Fuel Distribution :Military Chief Reads Riot Act To Oil Industry Players, Vows To Intervene, Institute Alternative Methods Of Distribution If Scarcity Persists

The military yesterday read the riot act to players in the downstream oil and gas sector, warning them not to test the federal government’s resolve to deploy ‘alternative’ measures to end the prolonged petrol scarcity in the country.

In a stakeholders’ meeting called by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) in Abuja, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor, told the participants, including top officials of the national oil company and oil marketers that the government was not handicapped in halting the chaotic situation.

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Since February 2022, petrol availability at filling stations in parts of Nigeria has been erratic, with several efforts to curb the challenge defying several solutions.

Irabor maintained that the petrol scarcity in the country was assuming a national security matter, describing his presence at the meeting as unusual.

Other top government functionaries at the gathering were the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, officials of the Department of State Service (DSS), representatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Head of the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), Farouk Ahmed. A number of petroleum marketers were also in attendance.

The CDS warned marketers that the chaos in the oil and gas industry was a major source of concern to the government and would not be tolerated anymore after a framework to solve the problem has been laid at the meeting.

“My coming here is very unusual. The involvement of the security establishment in the resolution of the chaos within the oil and gas sector currently, is what I felt we need to seek solution to.

“Within the matrix of threat mapping, the challenge of availability of fuel across the country has risen to the proportion that it has become a matter of concern for the defence and security of our country.

“And looking at the processes that have been emplaced to redress them, we believe that the solution lies in this room. But more importantly to say that the government is not handicapped,” he warned.

The DSS had recently issued similar warning to the marketers which temporarily improved supply at filling stations. The situation has since degenerated with riots commencing in Benin, Edo State, over the issue

“I need to also indicate that there are alternatives. I need to also indicate that there is nobody who is indispensable and so I have the mandate of Mr. President to come to say that it is a crisis of internal nature which of course, the police and other security agencies should lead.

“But if it is getting across the threshold that affects our defence and security, then we must know that the government is not handicapped. There is an alternative,” he added.

Irabor urged the attendees to ensure that the framework for solving the problem which would be agreed upon at the event should be strictly adhered to.

“Within the remit of the arrangement, the framework which will be discussed, I believe that the solution lies there. And if there’s no solution, let me reiterate that government is not handicapped. But we pray that it will not get to the level where the alternative will be activated,” Irabor submitted.

In his remarks, the Group Executive Officer of the NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari, stated that the challenge was monumental and was taking unanticipated dimensions.

Kyari maintained that the issue was not a supply problem, insisting that the NNPC has over 800 million litres of petrol in the marine, while over 700 million were in depots, with over 25 days sufficiency.

He stressed that the volume leaving the depots was being verified daily, with movement closely monitored by the authorities to know the evacuation figures which he put at over 60 million litres.

“There’s no shortage of fuel going out. They may be in the wrong destination. Nigeria’s fuel is smuggled to other countries. This is no secret. And it can only be done by all of us in this room or people connected to us,” he stated.

Kyari stated that there was evidence to confirm his assertion, noting that there was supply, evacuation and delivery going on.

But he said part of the problem was pricing, partly induced by skyrocketing logistics and handling charges. He added that some marketers were, however abusing the system.

Also speaking, NMDPRA’s Ahmed, stressed that despite various agreements with the marketers, many of them continue to flout the rules, stressing that the organisation was hesitant to wield the big stick as a first resort so as not to ruin businesses.

He urged marketers to cooperate with the authorities, noting that members shouldn’t allow the situation get to the point of inviting the law enforcement to take serious action.

Also, Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN) noted that a handful of their members were complicit in the current chaotic fuel supply situation in the country.

“Once a crisis starts you get into the realm of sharp practices and the whole value chain becomes a problem. Frankly, I cannot stand here and say every single station, every single truck, customer that I have, I can vouch for every single litre. That is virtually impossible,” former MOMAN Chairman, Mr. Adetunji Oyebanji, said.

In her comments, the Chairman of DAPPMAN, Winifred Akpani, said the operators had failed Nigerian consumers with the ongoing crisis, stressing that it was embarrassing that the situation had led to the intervention of the security agencies

Akpani also warned depot owners that anyone caught selling above ex-depot price would face the full wrath of the law.

After the meeting, Kyari said the operators had agreed to work together to resolve the distribution challenges, adding the issues raised by the marketers would be addressed , going forward.

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