The NNPC trucked out N2.5 trillion worth of petrol in 10 months despite stoppage of supply to filling stations in border communities, and the closure of border in three out of the 10 months. Adeola Yusuf reports
What started with outright closure of land borders that link Nigeria with its neighbouring countries climaxed with a memo dated November 6th 2019.
The Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali [rtd], directed, according to the memo, that henceforth no petroleum product, no matter the tank size, is permitted to be discharged in any filling station within 20 kilometers to the borders.
Expectedly, the marketers of petroleum products kicked and the dust raised by this has figuratively mixed with the fresh air that originally pervaded smooth supply of fuel to millions of Nigerians in border communities.
Order from above
In a circular to zonal and sector coordinators, Operation Swift Response and area controllers, and others, entitled: E11/2019 circular No.027: SUSPENSION OF PETROLEUM PRODUCTS SUPPLY TO FILLING STATIONS WITHIN 20 KILOMETERS TO ALL BORDERS, dated November 6, 2019, the Comptroller-General of Customs directed that henceforth, no petroleum product, no matter the tank size, is permitted to be discharged in any filling station within 20 kilometers to the borders, stressing that “Consequently, you are all to ensure strict and immediate compliance, please.”
The circular was signed by Chidi A. Deputy Comptroller – General (E I & I) for: C-G.
Product load rises
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), it was gathered, trucked out N2.517 trillion worth of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) also known as petrol in 526,000 trucks across the country in the last 10 months.
The corporation noted that 17.36 billion litres of PMS were trucked out between January and October, 2019.
Releasing this data as a part of measures to ensure safety and smooth operation in the petroleum products distribution value chain, the NNPC, in collaboration with other stakeholders in the petroleum industry and the Federal Government, said on Wednesday that it had activated the Safe-to-Load initiative to mitigate incessant petroleum products tanker accidents and ensuing fire outbreaks across the country.
The meeting of the stakeholders, which held Wednesday at the corporation’s Towers, Abuja, was sequel to the initiative of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Haulage Operations in Nigeria.
It was aimed at ensuring safety in the whole gamut of bridging process across the country.
The Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari, said proffering a lasting solution to the challenge had become imperative given the frequent fire incidents from petroleum tankers with attendant loss of lives and properties.
Safety, digital loading facilities
Mallam Kyari stated that the corporation as a socially responsible entity placed high premium on the lives of workers and citizens, noting that safety was one of the core values of the organisation.
“As an organisation founded on operational excellence, NNPC has a safety checklist for loading of petroleum products from its terminals and is interested in ensuring harmonization of the Safe-to-Load checklists being used by all terminals across the country,” he said.
He stated that the corporation had commenced digitising all its analogue-loading facilities to ensure that all trucks leaving the NNPC depots comply with the required axle limits, emphasizing that the corporation has kick-started installation of weigh-bridges and sprinklers across all loading gantries to forestall incidents.
The NNPC boss said that the corporation currently relied much on the land transportation system to get its products across various locations in Nigeria, stating that a total of 19.23billion litres of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) was moved by 583,000 trucks in 2018, while 526,000 trucks transported 17.36billion litres of PMS between January and October 2019.
Using a N145 litre modulated price, the 17.36 billion litres of petrol stood at N2.5172 trillion.
He hinted that efforts were on to fix the corporation’s pipelines to efficiently move petroleum products across the nation.
Kyari, who recognised the support of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, in the Safe-to-Load project, stressed that NNPC as a player in the hydrocarbon business in the country would continue to champion any cause geared towards efficient products distribution for the benefit of all Nigerians.
Speaking at the event, Mustapha, who was represented by a staff of the SGF office, Mr. Ademola Ali, said his office remained committed to ensuring safe roads for petroleum products distribution in the country.
Making a contribution at the event, National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) President, Alh. Kassim Bataiya, solicited the intervention of government in funding the subsector, saying safety on the road was the responsibility of all stakeholders, drivers, law enforcement agencies, among others.
He called for local manufacturing of vehicle components to curtail costs being incurred by transporters.
In his remark, the President, Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), Mr. Otunba Oladiti, commended the management of NNPC for its consistent interventions in cushioning the hardships faced by tanker drivers in their task of distributing products across the country.
He expressed the view that fixing the roads should not be the sole responsibility of the government.
Earlier in his presentation, the President of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Comrade Akporeha Williams, lauded the corporation for always complying with all safety standards in all its depots and restated the union’s commitment to work with the NNPC management in ensuring the success of the Safe-to-Load initiative.
The event had representatives from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Federal Road Safety Corps, Federal Fire Service, the Nigerian Police, National Association of Road Transport Workers, Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria and Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria.
Others were Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Equalization Fund, Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
The dissenting voice
The fuel marketers, however, kicked against the suspension by Nigerian Customs Services (NCS) of fuel supply to filling stations within the border communities.
The Lagos State Chapter of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), which stated this, expressed displeasure against the directive of the comptroller-general of customs, to suspend supply of petroleum products to fuel stations, within 20 kilometers to all the borders.
In a statement issued at the weekend in Lagos and signed by the state Chairman, Mr. Akin Akinrinade, and Secretary, Mr. Akeem Balogun, IPMAN described the decision as punitive and uncalled for, “because the fuel stations are not serving people outside the borders.”
The IPMAN therefore called for the immediate reversal of the order so as not to punish the border communities, the fuel stations owners and the staff working at these stations.
Reacting to the circular issued by the customs, IPMAN reminded the customs that the affected fuel stations were established legally and licensed to serve the communities at the border towns and their environs.
The IPMAN pointed out that apart from jeopardizing the business interest of the fuel station owners, there are thousands of staff and other stake holders that will lose their jobs, thus compounding unemployment problem in the country.
The association noted that what the customs circular showed was that the customs only exhibited their inefficiency and negligence in their duties which the law saddled them with. Fuel station owners are not the problem at the borders.
It said: “Our position at the IPMAN is that we are not and cannot support any act of smuggling of any petroleum products. Our members are entitled to decent living which cannot be taken away from them.”
IPMAN therefore called upon the comptroller-General to rescind the order immediately and called on their staff to be more efficient in the discharge of their duties to the nation.
If it is a Federal Government policy, the government should not inflict hardship on the citizens in the name of policing the borders, the IPMAN said.
The Federal Government border closure policy has enjoyed tremendous support from Nigerians and citizens of other countries, who are development economists.
However, the citizens of Nigeria, who have found themselves out of fate at border communities, should not be denied access to petroleum products simply because of where they have found themselves.
Government, through the Nigerian Customs Services, has the constitutional responsibility to safeguard the borders. Its inability to efficiently discharge this responsibility should not be blamed on hapless individuals.