The chances that fuel queues may resurface have become a clear and present danger, as the uncertainty caused by multiple government investigations into the fuel subsidy scheme has led to a corresponding drop in the volume of fuel imports into the country.
It was learnt that the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, has become the major importer of petrol into the country, with most major and independent marketers suspending imports until further notice.
Confirming this, an executive with a major oil marketing firm informed THISDAY that petrol imports by private sector operators had dropped by as much as 40 percent in the wake of the ongoing probe of the fuel subsidy regime following the protests that greeted the deregulation of petrol pricing on January 1 and the suspension of the policy two weeks later.
The official, who pleaded anonymity, said oil marketer were importing less fuel now as a precautionary step owing to the uncertainties that have arisen from the probe of the petroleum industry and subsidy regime by both the National Assembly and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Besides, oil marketers have outstanding claims that the federal government is yet to settle, he added.
“Government has to be categorical on the settlement of legitimate subsidy claims going forward. Oil marketers have stopped importing due to uncertainties.
“They have to be certain that the subsidy scheme will cover all legitimate claims before they can participate in the importation of fuel under the current regime,” he said.
But as oil marketers fret, the House of Represen-tatives committee probing the management of fuel subsidies is expected to conclude its ongoing investigation into the irregularities that have characterised the subsidy regime this week.
THISDAY investigations, however, showed that petrol queues have indeed started building up at many filling stations in some parts of the country, including Abuja, with the product selling at between N100 to N120 per litre, far above the approved pump price of N97 per litre.
According a cargo chart made available to this newspaper showing the discharge of petrol cargoes as at last Friday, of all the private jetties in Lagos, it was only BOVAS that discharged about 10,000 metric tonnes of petrol into a depot.
However, no vessel berthed at the Ibafo jetty. The situation was no different at Fisheries jetty used by NIPCO, and the Dantata jetty used by MRS. Also, the Capital oil jetty, which is one of the busiest in Lagos, was said to have no vessel discharging petrol at its depot.
There were fears that the drop in fuel importation could have affected the nation’s fuel strategic reserves of 52 days.
However, at Techno jetty, about 5,000 metric tonnes were said to be in bound (expected). The same was applicable to Calabar and Port Harcourt jetties.
Similarly, at the SBM jetty 45,000 metric tonnes was being discharged last Friday, and another jetty was discharging 33,000 metric tonnes.
According to a source at the Nigerian Ports Authority, all the products were PPMC deliveries and none for private oil marketers.
Meanwhile, some oil marketers have maintained that they are being owed several billions of naira in unpaid subsidies by the federal government.
“Since PPMC controls over 40 percent of petrol imports into the country and it is the major importer at the moment, it tells you that scarcity is imminent if something urgent is not done.
“There is no way that only PPMC can meet the daily fuel demand requirements of the country and they know that fact,” said one marketer Saturday.
According to him, no oil importer, after many of them had been accused of wrong doing in public, would like to stake his resources without reassurance from the government that it will be reimbursed under the subsidy regime.
“Some of us had outstanding receivables from the government for last year’s imports. Then the order by the House of Representatives to government not to pay till further notice has added to the uncertainties,” he said.
He said the House order, coupled with EFCC’s probe into the management of the subsidy fund, is enough to discourage oil marketers from getting heavily involved in fuel imports, so that they do not get their fingers burnt.
However, a member of the House of Representatives committee probing the management of fuel subsidy has disclosed that the committee is expected to wrap up its investigation into the subsidy regime this week.
The member, who preferred not to be named, said yesterday that before winding down its activities, more oil marketers would appear before the committee while a visit to the Atlas Cove jetty in Lagos is also on the cards.
Officials of government agencies, including the Ministries of Finance and Petroleum Resources, as well as the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, are also expected to reappear before the committee this week.
The committee member, who expressed satisfaction with the depth of revelations the probe has so far elicited, however, dismissed the notion that the exercise would be another effort in futility, adding that the revelations are self-evident that the probe would end well.
According to him, the committee was satisfied with its efforts so far and is convinced that Nigeria will never be the same again as a result of the discoveries unearthed by the probe.
“You can see that a lot has already come from the probe. So this is not going to go the way of previous exercises. It is therefore laughable when people pass such comments.
“The committee is still doing its job and it stands to reason that they have given this their very best shot as representatives of the people.
“Hopefully, the probe will end next week (this week) and then, the committee can go into the next phase of the probe. Besides, the committee is billed to visit the Lagos Atlas Cove jetty after the conclusion of the probe later in the week.
“The committee members are not in a position to speak to the press right now on the probe. The time is not right, but when the time is right, the media will have first rate insight into the many discoveries by the committee,” he said.