13 August 2016, Lagos — The nation’s fragile economy faces another crisis as the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, is restraining the berthing of ships contracted by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for non-payment of N5 billion debt.
This is coming just as Nigerians are grappling with the possibility of another fuel scarcity, following plans by independent petroleum marketers to increase the pump price of fuel from the government approved N145/litre to N151, as a result of the scarcity of foreign exchange.
Competent sources at the NPA disclosed that NNPC’s debt would have been higher but was reduced by a rebate of about 30 per cent the authority granted to the NNPC.
The source disclosed that one of the contracted shipping companies bringing in products owned by a former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who is from the North-Eastern part of the country, was also owing the NPA $2 million.
The NPA is also insisting on collecting its payments in U.S dollars as against being paid in Naira at any exchange rate, which is not certain, owing to fluctuations in the foreign exchange markets.
Vessels owned by the indebted PDP chieftain’s company and other ships laden with premium motor spirit (PMS) otherwise known as petrol are presently seeking berthing space at Capital Oil Jetty in Ibafon, Lagos.
Although the NPA is aware that its insistence on collection of the monies before the vessels discharge may lead to fuel scarcity, but it appears unwilling to change its position as NNPC may not have shown enough commitment to pay up.
The NPA, under its new management team, has commenced serious debt recovery drive aimed at addressing long periods of indebtedness spanning between one and 10 years.
The Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman had told some terminal operators in Calabar, on Thursday that NPA would ensure maximum collection of all fees due to the government while urging them to stick to the terms of agreements entered with government.
Terminal operators, who had paid fees to NPA in Naira in June 2016, have had their money returned to them with NPA insisting that the payments be made in United States Dollar as specified.
Meanwhile, efforts to get the NNPC to comment on the matter failed as its spokesperson, Mr. Garba-Deen Mohammed, did not answer calls made to his mobile telephone number.
Oil marketers had, during the week, threatened to increase the pump price of petrol, due to the continued scarcity of foreign exchange to finance the importation of the product.
According to them, the United States dollar hit an all-time high last week, as it exchanged for N400 at the parallel market.
Worried by the development, the marketers said, if not urgently addressed, the pump price of petrol would not remain at the approved rates.
The federal government liberalised the downstream sector of the petroleum industry on May 11, 2016, and announced an increase in the pump price of petrol from N86 and N86.5 per litre to between N135 and N145 per litre.
It also stated that the market was to be driven by the factors of demand and supply, as it was now largely in the hands of private sector players.
But oil marketers announced last Monday that despite the competition in the business, they were struggling to retain the price of the Premium Motor Spirit within the approved range.
*Eromosele Abiodun – Thisday