There are indications that the prevailing calm in the oil and gas industry may be sustained at a huge cost to the Federal Government as operators within the sector have intensified pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to pay subsidy arrears inherited from former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Apart from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) saddled with the task of importing most of the refined products for the teaming Nigerian motorists, it was gathered that current indebtedness to the oil marketers was in the threshold of over N800 billion.
Buhari had, upon the inception of his administration in 2015, abolished subsidy payments and criticised the previous government for using it as conduit pipe for draining the nation of its resources.
But as the yuletide gathers momentum, the oil marketers are mounting pressure on the Federal Government to redeem its pledge of paying them.
This much was observed when the Chairman, Senate Committee on Downstream, led by Senator Kabiru Marafa, paid a visit to President Buhari at the weekend.
According to Marafa, there was need for President Buhari to explore means of settling the arrears in order for mischievous elements not to take advantage of the situation to bring back fuel queues.
Asked why he met with the president, Marafa said: “Basically, there are two issues we talked about. One is regarding the Committee I chair in the Senate, that is the committee on downstream.
“There has been some disquiet in the industry regarding marketers’ payment with Ministry of Finance, Debt Management Office (DMO), and the Central Bank of Nigeria which, we feel, if not carefully handled, some enemies of the administration might bring about technical issues that could lead to queues even though government has provided enormous quantities of petroleum products across the country that can last the country up to six months through NNPC.
“Some people are not too happy about it and they want to sabotage the efforts of the government.
“So, I as the chairman and the president being the Minister of Petroleum Resources, I came to share some information and tap on his versatile experience in the industry as a former Minister of Petroleum Resources forty years ago. So, there is abundant experience there.
“Number two, on the political situation of my state. You know, to also tap on his experience of governance and may be conflicts resolutions and so on. We have had very good time and I got enormous advice on the way forward.”
The senator, however, declined to comment much on the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress gubernatorial ticket in Zamfara State since the matter was in court.
Recall that the APC in Zamfara failed to meet the deadline in producing a governorship candidate, a development that has pitched the governor, Abdulaziz Yari, against the Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole.
“We are in court and hopefully we believe in the next couple of weeks, maybe two weeks from now, the courts will provide a way forward.
“We all know what happened and it will be prejudicial now to start discussing the issues on the pages of newspaper or television.
“We are on our way to an amicable resolution of the problems,” he told State House reporters.
Speaking further on the intrigues regarding the subsidy payments, he said bureaucracies associated with government business contributed in delays till this time.
“We are now talking of technicalities. There is fuel in the country, on our seas, in our depots all across the country.
“But there are some technicalities now regarding payment of subsidies, forex differentials and interest, which this government inherited.
“They are not a creation of this government. However, government is a continuum and when the president came in he was confronted with it and he agreed and said: ‘fine, I have stopped subsidy but since there are claims, we will look into it and pay’.
“But now the bureaucratic nature of the computations is what dragged up to this time and depot owners are not too happy with what the Ministry of Finance has done and may be some other agencies.
“So, we have been on it in the Senate and the House of Representatives for almost two weeks now.
“Finally, today, I have had quality time with Mr. President and we have looked into the whole thing.
“By next week, we will invite all the stakeholders. I believe we should be able to get to the root of the matter.
“As for the depots owners, we are going to plead with them again to give more time, especially now that we have discussed with the head of the executive arm of government. So, I’m sure everything will be resolved in the next few days.”