Fuel queues return to Lagos, persist in Abuja, others …as oil workers begin strike today

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Kamarudeen Ogundele, Adelani Adepegba, Okechukwu Nnodim and ’Femi Asu

The lingering petrol scarcity in many parts of the country grew worse on Sunday in Lagos, Abuja, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Niger states as many filling stations were shut.

The closure of the filling stations followed threats by members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria to embark on a nationwide strike from today (Monday).

Many fillings stations that dispensed petrol last week refused to sell the commodity on Sunday, as some of their managers stated that they were obeying the directives of PENGASSAN.

Officials of PENGASSAN told one of our correspondents that the Department of State Services had invited the association to a meeting, which commenced at 6pm on Sunday and was still ongoing as of the time of filing this report.

A source, who is an executive of a Lagos-based oil marketing company, told our correspondent that the lingering supply shortfall was largely responsible for the queues at filling stations.

He said a new vessel, which came in on Friday and had started discharging about 35 million litres of PMS, would improve the supply situation at depots and filling stations this week.

It was observed that some filling stations in Lagos and parts of Ogun states as well as Abuja and neighbouring states were shut on Sunday, while the few that sold petrol had very long queues that spilled onto the roads.

The Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Ndu Ughamadu, told one of our correspondents on Sunday that the management of the firm was meeting officials of PENGASSAN.

“As we speak right now, the NNPC is holding consultation with the association on this matter and we are optimistic,” he said.

When asked if there was any plan to increase the pump price of petrol based on claims by some government officials, Ughamadu replied, “We have said it many times that there is no plan by the NNPC to increase petrol price and that is the situation.”

On the meeting with the DSS, the Public Relations Officer, PENGASSAN, Fortune Obi, said it was as a result of the planned strike by the association.

He stated, “At the moment, nothing has changed but we will be having a meeting with the Department of State Services by 6pm today (Sunday). That is the latest development. However, we will still go ahead with our Central Working Committee meeting tomorrow (Monday).

“The meeting with the DSS should be basically on the strike issue and I think the management officials of Neconde are likely going to be at the meeting.”

When told that the decision by PENGASSAN to embark on a nationwide industrial action had led to long queues in filling stations, Obi replied, “More of such will happen because there is a directive to members to shut down operations and some of them have already started, which is why some outlets are not dispensing.”

PENGASSAN had announced last week that it would embark on an indefinite strike from today (Monday) following a stalemate in the peace meeting, which the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, brokered between the union and Neconde Energy Limited.

The oil union and Neconde had been embroiled in a crisis over allegation of anti-worker practices by the firm.

The union alleged that the management of Neconde wrongly terminated the employment of some of its workers, and threatened to go on strike if the sacked workers were not recalled within 72 hours.

It was also gathered that officials of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment were meeting with the association to shelve the strike in order to prevent further hardship on petrol users.

The Federal Government appealed to PENGASSAN to shelve its planned strike in the spirit of the ongoing conciliation between it and Neconde Energy Services.

It said that the appeal was imperative in order to save Nigerians from further hardship, especially in the Christmas and the New Year seasons.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, in a statement in Abuja on Sunday, asked the Central Working Committee of PENGASSAN to reconsider its decision.

He urged the union to respect the agreement and call off the scheduled action in the interest of the nation, “more so when adequate notice of strike was not given.”

The statement by the Deputy Director, Press, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Samuel Olowookere, noted that Ngige had on December 13 and 14, 2017 brokered long hours of conciliation between PENGASSAN and Neconde Energy Services and secured an agreement.

It added that with the agreement, the impending action by PENGASSAN was effectively arrested in line with the provisions of the relevant labour laws whose powers were invested in the minister.

“By that agreement, Neconde shall invite the sacked branch chairman of PENGASSAN and hold heart-to-heart discussion with him, while PENGASSAN is to hold back the proposed action pending the reconvening of the meeting in the second week of January 2018 when other contending issues relating to other oil companies would also be sorted out,” the ministry explained.

The Executive Secretary, Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association, Mr. Olufemi Adewole, said the queues would not disappear overnight, adding, “Once there is a gap, you need to double or triple your effort to bridge the shortfall and bring everything back to normal. It’s taking quite a while but we are working on it.

“I know some of our members have started loading; when I say loading, they are receiving from the NNPC; so, once it gets to their depots, they will start trucking out.”

However, the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, accused the Federal Government of deliberately causing the current fuel scarcity so as to be able to justify the planned increment of the pump price of petrol from N145 to N185 per litre.

He accused the Federal Government of being insensitive to the plight of Nigerians by allowing the scarcity to continue for two weeks now.

The governor stated this in a statement by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, on Sunday.

Fayose said, “Petrol is scarce across the country because the Federal Government deliberately reduced supply since it is only the NNPC that is importing the product.

“Allowing fuel scarcity to persist for over two weeks when Nigerians are preparing to celebrate Christmas and New Year is the height of wickedness on the part of the All Progressives Congress Federal Government.

“Funny enough, instead of directing its anger on President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Minister of Petroleum, on December 7, 2017, the Federal Executive Council chose to give the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, a seven-day ultimatum to end the fuel scarcity.

“Today is December 17, exactly 10 days after the misplaced ultimatum was given, the situation has even got worse.”

“By the time the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria goes on strike as being threatened, the whole country will be shut down and one wonders what will become of Nigerians who desire to move around during the festive season.”

Fayose, who said it was necessary for the government to tell Nigerians the truth about the situation of fuel supply in the country, noted that it was the restriction of supply to the NNPC alone that had put Nigerians in hardship.

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