•371m litres in six cargoes, not 100m litres of petrol affected
*Regulatory agency admits high sulphur content in contaminated product
•Bad fuel withdrawn from circulation, say independent marketers
President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have yesterday expressed anger over the contaminated petrol in circulation across the country, a development that has disrupted the nation’s fuel supply chain for several days.
The president was said to have therefore ordered that the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), Mr. Farouk Ahmed, should be queried immediately.
Buhari, who was said to be visibly worried over the situation, leading to the return of long fuel queues in parts of the country, especially in Abuja, Lagos, Ogun, Port Harcourt and others, instructed the Minister of State, Petroleum, Mr. Timipre Sylva, to ask Ahmed to explain how the product came into the country.
An impeccable presidency source told THISDAY that Buhari felt that the first point to begin to unravel how the product came into the country and invariably began circulating should be the agency, which by law acts as the “police” of the downstream and midstream sector.
The Authority was created in August 2021 in line with the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) and encompasses a merger of three defunct regulatory agencies: Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Petroleum Equalisation Fund (Management) Board (PEFMB), and the Midstream and Downstream Divisions of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).
It is responsible for the regulation of the midstream and downstream petroleum operations in Nigeria which includes technical, operational, and commercial activities.
According to the source, who asked not be named, the minister who was at the Presidential Villa to brief the president, following the growing outrage over the issue, was directed to, in a short while, send the query to the CEO of the agency.
“This matter has become an embarrassment to this government. There’s no question that these cargoes of petrol were bad, so he (Ahmed) is being queried over how the fuel came into the country and the president has so instructed,” the presidency source explained.
When THISDAY sought to know why the midstream/downstream should be issued a query while the likely importer, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was seemingly being let off the hook, the source said while investigations were ongoing, the response of the agency would determine which other government agency or private individuals would be sanctioned.
“The reason the midstream/downstream authority is being queried first is that for now the bulk stops at its desk. They are the first port of call. Ordinarily, they are expected to know how it came into the country.
“This is because they are the police of the industry. How did it get past them into circulation? It is their job to know. They are the police which should stop bad fuel from coming into the country.
“So, the NNPC has not been queried for now. The question now is who certified the product clean enough to come into the country?
“When the investigation is done, then the federal government will know where the blame lies, but for now, the NNPC is just a company and doesn’t necessarily owe allegiance to government as it were, because it’s now just like every other company with a profit motive.
“On the other hand the authority is the regulator, they are supposed to flag any adulterated product so that it doesn’t come into the country. For now , the question the government is asking is: How did it come into the country. Who gave the permission or go-ahead? That is the question for now, then other steps will follow.
“It is on the basis of that the presidency can then apportion blames and sanction other culpable operators accordingly,” the presidency source added.
According to the source, the affected volume of products in circulation was more than the 100 million litres being bandied about, adding that it came in six cargoes.
“The actual figure is 317 million litres that came in six cargoes. So, the argument that it is isolated does not hold water,” the source alleged.
The current problematic supply of petrol has for days grounded movement in Abuja, Lagos and some other parts of the country, made worse by the shortage of inventory released from the sole importer, the NNPC.
The prevailing condition has ensured that in Abuja, especially, a majority of filling stations were shut even as motorists spent hours in the sun struggling to buy from the few that were open, causing serious traffic jams in parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The particular cargoes with the issue were said to have high sulphur content, while marketers have been advised not to sell to consumers.
In addition, it was learnt that the queues returned partly because the gap which existed when depot owners started hoarding products before the announcement of retention of subsidy by the federal government had not smoothened.
This has challenged the lifting of products to, especially Abuja and other parts of the north from Lagos, THISDAY gathered.
In a statement on the matter yesterday, the Authority admitted that “limited quantity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), commonly known as petrol, with methanol quantities above Nigeria’s specification was discovered in the supply chain.”
While stressing that methanol is a regular additive in petrol and usually blended in an acceptable quantity, the NMDPRA stated that to ensure vehicular and equipment safety, the limited quantity of the impacted product has been isolated and withdrawn from the market, including the loaded trucks in transit.
“Our technical team in conjunction with NNPC Ltd and other industry stakeholders, will continue to monitor and ensure quality petroleum products are adequately supplied and distributed nationwide,” it added.
According to the agency, the “source supplier” has been identified and further commercial and appropriate actions shall be taken by the Authority and NNPC Ltd.
In addition, it noted that the NNPC Ltd and all oil marketing companies had been directed to sustain sufficient distribution of petrol in all retail outlets nationwide.
Subsequently, the NDMPRA stated that the NNPC has intensified efforts at increasing the supply of the product into the market in order to bridge any unforeseen supply gap.
Meanwhile, in separate interviews on Arise Television, THISDAY’s broadcast arm, National President of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Mr. Chinedu Okoronkwo and the Vice President of the union, Mr. Abubakar Maigandi, confirmed that the bad products were being withdrawn from circulation.
While trying to play down the seriousness of the situation, Okoronkwo who absolved his members of any complicity in the matter, noted that “in any given situation, business-wise, sometimes you might have ups and downs”.
He added: “This time, we must let the world know that the Independent Marketers Association of Nigeria has never been part of any scarcity or whatever you may call it.
“Our own duty is to ensure that we get products and take to our station and retail to the masses. So moving forward, on the issue of this contaminated product, it is no more a hidden thing, but we have got an assurance from the NNPC that the fuel has been removed.
“And they have brought in new one now that we are now using. You know any ripples in the system for one or two days might exaggerate (extend) into one week,” he posited.
According to him, the hope was that the national oil company has now gotten its act together and had taken inventory of the contaminated product which had been withdrawn from circulation.
He argued that the complaints of vehicles breaking down had markedly subsided, meaning that good product was now in circulation, reassuring that the situation will normalise in days.
“If you look at the market, you know that people are still buying now, which means the good one is coming into the system,” he said.
Also in his remarks, Maigandi assured that: “By God’s grace, today or tomorrow, the product will be available nationwide.”
On the source of the bad fuel, he said: “All the marketers as you know, heavily depend on the NNPC. So we buy this product through the NNPC and private depots.
“That is the source of our getting this product. But, you know, in every business, sometimes there must be an issue. And this issue has already been understood without much damage.
“And NNPC is working seriously to see that they get the correct product so that the marketers will continue loading. Already, we have told all our marketers to stand by and we have started receiving decontaminated products.
“ You will see that the product will be available in most of our filling station nationwide. Normally we take precautionary measures immediately we bring the product into our filling stations,” he explained.
A day earlier, the South-West Zonal Chairman of IPMAN, Mr. Dele Tajudeen, had lamented that members of the association had suffered severe losses and may ask for damages from the authorities.