Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
By Chineme Okafor and Ike Abonyi
The Federal Government has moved some steps further in its bid to enthrone transparency in the management and disbursement of subsidy payment to oil marketing and trading companies involved in importation of petroleum products into the country.
The move culminating in a meeting with major marketers was also aimed at averting rumoured shortfall in importation and supply of petrol by companies that are within the Petroleum Support Fund (PSF) scheme.
The government delegation led by Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Friday in Abuja met with members of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) to evolve sustainable means of managing importation of petrol and disbursement of subsidy claims to verified marketers.
Issues such as proactive and transparent means of subsidy payments in the 2012 fiscal year as well as swift conclusion of ongoing audit of marketers’ subsidy claims, featured prominently at the meeting which also had Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Access Bank Plc, who had chaired the Presidential Task Force that audited and verified subsidy claims of marketers in the 2011 fiscal year, as well as top officials of MOMAN member companies.
The meeting, it was learnt, gave both parties an opportunity to extract firm commitments with regard to smooth management of issues related to importation and supply of petrol into the country and subsequent payment of subsidy claims.
Also Friday, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) declared three oil marketers indicted in the multi-billion naira fuel subsidy scam wanted. The oil marketers said to be on the run include Abdul Afeez Olarenwaju Olabisi of Fargo Petroleum and Gas Limited, Abubakar Peters Ali Jeldi, managing director of Nadabo Energy Limited and Ikechukwu Onuabuchi Nworgu of Star Inspection Services Nigeria Limited.
A statement issued by the commission’s spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, said the three are wanted for offences relating to criminal conspiracy, forgery, obtaining money by false pretences and money laundering running into several billions of naira.
The statement added that the marketers obtained the money as subsidy payments from the Petroleum Support Fund under false pretence, and fled in the wake of the commission’s investigation of the subsidy regime.
The Commission urged anyone with information with regard to their whereabouts to contact its Enugu, Kano, Lagos, Gombe, Port Harcourt and Abuja offices or the nearest police station.
MOMAN with such members as Conoil, Forte Oil, Mobil, MRS, Oando and Total is a key stakeholder in the marketing and distribution of petroleum products in the country. Its members are reputed to have extensive storage and distribution capacity and have also invested massively in retail distribution infrastructure and assets nationwide, thus ensuring adequate petroleum products supply to all parts of Nigeria.
A larger chunk of petrol consumed in Nigeria is imported by MOMAN, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA), and other independent marketers under permits issued by Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
Upon the publication of a list of indicted marketers that had abused the subsidy scheme under the PSF, the association absolved its members of any complicity in the criminal act, adding that they have always advocated transparency and accountability in the whole process.
However, in her remarks shortly after the meeting, Okonjo-Iweala disclosed that the government had invited members of MOMAN to explore better ways of pushing through measures it had initiated to ensure accountability in the PSF scheme.
She explained that the meeting had become necessary in view of rumours that government was broke and unable to fulfil its obligation to genuine marketers. This, she said, had spawned panic purchase of petroleum products by the public, resulting in the emergence of queues in filling stations.
“I just want to state very clearly here that we had a very good and constructive conversation on how to manage issues of payment of subsidy claims going forward in 2012 year. I think that with this kind of discussion we had today, it will be good for the marketers to speak to Nigerians.
“What is the background? The background is against what is reported in the news about availability of fuel in the country and government’s obligation and so we got round the table with the marketers on the way forward,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
She added that: “As we said before, we are paying the major marketers and will continue to pay as long as we are able to verify their claims. Efforts are being expedited to make sure that there are no undue delays and marketers who make it through this process are paid the monies that are due them.”
Also corroborating the minister’s statement, the Chief Executive Officer of Oando Marketing Company, Mr. Yomi Awobokun, stated that the verification exercise had started with Oando and would move to other marketers as scheduled, adding that they are fully committed towards ensuring an uninterrupted supply of petrol across the country.
“The exercise has commenced with us; it is a thorough one and we are clear about their mandate which is against the backdrop of what has happened in the industry. We fully support the exercise to ensure that there are clear terms in the payment of subsidy.
“The minister has given us comfort that the government isn’t broke and we expect that the verification exercise will be concluded soon. We are doing everything to ensure that distribution continues unhindered; we have given the minister that commitment because the NNPC has also been very supportive.”
According to Awobokun, “From next week, I expect that queues that we have today will reduce and hopefully all this will be a tale. There are still efforts required from both sides to ensure that we don’t have these kinds of queues going forward and next year, as a matter of fact, we are confident that by this time in December we won’t be talking about such situation and that is what the ongoing process if geared to achieve.”