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Lukman off to Austria, fuel crisis lingers

By Madu Onuorah, Collins Olayinka (Abuja) and Taiwo Hassan (Lagos)   |   25 December 2009   |   5:46 am  

A source said Lukman travelled out of Nigeria via a British Airways flight from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja yesterday morning.

According to the source, “it is sad that Dr. Lukman had to travel out of the country despite the directives of the Vice President that he should not travel. He was supposed to be in charge of the petroleum crisis. But as I am talking to you now, the Minister is already in Vienna. He travelled this morning (Thursday) on a British Airways flight.”

The source expressed worry that the Minister’s travel may be misinterpreted as “a clear demonstration of the lack of respect for the office of the Vice President,” adding: “It is unfortunate. It is indeed very sad.”

Meanwhile, to ensure smooth supply of petroleum products across the nation, the Federal Government will prosecute fuel marketers that engage in sharp practices.

This was disclosed yesterday in Abuja by the Director of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Mr. Billy Agha, while on an on-the-spot assessment of fuel supply situation in Abuja city centre.

He was represented by the DPR’s Head of Corporate Services and Special Duties, Mrs. Chioma Njoku

Agha stated that henceforth, sale of fuel in containers and plastic containers called jerry cans is banned and that culprits would be made to face the full wrath of the law.

He said: “The DPR has been on top of the situation to ensure that the queues that we find all around are cleared in a matter of days. The selling of fuel into jerry cans is hereby banned. Both seller and the buyer would be arrested, detained and consequently prosecuted. Any fuel station caught hoarding any petroleum product would be dealt with by complete auction of the products while monies realised there would be paid into Federal Government coffers.”

He also warned that any station found rationing products would be deemed to be engaging in hoarding, saying such action is viewed to be counterproductive by the Federal Government and would therefore be punished severely.

“No filling station should get involved in rationing of their sales to motorists as this is deemed to be systematic hoarding, unpatriotic and counterproductive. Such action would attract a sanction of sealing off the station and the product channelled to other stations willing to sell. Secondly, further allocations meant for such stations would be redirected to other stations to serve as a deterrent to other stations,” he stated.

The DPR boss noted the harrowing experiences that Nigerians who wished to travel but have no fuel. He, however, expressed the hope that the new measures would ensure a speedy return of normalcy.

He explained that to ensure availability of fuel, most of the DPR staff had been deployed to the field to monitor distribution and that they would not go on holiday till the situation was completely brought under control.

Meanwhile, Abuja metropolis still has heavy traffic of vehicles as many residents are still in the city and transport fares are high. At Jabi Park, for example, Lagos-bound passengers had to pay between N8,000 and 10,000 as fare which was over 100 per cent above the old fare.

And the DPR’s failure to monitor the ongoing profiteering by oil marketers at the filling stations has culminated in a major windfall as the culprits rake in huge profits.

The Federal Government has ordered the DPR to embark on a 24-hour surveillance of petrol stations to ensure that sanity is restored in the sale of petroleum products.

Ajumogobia yesterday directed the DPR to deal decisively with the disorderliness.

Disclosing this to reporters at the department’s Corporate Head Office in Lagos yesterday, Agha said that the minister’s directive has prompted the DPR to clamp down on the menace being experienced at filling stations such as selling of petrol otherwise known as Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) in jerry cans, way/street peddling, restricted sale of fuel at the filling stations to the public, as well as hoarding.

According to the Director, the nation is in a state of emergency with the ongoing fuel crisis, noting that marketers are embarking on sharp practices to swindle the public by selling PMS at above the official price of N65 a litre.

Sources in the depots in Lagos told The Guardian yesterday that oil marketers are raking billions of naira from the scarcity.

One of the sources disclosed that marketers have taken the law into their hands by deregulating the nation’s downstream sector by hiking the sale of PMS.

According to the source, since the DPR was not ready to monitor the sale of products at the filling stations, they decided to sell at arbitrary price to make more profits.

But a DPR source, which spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity yesterday said that it was not as if the oil and gas regulator is not willing to monitor activities at the petrol stations but it was the timing.

He added that the concern of the Department was to ensure that products were available at the filling stations since the beginning of the Yuletide.

Meanwhile, the DPR’s director said that the department has set up 24-hour command and control centres in eight states for the public to report any filling station selling above the official price and in jerry cans.

They are in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Warri, Owerri, Calabar, Kaduna and Maiduguri.

Agha, however, solicited the cooperation of both the major and independent marketers with the government and DPR to ameliorate the problem, noting that they are also key stakeholders in the sector.

He added: “We are in a state of emergency now as you can see that the Federal Government is worried with the ongoing fuel crisis in the country. It is because of this situation that the Minister of State, Odein Ajumogobia has ordered us to embark on 24-hour monitoring activities at the filling stations in the country. So, the DPR has constituted itself to a 24-hour surveillance team.

Hitherto, we do only 24 hours in the terminals where we have fuel loading and also in the rig, where we have drilling operations. But on the land where we work in normal office hours, we go out to monitor what is going on in the filling station. But with this new directive, any DPR person(s) is authorised to walk into the filling station, be it at the middle of the night if he noticed anything going wrong and then report the matter to the Department. If he cannot deal with the situation decisively and he cannot get across to the Police as soon as possible, then, what will happen is that we will mark the filling station and the next day report appropriately to the police.”

Meanwhile, there were queues of motorists at various filling stations in Lagos yesterday while PMS was being sold between N100 and N120 a litre.



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