The Senate on Thursday asked the Federal Government to take immediate step to avert looming fuel scarcity in the country.
The upper chamber said that the advice became even more compelling with the Christmas festivities by the corner.
Senate’s position followed the alarm raised by Senator Kabiri Marafa over alleged failure of the Federal Government to honour its obligation to pay oil marketers.
Marafa who is Chairman Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), told his colleagues that the grim reality was that if measures were not taken to pay the oil marketers their outstanding entitlements, the country might be the worse for it.
The Zamfara Central senator in a motion unanimously adopted told his colleagues that the Federal Government was yet to pay oil marketers about N1 trillion outstanding entitlements accumulated over the years.
He said that the controversial debt dated back to President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
Although the upper chamber resolved to urged the Federal Government to do the needful to prevent unpleasant consequences, the lawmakers also asked the marketers to, as a matter of national interest, rescind their seven-day ultimatum to the Federal Government.
The oil marketers, the Senate said, should allow the government to take the necessary action.
The Senate also urged the government to direct all the relevant agencies to immediately pay the subsidy arrears as approved by Federal Executive Council and the National Assembly.
It urged the Presidency to engage marketers and agree on outstanding liabilities with a view to bringing an end to the disagreement.
It said that marketers and the Debt Management Office (DMO) should engage themselves to agree on the instrument to be used in payment.
Marafa in his motion noted that independent oil marketers provide facilities and services that compliment government storage facilities and services in the supply and distribution of petroleum products across the country.
He said that he is aware that the Federal Government owed the marketers subsidy arrears accruing from 2006 which led to the request by the President. C-in-C to the National Assembly for approval of “the establishment of a promissory note programme and bond issuance to settle inherited local debts and contractual obligations’ of which the subsidy arrears fall.
Marafa also noted that the debt have forced some marketers out of market while most the marketers are currently being subjected to Mareva Injunctions.
He recalled that the National Assembly processed and passed the president’s request on Wednesday, 18″ and Tuesday, 24th July, 2018 respectively which was forwarded to the Ministry of Finance for payment.
He observed that after the passage of the Executive request by the National Assembly,the Debt Management Office (DMO) introduced very stringent measures for the issuance of the promissory note to include:
a. Document review by an International Accounting Firm; b. 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 c. A reverse auction for the issuance of the notes:
Marafa also observed that the procedure of document review by an International Accounting Firm after it was authenticated by the Presidential Initiative for Cantatas Audit (PICA), approved by FEC and passed by the National Assembly is a wrong process that calls for questions.
He expressed concern that the Marketers objected to the processes and reacted by issuing a 7 day ultimatum from Tuesday, 27th November, 2018 to DMO to not only pay but also revert and adhere to the agreement reached in a meeting with the Ag. President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo in June, 2017 failure of which, the marketers threatened to sack their workers as they can no longer cope to pay salaries from December, 2018.
He said that he is aware that government through NNPC has provided adequate supply of fuel at government price across the country to ensure a hitch free Christmas, New Year and through the election period:
He expressed worry that the action of the marketers if not well checked may result into artificial fuel scarcity that may span through the election period.
Marafa said that he is more worried that the attendant consequences will impact negatively on Nigerian masses by default.
He said that the continuous delay in the payment of the arrears have increased debt from about N429 billion to close to one trillion naira between June, 2017 to date and will continue to increase due to bank interest charges and forex.
Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan gave the synopsis of the approval given by the Senate to pay the marketers.
His suspicion, he said, is that there might be some people plotting to sabotage the government.
Senators Ibrahim Dambaba and Emmanuel Paulker, said the Presidency was sabotaging itself.
Dambaba and Paulker specifically noted that the Presidency should be held responsible for the looming crisis.
Dambaba said: “In actual sense, some of us have reservations on the issue of how this liability came to be.
“It is not a question of anybody attempting to sabotage the government. Who is responsible for calling the relevant agencies to order.
“As long as people are not held responsible for their short comings, we will continue to have this problem.
“There is no issue of sabotage in this matter. If there is anything like that, it is the government that is sabotaging itself.”
Paulker on his part said: “I recall that one of the cheap political points scored by this administration was this issue of subsidy when they came to power.
“This government owes the generality of Nigerians to give supply of fuel without any restrictions. It is a sad commentary that from about N429 billion approved by this Senate, we are now talking about around N1 trillion.
“Is there no leadership that can put punitive measures to sanction those within who are trying to sabotage the government?”
Senator Barnabas Gemade questioned the rationale behind the motion.
The Benue North East senator noted since the Senate had already approved payment for the arrears, there was no need to revisit the issue.
For him, the executive arm should fulfill its own financial obligations to marketers to avoid the looming fuel scarcity crisis.
Gemade said: “The matter that has passed the required procedure and the only remaining duty is that of implementation and all agencies responsible for that are under executive. 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.”
Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided, said that the executive arm should initiate steps to honour its financial obligations to the oil marketers to avoid the crisis.
He said: “Government should be able to keep to its agreement with people, not just these marketers. Once you reach an agreement, that agreement has to be kept.”