By Deji Elumoye
Abuja — The Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) wednesday gave a marching order to the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, and the Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Mrs. Patience Oniha, to meet within one week with petroleum marketers and resolve the issue of outstanding fuel subsidy payments that had lingered on for over two years.
While the federal government claimed it owes petroleum products marketers about N469 billion for outstanding fuel subsidy, the marketers disagreed, saying they are being owed about N1 trillion. The Senate had in July approved N348 billion for payment to the oil marketers for outstanding fuel subsidy,
Chairman of the Committee, Senator Kabir Marafa, gave the directive after listening to the submissions of the DMO DG, representatives of the CBN governor, petroleum marketers and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) on why the marketers were yet to be paid the fuel subsidy approved in July by the National Assembly.
Marafa, after consulting with other members of the committee at the meeting held at Senate Committee Room 231, said the Finance Minister should head the meeting of top government officials, including the CBN governor, DMO DG and executive secretary of PPPRA and resolve in a week the contentious issue of outstanding fuel subsidy payments to petroleum marketers.
According to him, the top government officials must engage and agree with the petroleum products marketers on the matter within the stipulated time.
“The meeting is to look at all the problems vis a vis all the claims of the marketers and let’s know the way forward,” he said.
Marafa said the outcome of the meeting would be presented before the committee in the next one week, adding that “the Minister of Finance and CBN governor must be on ground then, so we must ensure that it does not fall on a Wednesday which Federal Executive Council (FEC) is meeting day usually attended by the minister and CBN governor.”
He also mandated the Finance Ministry to within two weeks harmonise the position on the balance to be paid to 19 petroleum marketers already paid 65 per cent of their claims.
The chairman emphasised that once that is done, it will be forwarded DMO for necessary action.
He announced that the committee would engage the services of a Consultant to help in this regard “while one or two committee members will work with the Finance Ministry to speed up work.
“The issue at stake is a monster that can consume us all. Let’s do away with this problem before it consumes us. We just can’t continue like this. I hope these steps we are taking will address the issue once and for all so that the issue of outstanding fuel subsidy payments can be put behind us for good.”
Earlier in her presentation, DMO DG, Mrs. Patience Oniha, said approval was only gotten in September for the payment of outstanding liabilities to the petroleum products marketers while the services of an international accounting firm will be engaged for this purpose.
She stated that by mid-November, “we should be able to communicate with the marketers and hold meeting with them on the next line of action.”
At this point, a member of the committee, Senator Abdullahi Danbaba, interjected, and expressed displeasure at how the federal government was handling the fuel subsidy payments.
He said: “I’m disappointed that since June 2017, nothing has happened. This should not be the case after more than one and half years. The way we are going, in the next three years, we may not finish with the payment.”
On his part, the Executive Secretary of Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN), Olufemi Adewole, who spoke on behalf of petroleum products marketers, pleaded with the government to order immediate payment of the outstanding fuel subsidy claims.
“We are at our wits end. Discounted treasury note being offered by DMO is like killing us twice. We needed the bank payments for over six months,” the lawmaker added.
He said assets of some petroleum products marketers were seized by banks based on the National Assembly approval in July for the payment of the outstanding claims to the petroleum products marketers “despite the fact that the approval was yet to be implemented.”
Also speaking, Chairman of Integrated Oil and Gas Limited, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, said over N1 trillion was currently being owed the oil marketers by the federal government.
Iheanacho, a former Minister of Trade and Investment, wondered how the Finance Ministry and DMO came about N469 billion being bandied as debts owed petroleum marketers, adding that “we must go to the original amount we computed and agreed upon earlier.”
The CBN governor who was represented by the Director of Banking and Payment Systems, Dipo Fatokun, could not answer why CBN failed to contact the commercial banks to halt the interest paid on the loans taken by the oil marketers as promised by Emefiele in 2017.
Fatokun only replied to the question put to him by Marafa, saying: “I will take the message back to the CBN governor who will hopefully get back to the committee very soon.”