Deregulation Face-off: N'Assembly Intervenes


As fuel queues resurfaced in some parts of the country in anticipation of the take-off of the planned deregulation of the downstream oil sector, House of Representatives Speaker Dimeji Bankole has said the National Assembly will intervene in the seeming face-off between the Federal Govern-ment and Labour on deregulation. He specifically called for dialogue between government and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in order to seek a common ground on deregulation. In the meantime, the Federal Government has warned filling stations against hoarding of fuel, saying any station found doing so would be closed down. The Group General Manager, Public Affairs of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corpora-tion (NNPC), Dr Levi Ajuonuma, said in a statement yesterday that a committee comprising NNPC and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) officials has been set up to monitor supply of petroleum products. But the Independent Petroleum Marketers Associa-tion of Nigeria (IPMAN) has blamed NNPC?for the long queues that re-surfaced at filling stations across the country. “We have to sit with labour, sit with the executive arm of government, the Minister of Petroleum, and civil servants as well as other stakeholders to work out a plan to make sure that things at least go on well,” Bankole said. Fielding questions from journalists yesterday at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Bankole said: “Whether we like it or not, there are some challenges in the oil industry we must face. If we do not face it today, we will have to face it in the future. And the challenge is raising revenue for government, which by extension is for the country, to enable government develop its many projects accordingly. “However, panic buying of fuel is not the solution to the problem. The National Assembly will continue to work day and night to ensure that those that will be adversely affected will be somewhat looked after.” The speaker noted that the oil sector was burdened with various challenges, which needed to be tackled as quickly as possible for the sector to be viable. He said to cushion the effect of the deregulation on the citizenry, government must have to work out a plan with industry stakeholders, labour and government representatives to agree on possible palliatives. Ajuonuma said NNPC has a stock of petroleum products that could serve the country for 42 days. Ajuonuma also denied that NNPC was swimming in debts and was amassing more debts through demurrage from a petroleum armada, adding that the NNPC has not incurred any such debt. He assured Nigerians of adequate supply of petroleum products across the country. He said in the statement: “The petroleum products we have in our storage facilities right now can serve the entire country for 42 days if in that period we do not receive further supplies. But the good thing is that we are receiving supplies every day, and I can assure you that there will be enough fuel from now through the period of the Muslim and Christian festivities up to the New Year.” He called on members of the public to desist from panic buying as there was no reason whatsoever to entertain fears about possible fuel scarcity, adding that “the PMS stock in the country can last for 42 days, same for other products”. Ajuonuma also called on major and independent petroleum marketers to cooperate with NNPC to ensure that petroleum products are adequately distributed so as to get them to members of the public. He urged marketers to desist from products hoarding and the practice of dispensing fuel with only one nozzle at their fuel stations, explaining that any marketer found doing so would have their stations closed down by the DPR. He said a joint committee of NNPC and DPR officials had been set up to monitor the supply of petroleum products across the country. “The committee is already at work. Members are going all over the country to monitor the supply. Any marketer found to be causing a hitch in the supply chain will be sanctioned by the committee,” he said. Speaking with THISDAY, the National President of IPMAN, Alhaji Aminu Abdulkadir, said NNPC does not have 40 days sufficiency of petroleum products as claimed. He also said NNPC lacked distribution facilities to allocate the products it imported to marketers, thereby worsening the situation. “Ask NNPC where they kept the products; ask them how much of the products they have allocated to marketers. Why don’t we Nigerians learn to be factual? Why don’t we Nigerians help ourselves? Let us help this nation. If we don’t help this nation, nobody will help us. The fact is that NNPC does not have enough products and so long as marketers don’t take part in importation; so long as NNPC does not have adequate distribution facilities, the scarcity will persist. “As far as I am concerned, NNPC is responsible for this present scarcity. Why is it that we did not have queues until NNPC took over importation? When did we mortgage Nigerians to NNPC? Why is it that we did not experience queues until they started this noise about deregulation even when they know that they don’t have enough facilities to implement it? The truth is that the NNPC has stopped marketers from importing and so, we don’t have enough products,” Abdulkadir said. Meanwhile, as in Lagos and Abuja, fuel queues have also resurfaced in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. Motorists and travellers had hectic time returning to their destinations on schedule due to sudden queues spotted in many filling stations in the town. The long queues came as the former governor of the state, Alhaji Lamidi Adesina, also said in Ibadan that the proposed deregulation of the oil sector would spell doom for the country. “I think the time for a revolution is here. The rich will not escape it. Even the man riding a bicycle will be an object of attack. Revolution is the next thing in Nigeria,” he said. When THISDAY went round the city centre around 12 noon, yesterday some filling stations displayed the “No Fuel” sign while others that dispensed petrol to motorists had to contend with long queues of vehicles. Many petrol station managers who spoke with THISDAY expressed surprise at the anxiety of the motorists. The managers attributed the queues to panic buying. A manager of Total Petrol Filling Station along Wakajaiye area of Ibadan, Mr. Laolu Olanrewaju, pointed to the deregulation of the downstream sector as the possible cause but said that he was yet to be briefed on any development from his head office. Following the queues, many commercial drivers abandoned their leisure periods to storm filling stations for fuel in anticipation at the week’s commercial activities. Adesina at a rally of his Action Congress (AC), however, stated that the proposed removal of oil subsidy by the Federal Government, if implemented, would ignite the much-anticipated revolution in the country, which, he said could be disastrous to the nation. “Fuel subsidy is a lie. Deregulation should not be. People are already suffering. I support the position of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). There should no deregulation in the oil sector. Else, it will spell doom for the country,” he said. He wondered why a military junta like the late maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha, could effectively manage the oil industry and went ahead to set up Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) for the development of the nation’s infrastructure and a democratic government could not replicate same. Adesina advised President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to revamp the nation’s comatose refineries and put an end to the controversy on oil subsidy, saying the problem is corruption,
which is being perpetrated in the oil sector of the country. Also, a coalition of opposition political parties under the aegis of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) has expressed its opposition to deregulation. The group said it was in support of NLC, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in saying no to deregulation. According to a statement issued by the National Publicity Secretary of CNPP, Osita Okechukwu, the conference said that it did not believe in government’s argument of subsidy of over N600 billion per annum. CNPP urged government not to play into the hands of the labour movement and allow the proposed strike action to hold as it would cripple the economy. The group said: ‘We pray that your administration will listen to the voice of the people and muster the political will to do justice. But if government insists on pursuing anti-people and anti-democratic policies which we believe will be detrimental to workers and the Nigerian people, the Labour Movement will have no option but embark on full blown national strike after today’s rally. “CNPP calls on other patriots to support the Labour Movement as there is a symbiosis between corruption and deregulation; for this is the familiar bumpy road of increase in fuel prices in the past decades, an ill-wind that pauperizes the citizenry; as there is no guarantee that this government is not determined to fully deregulate the down stream sector of the oil sector.” The association said it agreed with Labour and civil society group’s argument, stating ‘We also told the government team that its argument that economic meltdown makes deregulation necessary is not in tandem with trends in other parts of the world like the US and Europe where meltdown has meant government stimulus package for the economy and the citizenry. As other forward looking countries have shown, this is not the time to cut social spending; rather this time to increase social spending.”
source: thisdayonline.com
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