•Sylva apologises to Nigerians, insists no increment until conclusion of FG, Labour talks
•NNPC assures of adequate supply of product
•PPPRA deletes template announcing N212.68/litre pump Price
•Hike can attract mass protest, PDP cautions

In what appeared to be the most uncoordinated situation by agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, confusion, panic-buying and an attempt to profiteer by marketers ruled the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise called petrol, yesterday, following a template released by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), which increased petrol pump price to N212.68 per litre.

Long queues, traffic jam, an increase in the cost of transportation and the immediate shutdown of most petrol stations were the result of the situation across most parts of the country. However, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and PPPRA tried to manage the situation, insisting that the pump price remained unchanged.

Sylva, who gave the assurance while addressing newsmen in Lagos, yesterday, said: “Irrespective of the source of that information, I want to assure you that it is completely untrue.

“Neither Mr. President, who is the Minister of Petroleum Resources, nor myself, who deputise for him as minister of state, has approved that petrol price should be increased by one naira.

“I, therefore, urge you to disregard this misleading information.”

He informed that in the past few months, the government has been in consultation with organised labour to find the least painful option to respond to the global rise of crude price, which has inevitably led to increasing in petrol prices, adding that it was unthinkable that government would unilaterally abandon these discussions and act in the manner suggested by the information under reference.

Sylva maintained that cynicism and deceit have never been the trademark of the Buhari’s administration, noting: “I will like to equally assure you that the engagement with the organised labour and other stakeholders will continue, even as the calculations to arrive at a reasonable price regime are being done, all in good faith and you will be availed of the final outcome at the appropriate time.

“Until then, all marketers are strongly advised to maintain the current pump price of PMS before the emergence of this unfortunate information.”

He warned that those who may want to take advantage of this unfortunate information to extort Nigerians should not give in to such temptations, as there are regulatory mechanisms that government can enforce to protect its citizens.

“In conclusion, I want to sincerely apologise to all Nigerians for any distress and inconvenience the unfortunate information might have caused.”

In the same vein, the NNPC’s Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr. Kennie Obateru, while addressing newsmen in Abuja, said ex-deport price, which is the price at which oil marketers buy products at the depots and determines the price at which petrol stations would sell to motorists, will not increase.

Obateru urged Nigerians and motorists not to engage in panic buying, as the corporation had no plans to increase its ex-depot price.

“NNPC stands by that statement that we issued on March 1, that we are not increasing the ex-depot price in the month of March, and that is what it is.

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“There is no need for panicking and I can tell you from our own point of view that we will not increase the pump price of petrol and we are still standing by that March 1 decision.

“We have a sufficiency of product in the country and there is really no need for the public to panic. The ex-depot price for the NNPC is still at it is, it has not increased and in this month of March.”

Also, Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) denied any hike in the pump price of petrol.

Executive Secretary of MOMAN, Mr. Clement Isong, said the NNPC had assured members that they would not increase of prices in March, adding that the association has advised its members to continue retailing with the old price regime.

Similarly, President of IPMAN, Mr. Chinedu Okoronkwo, said marketers had received communication from NNPC that there would not be any price increment until the government and organised labour concluded their deliberations.

“There is no increment; the government is still talking with labour. What we are even concerned about is the total deregulation of the market. There are other alternative sources of energy to PMS and we cannot continue to focus all our attention only on that product.”

Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has cautioned that any increase in the pump price of petrol would amount to pushing Nigerians to the wall and a direct invitation to mass protest in the country.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said any such increase is capable of worsening an already tensed situation and lead to the economic and social crisis in the country.

The party noted that there is no way that Nigerians can survive such a hike, as it will worsen the already agonising economic situation in the country.

The PDP maintained that with an honest and transparent administration of our national production capacity and potentialities, the domestic price of fuel should not exceed N70 per liter.

“Nigerians have endured enough and it is our concern that any further increase in fuel price may become the last straw that might break the camel’s back.”

The party cautioned that with over 100 million citizens living in abject poverty, with an alarming 23 per cent unemployment rate and many more living below N500 a day, any increase in fuel price is capable of triggering a mass protest in the land.

The PDP charged the administration to save the nation the trouble by ending every contemplation of fuel price increase, particularly at this time Nigerians are expecting a downward review in prices, urging Nigerians “to remain calm, but very alert in readiness, within the ambit of the laws and opportunities granted under democracy, to stand up for, rescue and defend our national patrimony and collective wealth.”

Barely few weeks after similar situation left untold hardship on many Nigerian, especially with increase in cost of transport and food items, petrol queues returned to Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos, Oyo and other major cities, as black market price soared to N350 per litre.

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Ironically, following the outrage that greeted the increase in the price of petrol, the PPPRA deleted an earlier published template announcing that the new price. This came hours after the agency published the template on its website, http://pppra.gov.ng/pms-guiding-price-for-march-2021/, and after the NNPC insisted that there was no increment in the ex-depot price of petrol.

PPPRA later issues a release signed by its Executive Secretary, Abdulkadir Saidu, stating that guiding prices posted on its website was only indicative of current market trends and do not translate to an increase in pump price of PMS.

“The Agency wishes to remind the general public of the introduction of the Market-Based Pricing Regime for PMS Regulation 2020, as gazetted by the Federal Government. Based on this regulation, prices are expected to be determined by market realities in line with the dictates of market forces,” Saidu said.

While assuring the public of adequate products supply, as the average PMS Day-Sufficiency is over 35 days, the PPPRA pledged to ensure the downstream sector remains vibrant and support both government and members of the public.

Notwithstanding, most fuel stations in Kubwa Expressway and Airport Road in the FCT witnessed long queues, with some shutting down, just as black marketers were seen selling 10 litre keg for N3, 500, which is N350 per litre.

In Ibadan, a motorist, who identified himself as Tunde Owolabi, said the development was unbearable, as he had been moving across fuel stations in search of petrol.

A Lagos resident, Victoria Onoja, said the development left her in traffic gridlock for over three hours for a trip that ordinarily takes her 20 minutes.

In Enugu, marketers hiked the price to N210, despite the denial of an increase in the pump price of petrol.

Queues also returned to the petrol stations in the state, as dealers who opened in the morning shut their stations later in the day, apparently in response to the uncertainty over the right prices of petrol. Few major marketers selling at the old price of N167 per liter had to contend with long queues of vehicles.

Independent marketers, who sold petrol at N169 per liter on Thursday evening, adjusted their meters immediately to N210 per liter. Many of them were not ready to respond to inquiries on the sudden price increase, but one of the dealers, who refused to disclose his name, said: “Government has increased fuel prices and we decided to adjust the pumps.”

Reminded that the “new price” was still being contemplated, he added: “We need to respond immediately because we will certainly meet the new rate when we return to the market.”

Residents expressed dismay over the sharp increase, stressing that the government had become insensitive to the plight of the ordinary Nigerians.

Mr. Emeka Odimba said it was unfortunate that “marketers could hike their prices even when there is no confirmation that a new template is in existence. They are just suffering ordinary people for nothing. This is not how to be a leader.”

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In Kano, the state branch of Ipman dissociated itself from the new pump price, insisting it had not received any official communication from anybody on the fuel price hike.

Its Chairman, Bashir Ahmad Dan Malam, at a press conference, directed members to disregard the rumours and continue dispensing the at the old price.

Dan-Mallam told newsmen that whenever there is fuel increment, critical stakeholders ought to have been informed. He worried why IPMAN leadership would be ignored before reaching such a hard decision.

The pump price of petrol has been dramatic since the Federal Government last year opted for deregulation and tried to end decades of a subsidy regime, which has been marred in corruption.

While the pump price had consistently maintained upward review, a face-off between labour and the Federal Government has kept the government in a tight corner. Trying to manage backlash, the government had since last month accepted a daily loss of about an N2billion after deferring price increase in February and March.

Apart from queues, speculation earlier this month, The Guardian gathered, created an avenue for some marketers to return to smuggling or hoarding, as Nigeria’s daily consumption witnessed over 25 million litre surge.

With petrol selling for an average of N400 per litre in most neighbouring countries, smuggling or hoarding products in anticipation of price increase enable marketers to make an arbitrary gain.

While Nigeria’s consumer price index (CPI), which measures inflation, increased by 16.47 per cent in January this year, labour unions have been at loggerhead with the government to implement a minimum wage of N30, 000 ($79).

Considering that the Federal Government had last year deregulated the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, forces of demand and supply, particularly, crude oil price, which now stands around $67 per barrel, and exchange rate, which stands above N400 per $1, are basic indicators of the local pump price.

The pump price of petrol was initially downward when the sector was deregulated because of the low price of petrol. Afterwards, it rose from N121.50 to N123.50 per litre in June; N140.80 to N143.80 in July and N148 to N150 in August last year. In September, pump prices rose further to N158 and N162 per litre.

An attempt to increase the pump price in December last year met stiff opposition, as labour unions dragged the government to a standstill. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which were furious over repeated hikes in petrol price, forced the government into a dialogue, where NNPC agreed to slash N5 from N167.44, a development that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said would bring down the price of petrol to N162.44K.

With the increase in crude oil price as economies reopen worldwide, labour returned to its earlier position, as Sylva and Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mele Kyari, hinted of a possible rise in the pump price of petrol, in line with the deregulation regime, a development that has currently led to another roundtable discussion, where the governors had to intervene.

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