Ndubuisi Francis, Omololu Ogunmade,Chineme Okafor in Abuja and Ejiofor Alike in Lagos
Petroleum products marketers and depot owners have said that despite the directive by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to the Ministry of Finance to pay the marketers their outstanding subsidy claims, which they estimated at about $2 billion, none of them was paid as at close of work on Friday.
THISDAY had reported that Osinbajo summoned a meeting of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA) on May 22, which had the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun; Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu; and the Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, in attendance.
It was gathered that at the end of the meeting, the Acting President was said to have directed the Finance Ministry to pay the marketers all verified claims so that they could resume importation of petrol.
However, a presidential source last night said there was no formal order in the real sense of it. The source who did not want to be named said the marketers would be paid in no distant time, explaining that the current delay is as a result of shortage of funds.
The Executive Secretary of DAPPMA, Mr. Femi Adewole, also confirmed that Osinbajo had given approval for the marketers to be paid all verified claims.
He, however, raised the alarm that despite the directive by the Acting President, the marketers had not yet been paid.
He pointed out that the delays in the payment of the marketersâ€™ claims could precipitate crisis in the downstream sector as the banks have not backed down on their threats to seize tank farms over the unpaid loans borrowed by the marketers to fund importation during the subsidy regime.
â€œThe Acting President has issued approval for the marketers to be paid. It is the Ministry of Finance that is telling us stories. As at the close of work on Friday, I spoke with the marketers but none of them has received any payment. But the Acting President has given the necessary approval,â€ Adewole explained.
On the speculations that the marketers would shut down their depots on July 1 (yesterday) in protest against the unpaid bills, Adewole said it was not a matter of going on strike as no bank is currently giving the marketers credit to import products.
He said unless the government paid the outstanding claims, marketers could not go back to the banks to request for credit for importation.
â€œThe banks are not giving us money and are still threatening to seize our tank farms for failing to pay the debts. So, it is not an issue of going on strike or not going on strike because we canâ€™t go to bank to ask for money now,â€ he added.
The failure of the federal government to pay the marketers their subsidy claims and matured Letters of Credit (LCs), estimated by the marketers at about $2 billion, had eroded their capacity to import petrol, thus imposing the burden of importation of the product on only the NNPC.
The huge debts, which grew as a result of rising cost of forex and the interest charged by the banks that funded the importation of the cargoes, had since forced foreign banks such as the Citi Bank of New York, BNP Paribas and others, which provided the LCs for the importation, to stop opening lines of credits for petrol marketers.
When THISDAY contacted the Director, (Information), Ministry of Finance, Mr. Salisu Na’Inna Dambatta, on the issue yesterday, he said he had no information on the subject-matter.
Dambatta accused our correspondent of being unfair to him by asking to be furnished with information on such a matter on a Saturday evening.
His words: “Mr. Francis, you are being unfair to me. How do you expect me to call the minister at about 6:40 pm on a Saturday? I know what you want to do: you have written your story and decided to call by this time so that you will say the ministry refused to react.”
Efforts to explain to him that the request for the ministryâ€™s response was sequel to the claim by oil marketers yesterday that the Acting Presidentâ€™s directive on payment of their claims had not been carried out by the ministry were futile.
Dambatta, however, expressed his regrets, but insisted there was no way he could reach the minister on a Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, NNPC on Saturday said it intends to maintain a steady supply of petroleum products across Nigeria despite renewed call on the federal government by oil marketers to pay outstanding financial subsidies owed them, or the country risks a fresh round of petroleum products scarcity.
Group General Manager, Public Affairs of NNPC, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, described the complaints and position of the marketers as unfortunate.
Ughamadu, however, explained that the NNPC had in the past intervened in getting the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to establish a special foreign exchange window to enable the marketers to continue to import and distribute petroleum products, adding that as a market participant, the NNPC is owed subsidy claims but it would not stop to import and distribute products.
Insisting that the corporation as the sole importer of petrol in the country at the moment would appreciate supports from all stakeholders, he thus called on oil marketers to continue to show commitments to stability of products supplies in the country.