*Payment not cause of strike, Okonjo-Iweala insists
*As transporters hike fee by 200%
04 March 2015, Sweetcrude, Abuja – President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday directed the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to pay with immediate effect all outstanding monies owed to oil marketers so as to end the current grueling fuel scarcity that has crippled the nation and caused untold hardship to millions of people.
Consequently, the Federal Ministry of Finance has directed the Debt Management Office (DMO) to raise a special Sovereign Debt Note (SDN) of N100 billion to offset the claims.
This came as the fuel scarcity in Abuja and other cities worsened further yesterday, despite assurances from the Federal Government and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of improved supply, as motorists experienced increased difficulties in their quest to purchase Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, from petrol stations.
The President who restated his commitment to Nigerians in Abuja, yesterday, said the public need not bear the burden of needless bureaucracy as is presently the case, and that they don’t need excuses but solutions which must be provided.
Petroleum marketers will meet with Federal Government officials today in the capital with a view to resolving all outstanding issues leading to the current fuel crisis.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, explained that the queues were due more to pipeline vandalism and logistics and not payment of claims to marketers.
She said that, “Government is very concerned about the fuel queues which have appeared in Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country. As Nigerians can attest, the Petroleum Ministry and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, have worked very hard to give out the message that there is no need for panic buying and that it is trying to reduce the queues to the barest minimum.
“We are working with them and in fact, the marketers are coming to meet with us tomorrow (today). We have also agreed to pay the interest rate and foreign exchange differentials.”
Sh added that, “Tomorrow (today) we will be making part of that payment when the marketers are here and on the outstanding balance, we will be issuing SDN (Sovereign Debt Notes) to them so that the banks will know that the government has undertaken the obligations.”
According to the minister, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has also spoken with the banks so that all marketers who want to open Letters of Credit could do so, adding: “We have cleared with the marketers that this is how we will go about it.”
Okonjo-Iweala observed that last December, the government paid N320.8 billion debt owed marketers. The money, she revealed, came from Excess Crude Account, which she said “shows the seriousness with which the government takes issues about payments to marketers.”
She insisted that the current fuel crisis was not over payments to marketers, adding: “I want to emphasize that contrary to some unfounded speculations, the queues are not caused by payment issues. As you know, we paid the marketers a total of N320.8 billion from the Excess Crude account in two instalments in December last year.
“This underscores the fact that we are taking payment of marketers very seriously indeed. We’ve been in constant touch and talking with the marketers and a week ago we reached an agreement with them on their core concerns which we have addressed.”
The minister commended members of the Major Oil Marketers Assoaiciation of Nigerian, MOMAN, who she described as very cooperative and urged Nigerians to question the motive of others who even refused to open Letters of Credit, LCs.
She said: “It is clear that while the union and most members have been cooperative, some of their members are not. Some of these people have even refused to open LCs to facilitate their payments.
“We salute the union and the members who are working hard to end this unfortunate situation. As for those who are working in the other direction, Nigerians should ask them what their motives are.”
Meanwhile, transporters have hiked their fares by over 100 per cent, as the fares within a short distance of Abuja city centre which used to cost N50 were increased to N100, while some charge N150.
Also, large numbers of commuters were stranded at bus stops and parks across the FCT, as only a few vehicles were seen on the roads.
Major roads in the FCT, especially traffic-prone areas, were virtually free, as the roads were almost deserted due to the fact that a large number of vehicles were parked at petrol stations hoping to get fuel while others left their vehicles at home after having run out of the commodity.