Fuel Crisis: Okonjo-Iweala, marketers keep mum over subsidy claims

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Petroleum products marketers and the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Monday dodged journalists who sought to find out the outstanding payment due fuel suppliers as subsidy claims.

​The ​Major Oil Marketers Association ​had ​claimed the​y were still owed N200 billion after the government paid them N154 billion on Thursday.

The money was to enable the marketers settle the National Association of Road Transport Owners that withdrew their services over alleged N21 billion debt, causing fuel scarcity.

But the Minister on Sunday faulted the marketers, saying the outstanding payment, based on weekly data by Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency template, could not exceed N131 billion, from the initial N98 billion.

To reconcile the figures, the Minister invited the marketers for a meeting in her office in Abuja on Monday to find ways of resolving the issues to restore normalcy in fuel supply in the country.

However, at the end of the meeting, which lasted for almost three hours, both parties came out with a resolution to not let Nigerians know the reconciled figure.

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Besides, neither the Minister nor the marketers appeared to know how much was actually disbursed, or the total amount the marketers received on Thursday.

While the Minister kept referring to N156 billion being paid, the marketers, led by the Executive Secretary of MOMAN, Obafemi Olawore, on the other hand, spoke of receiving N154 billion.

Days after the Minister announced the payment, the Executive Secretary of the Depot & Petroleum Products Marketers Association, Odufemi Adewole, had told PREMIUM TIMES on Monday that none of his members had received the money, despite staying at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) till about 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Apart from the payment, Mr. Adewole also said the Federal Government did not say anything about the outstanding N200 billion subsidy payment.

But contrary to Mr. Adewole’s claims, his counterpart in MOMAN told journalists in Lagos on Friday that his members had received the payment of a total of N154 billion (not N156 billion the Minister claimed).

The MOMAN scribe also confirmed the outstanding payment to marketers to be N200 billion, warning that if the amount was not settled within two weeks, the marketers would have no option than to call its members out on another round of strike.

Curiously, at the end of the meeting, Mr. Olawore and the Minister refused to let Nigerians know how much the outstanding subsidy payment due to the marketer was.

All efforts by the journalists to get Mr. Olawore and the Minister to say what their resolution was on the issue during the meeting proved abortive.

All the Minister could say was that the meeting as “very constructive and fruitful”, while Mr. Olawore said it was “a family affair” that would require continuous talking.

Mr. Olawore, who avoided addressing the contentious issue of outstanding payment to his members, said following the release of the N154 billion, transport owners had agreed to release their trucks to begin to lift petroleum products from the depot to the retail outlets.

“Movement of products from the depot to the retails outlets has begun. Lagos is getting better by the hour, but the situation in Abuja, because of the distance, will take some days to completely normalise,” Mr. Olawore said.

On her part, the Minister said ​the ​government was looking at the issues the marketers brought to the table, pointing out that since ​the ​government was a continuum, they would be resolved so that Nigerians would not suffer.

Pressed to say what the resolution was during the meeting on the contentious outstanding payment, the Minister said: “Fuel marketing is a rolling business​”​.

​”​There is no definitive or fixed figure. By the time we leave here, the Executive Secretary of PPPRA may have cleared some more sovereign debt notes and the figure may have changed.

“As long they continue supplying fuel to Nigeria, there will always be something to pay. Government is continuum,” she said.

Pressed further, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala seized the microphone to bring the media briefing to a close.

Apparently, to shield the marketers from more

questions on the outstanding payment, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala

​helped ​Mr. Olawore ​exit ​through
​a different​ route to avoid meeting ​with ​​o​the​r​ journalists who were already waiting him outside the minister’s office.   
 

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