers in respect of all legitimate claims.
“For instance, between April and May 2012, Batches D/12 and E/12 involving 14 oil marketers with a claim of N17 billion were fully settled through the issuance of Sovereign Debt Notes and other relevant documentation.
“In addition, since the directive by the Coordinating Minister to the DMO to continue payments of all verified claims, N25.6 billion worth of claims have been fully settled with the issuance of Sovereign Debt Notes.
In all, between April and August this year, in respect of 2012 PMS claims, Sovereign Debt Notes amounting to N42.666 billion have been issued to 31 oil marketers.
“However, the claims by marketers who have been recommended for further investigation by the Aig-Imoukhuede Presidential Committee have not been paid.
“Payments or sanctions to this category of marketers will be determined by the outcome of investigations.
“Against this background, it is clear that the strike was instigated mainly by marketers who were indicted by the Aig-Imoukhuede Committee which investigated fuel subsidy payments.
“Their obvious intention is to blackmail the Federal Government in order to escape sanctions for the crimes they have committed.
“Nigerians should not be deceived by their antics.
“Such tactics will not succeed because the Federal Government is determined to ensure that persons and organisations which did the wrong things do not get away with wrong actions and wrong behaviour.
“As we have communicated severally in the last few months, payment of marketers whose claims have been verified will continue to go on in a consistent and structured way which protects the best interests of the country.
All marketers who have genuine issues to raise regarding their claims are encouraged to come forward for discussions or clarifications”.
As a follow up, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, herself, accused NUPENG of being anti-Nigerians by taking sides with oil marketing companies who had been indicted by the Imoukhuede committee.
Her words, “”NUPENG is anti-Nigerians. NUPENG is siding with the wrong people. There is no reason for NUPENG to hold Nigerians to ransom on behalf of people who have taking public money for fuel they did not supply.”
Okonjo-Iweala, who has been meeting several stakeholders in the oil industry, said that NUPENG was working for the interests of corrupt people.
She said that if NUPENG was interested in the welfare of Nigerians and the nation’s economy, it would join forces with the government in stopping the impunity that has come to be associated with subsidy corruption.
She said that a lot of progress has been made from the discussions between the government team and the oil marketers who have agreed to work with the government towards an efficient and transparent fuel distribution system.
She said that the current administration will always insist on transparency in the interest of Nigerians and therefore urged the public to stand with the government on this matter.
The Group Managing Director, GMD, of the NNPC, Engr. Andrew Yakubu, who also spoke with Sunday Vanguard, corroborated the position of Okonjo-Iweala, saying the corporation’s branch of NUPENG did not join the strike that cripple fuel distribution in Abuja and that the union’s claim that it was also striking on behalf of NNPC did not hold water.
However, NUPENG’s leadership claimed that their strike was in the members interests as they were being owed by the oil marketers who claimed they had no money to pay because government has been owing them.
Its National President , Mr. Igwe Achese, said the union is not compromised and would not support fraudulent oil marketers in their demands.