Confusion as FG, Oil Marketers Differ on Subsidy Payment

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*PPMC: Planned strike is economic sabotage 

By Ndubuisi Francis and Chineme Okafor in Abuja

The federal government and oil marketers have continued to sing discordant tunes on whether or not they have reached a truce on the payment of outstanding fuel subsidy claims accruing to the latter to avert another looming round of nationwide fuel scarcity.

While the marketers insisted Sunday they had no understanding with the government to shelve their threat to shut down their facilities midnight Monday, the federal government, on the other hand, claims it reached an agreement with the marketers last Thursday to meet again Monday to further concretise payment modalities of the claims.

The marketers had on December 2, 2018 issued a seven-day ultimatum to the government to pay them an outstanding N800 billion subsidy claims or compel them to shut down their facilities.

However, the federal government, last Thursday claimed it had met with the marketers and reached a common ground on how the claims will be paid, which in effect took care of the marketers’ threat to shut down their facilities.

A statement from the Media Adviser to the Minister of Finance, Mr Paul Ella, explained that the marketers assured the government that operations at all depots and sales would continue until further notice.

The meeting, reportedly held at the Federal Ministry of Finance headquarters was attended by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, other senior government officials from the finance ministry, the Debt Management Office (DMO), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Budget Office of the Federation, the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
Also in attendance on the part of the petroleum marketers were said to be representatives from the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA), Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN).
According to the statement, while expressing satisfaction over the arrangement being made by the government to settle their claims, the petroleum marketers assured the public of availability of petroleum products.
The statement read: “The Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA), Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) with the federal government delegation meeting held at the Federal Ministry Finance in Abuja on Thursday, December 6, 2018, agreed that operations at all depots and sales will continue until further notice.”

But about 48 hours later (Saturday), the marketers under the aegis of DAPPMA,  said they did not reach any agreement with the federalgovernment on the N800 billion subsidy arrears, adding that their ultimatum to shut down operations on Monday remained unchanged.

The DAPPMA Executive Secretary, Mr. Olufemi Adewole, said in a statement in Lagos that offers by government failed to meet the legitimate demands of the association, adding: “We did not sign the purported document with government as claimed. We still stand by our ultimatum which will expire on Monday.”

 The same day (Saturday), the federal government disclosed that on Friday December 14, 2018. the marketers would be paid N236 billion out of the N348 billion approved by the National Assembly as outstanding subsidy claims.

The Chief Operating Officer, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Downstream, Mr. Henry Ikem-Obih, made the disclosure to journalists in Abuja.

He said: “The Debt Management Office (DMO) will by next week, precisely on December 14th, pay oil marketers first part of the subsidy arrears of N236 billion as agreed by both parties.

“We agreed that after the first tranche is paid, the marketers will form committee to work on details of how the next tranche will be paid in 2019 and the last paid in 2020. Government is fully committed to pay the first tranche as promised and will be paid through promissory note that will be issued by the DMO.”

However, on Sunday, DAPPMA insisted that it would down tools by midnight.

In a telephone chat with THISDAY, The Special Adviser on Media to the Minister of Finance, Paul Ella Abechi, said there was no disputing the fact that relevant agencies of the government met with oil marketers last Thursday to resolve the subsidy payment controversy, adding that it was unfortunate for any group to claim otherwise.

Abechi noted that it was politics season, adding that people could exploit the season to advance their various interests, adding that to further show government’s commitment to defray the subsidy arrears, only last Saturday, it offered to pay the first tranche of N236 billion.

Meanwhile, the federal government has said that it would consider the planned strike by oil marketers over unpaid subsidy claims as an economic sabotage should they go ahead with it.

It said unlike in 2017, when the scarcity of petrol was experienced around the country, it was not ready to tolerate a repeat of the situation this time around.

The Managing Director of the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Mr. Umar Ajiya, stated this at the weekend in Abuja after a meeting of officials of the NNPC with oil marketers.

Ajiya warned that the government would not tolerate any attempt by any individual or group to disrupt the distribution of petroleum products during the Yuletide.

He said: “All IPMAN and major marketers, as well as all NNPC retail sites would continue to work throughout the period, 24 hours and seven days in a week. In addition to that, there is a commitment from the NNPC, the majors and the unions to ensure that all their workers participate in the distribution of petroleum products throughout this festive period.

“Therefore, a repeat of the 2017 situation is what we are prepared to avert, because government, this time around, would not tolerate from anybody, whether single or group, the issue of petroleum products scarcity, as it happened last year, because that would be termed as economic sabotage.”

Similarly, oil workers under the aegis of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) stated that they were interested in the disagreement and wanted the government and marketers to quickly resolve the issue before it plunges the country into another round of crisis.

Speaking on behalf of the oil workers, the National President of PENGASSAN, Mr. Francis Johnson, said the association had intervened in the crisis to protect the interest of its members, as well as that of the country.

According to him, “PENGASSAN, as one of the major stakeholders in the oil and gas industry, we are concerned. We are also looking at it that the year is coming to an end; they are also talking about 2019 politics and elections. We do not want to do anything to overheat the polity and make Nigerians go through a lot of stress.

“For us, we have said, and we are aware that there have been series of meeting to resolve the issue. We stand by that; and we appeal to both government and the oil marketers to look at the larger interest of Nigeria and do what is needful for Nigeria to grow from strength to strength.”

Johnson further said: “I believe in the commitment and sincerity of both parties to reach an amicable solution to the issue. I believe that both parties would allow the larger interest of Nigeria to supersede. I advise them to fast track every proceess to resolve this issue and make sure they keep to the terms of agreement reached.”

Johnson equally cautioned members of the association against joining any strike not called by its leadership.

He explained: “For us, our members should note that until they hear from the association and NUPENG, everybody should continue to do their work. They must be at their duty post, doing their allocated hours of work and do the needful as required from them.

“I also believe that both marketers, the NNPC and others would resolve the issue. Petroleum Tankers Drivers (PTD) Branch of NUPENG would also ensure that tankers are working. Our members at PPPRA, PEF, PPMC, DPR would be on duty. They would always listen to hear from us. If anybody goes against our directive, there are consequences; there are procedures for sanctions.”

Similarly, the National President of NUPENG, Mr. William Akporeha, assured Nigerians that there would be an unhindered distribution of petroleum products during the Yuletide, and that all its members would not be embarking on any strike.

He said: “This regime of NUPENG believes in dialogue. Until we are pushed to the wall, we do not take strike as the first option. So far, between now and December ending, I can assure Nigerians that there won’t be shortage of petroleum products in our streets.

“We agreed that the oil marketers have legitimate claims and demands. However, we are also happy too that the federal government is at this moment engaging them on how to resolve all the issues at stake.”