By Kemi Busari
The Senate has urged the federal government to pay outstanding fuel subsidy arrears to oil marketers within the next two weeks.
The resolution, one of four, is the latest move to avert a looming strike by the marketers who issued a seven-day ultimatum on Sunday, December 2.
Under the umbrella bodies comprising Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA) and Independent Petroleum Products Importers (IPPIs), the marketers said failure to meet the deadline would force their members to disengage workers from depots.
In a motion on Thursday, chairman Senate Committee on Downstream, Kabiru Marafa, said there is an urgent need to avert looming crisis in fuel supply due to non-payment of accrued subsidy arrears to oil marketers.
“The Senate is aware that the federal government owed oil marketers subsidy arrears accruing from 2006 which led to the request by the president to the national assembly for approval of the establishment of a promissory note programme and bond issuance to settle inherited local debt and contractual obligations of which the subsidy arrears fall within.
“The Senate also notes that the debt have forced some marketers out of market while most of the marketers are currently being subjected to marinal injunctions.
“The Senate recalls that the National Assembly processed and passed the president’s request on Wednesday 18 and Tuesday 24 July 2018 respectively.
“The Senate observes that after the passage of the executive request by the national assembly, the Debt Management Office introduced very stringent measures for the issuance of the promissory note to include but not limited to; document reviewed by an international accounting firm, bonds to be issued in phases on the basis of discount with 10 years duration that is not interest bearing without a fixed date for the issuance and reverse option for issuance of the note.
“The Senate also observe that the procedure of document review by an international accounting form after it was authenticated by the presidential initiative for continuous audit approved by FEC and passed NASS is a wrong process,” he read, from a prepared motion.
Mr Marafa noted that subjecting the payment to another set of rules after the presidential and National Assembly consent amounts to a “deliberate attempt to sabotage the government’s effort.”
He said the stringent rules of the DMO forced marketers to object to the processes and resolved to giving ultimatum to pay and revert to agreement made at a meeting with the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, in June 2017.
He added that the debt profile has continued to increase, due to forex differentials and interest rates accrued. ‘As we are speaking today, the debt profile according to the marketer is nearing one trillion naira. Unless this matter is looked into seriously, the debt profile will keep rising,’ he said.
The lawmaker noted that the strike, if hatched, may lead to artificial fuel scarcity, which may span through the election period.
Senate leader, Ahmed Lawan, blamed the situation on previous government.
He alleged that those who are laying claim to the subsidy are allies of the previous government.
“The N429 billion approved by FEC and endorsed by the National Assembly, we know where the money is going to. We know those who helped… We know there are people who helped the previous government but we never cared. Our concern is the ordinary people.”
On his part, Yahaya Abdulahi, a senator, alleged that those within the present government are the ones sabotaging it.
“I thought the money would have been paid since July but for the issue to come here again, it means … whoever is behind the non-payment does not mean well for this country.”
His position was corroborated by Barnabas Gemade who posited that the issue has gone beyond National Assembly input.
“A matter that has passed the required procedure and the only remaining duty is that of implementation and all agencies responsible for that are under (the) executive and we come here to do what is not our responsibility, worrying on who has not implemented.
“Is it the DMO that is stopping the payment, or the Central Bank or Ministry of Finance? All those do not answer to the National Assembly. I do not see why we should come here to urge the executive to do its work.”
After a long deliberation which centred mostly on shifting blames to government agencies delaying the payment, the lawmakers made four resolutions.
They urged the oil marketers to, as a matter of public interest, rescind their decision on the ultimatum to allow the federal government more time to look into their demand, engage with the DMO to determine an appropriate financial instrument for the repayment of the debt.
The senators also urged the federal government to engage marketers and agree on outstanding liabilities to put an end to these subsidy claims and direct all concerned agencies to immediately pay the subsidy arrears as approved by Federal Executive Council and passed by the National Assembly.