Fuel scarcity looms as Apapa road reconstruction commences

…Tanker drivers can’t assess fuel

…FG gives drivers 7 days ultimatum to vacate

…Depot owners begin strike over $2bn debt

Unless government intervenes, Nigerians may soon experience another round of gruelling petroleum products scarcity as the otherwise relative stability in the supply chain may soon be disrupted.

This likely avoidable fuel scarcity was the consequence of the long neglected Lagos ports access roads which have now degenerated to a crisis point.

Event though, government, as if whipped out of its lethargy, sluggishly rose to its responsibility when it eventually signed a N4.34billion MoU with Dangote Group and Floor Mills to rehabilitate the road.

Ironically, the commencement of the reconstruction work has now make the road impassable for port users, especially tanker drivers who claimed they now queue for days before they could access fuel depots for product lifting.

As if that was not enough, government has also given the drivers seven -day notice to remove their trucks from the road to enable the construction work begins.

To now compound the issue, the owners of the product depots for which the queuing tankers were struggling to access before they were given quit notice, have threatened to shut their facility for use due to the debilitating debt burden.

The South-West Chairman of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Alhaji Tokunbo Korodo expressed worry that the gridlock being experienced by petroleum tankers and articulated vehicles on Apapa-Wharf Road may result to fuel scarcity.

Korodo lamented  that since the inauguration of reconstruction of the road, petroleum tanker drivers had been on queue, finding it difficult to gain access to the tank farms to get products.

He said the tank farms within the Apapa Marine Bridge Road received petroleum products from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation which was to be distributed by petroleum tankers to different parts of the country.

He, however, warned that the reconstruction of the road would affect the movement of articulated vehicles to the port, adding that it was also taking its toll on tanker drivers as they now find it difficult loading at tank farms in the area.

“The reconstruction work on Apapa Wharf Road will affect loading of our petroleum tankers at the depots. Since the inauguration of reconstruction works, our tankers have queued up on the roads finding it difficult to gain access to tank farms.

“Even queuing of articulated vehicles, going to the port has blocked the access road and tankers have been on the same spot for three days now.

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“We want to apply to NNPC to use its System 2B distribution channel to pump products to its depots in Mosinmi, Ejigbo, Ibadan, Ilorin and Ore so that most of the tankers will stop coming to Apapa to load.

“It is irrational now for tankers to come and load at Apapa tank farms because the access roads are blocked and traffic is the order of the day,’’ declared.

While the tanker drivers were lamenting their inability to access tank farm depots to load products, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Godwin Eke, has given them one week ultimatum to evacuate their trucks from the roads.

At the stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos with representatives of telecommunication service providers, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), transport unions, port operators, Shippers Unions and AG Dangote Construction Company Ltd, the construction company handling the project, Eke, after extensive deliberation with them, directed the tankers to immediately vacate the roads while service providers were to quickly relocate their cables from the right of way.

“We need to do something urgently to ensure smooth running of the project. When the project starts, we will not be able to wait for companies to relocate utility services, so I am appealing to all stakeholders to act fast in the interest of us all.

“Leave the roads so that this contractor, AG Dangote Construction Company Ltd, can begin excavation on site,’’ he directed.

Before the order could sink in, members of the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA) also declared their intention to shut down their facilities and lay off staff from  July 1st.

DAPPMA said its members have been groaning under massive debts totaling $2billion accruing from fuel subsidy payments and the accompanying foreign exchange and interest rate differentials being owed them by the Nigerian government.

These, said DAPPMA, has put its members under unbearable pressure from financial institutions in the shape of threats of liquidation of their businesses and assets on account of mounting interest payments and effects of devaluation arising from the protracted non-payment of subsidy claims.

The situation, DAPPMA added, has manifested in members ‘ inability to meet operating expenses due to the devaluation of the naira from N197 to N285 and later to over N305 to $1 between 2014 and 2015 as well as that accrued during the subsidy regime.

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It has equally yoked members of the association with a baggage arising from banks’ unwillingness to provide fresh credit because they have overshot prescribed sectoral limits. Banks, explained the association, have also refused to refinance existing loans.

In addition, DAPPMA complained of the stifling dominance of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of the product importation and distribution processes, which they said are to the advantage of a few inclined towards sharp practices and who regularly connive with NNPC officials.

DAPPMA similarly complained that its members have been rendered incapable of using the assets in which they have invested huge resources, including tank farms, as a result of their poor cash flow made worse by banks’ reluctance to fund transactions because of their already huge existing obligations.

“Despite several meetings and promises, including an earlier one with the Chief of Staff to the President, which was followed by the audience granted by the acting President to downstream operators on the 23 and 24 May, after which the acting President directed the Minister of Finance to settle all verified claims within two weeks, the operators have not been able to get what is due to them as they believe that the government is beginning to take them for granted,” the association said.

It explained that this arose from the fact that the market has witnessed a relatively even supply of petroleum products in recent times.

DAPPMA, however, stated that its members and other independent marketers have been crucial in ensuring adequate product supply to the North from the Niger Delta despite the congestion in the Apapa Axis, Lagos, which has hampered product supply. This, the association claimed, is because its members and others have considerable storage capacities.

Another complaint made by the association is related to foreign exchange allocations by the NNPC, which it described as lopsided and injurious to its members’ well-being. This, DAPPMA explained, has rendered over 198 tank farms and depots redundant. DAPPMA added that NNPC’s intervention has ignored market realities and remains opaque.

“We are actually tired of the antics of NNPC, which has resorted to sharp practices in all aspects of petroleum product supplies and yet, incurring a huge subsidy bill with taxpayers monies,” said DAPPMA.

The situation now remains gloomy and uncertain as a result of these three interwoven variables that have combined and threatened to force another round of avoidable fuel scarcity down the throat of already brutalised Nigerians.