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The nationwide strike by oil workers led to long fuel queues in the Federal Capital Territory, Benue, Kwara and Plateau states as hundreds of motorists besieged the few filing stations that sold petrol on Monday.
In Lagos, the situation was normal until the evening when our correspondents noticed queues in many stations in the city.
But the development slowed down commercial activities in the Federal Capital Territory where many commuters were stranded for hours at various bus stops.
One of our correspondents visited some ministries and agencies and observed that their often crowded car parks were virtually empty.
An official of the Federal Ministry of Environment, who gave his name simply as Nnamdi, said, “This strike came as a surprise. I was lucky to make it to work this(Monday) morning and you can see that the place is virtually empty. Many workers are stranded because many stations had no fuel to sell due to the strike by oil and gas workers.”
Black market operators cashed in on the scarcity by selling the product in jerrycans on the major roads and streets in the FCT at prices above the pump price of N97.
The situation was the same in Makurdi, Gboko, Kastina – Ala, Oturkpo and Ukum Local Government Areas of Benue State, where motorists paid between N105 and N135 instead of N97. On the streets, the product sold for as much as N200 per litre.
Commercial drivers and private car owners told our correspondent in the state that the scarcity would cause untold hardship to the people, especially as Christmas approaches.
Our correspondent in Kwara State observed that over 90 per cent of the filling stations in llorin which were selling fuel before 8am on Monday, suddenly locked their entrance .
The managers of the filling stations declined comments but surprised motorists described their action as shocking.
One of the motorists, Kunle Ajana, said, “What I am witnessing here now is surprising. Some of my friends bought fuel in the morning and I am surprised that I cannot find anywhere to buy now.”
In Jos, Plateau State, there were also long queues in the afternoon at most of the filling stations which initially sold petrol in the morning.
At the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Mega station in the city, the queue stretched to about two kilometres, thereby causing traffic congestion along the major high-ways in the city.
However, motorists in Oyo and Delta states did not experience any difficulty as most stations were seen dispensing fuel.
At the NNPC depot in Apata, Ibadan, normal activities went on even as black market operators still sold fuel at N90 per litre instead of N97.
An attendant in one of the fuel stations in Boluwaji area of Ibadan told The PUNCH that there was no instruction from the owner of the station to them to stop selling petroleum products.
“The owner of this place is in Lagos. We called him to take instruction concerning the scarcity but he said that we should continue to sell fuel. We took delivery of 33,000 litres on Saturday so we have plenty of petrol in our tanks,” he said.
Our correspondent in Delta State learnt that junior workers under the umbrella of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas did not join in the strike.
The NNPC depot in Warri did not close down as petroleum marketers loaded their trucks with ease on Monday.
When one of our correspondents visited the NNPC Ejigbo depot in Lagos on Monday afternoon,loading activities were also going on.
The Lagos Zonal Chairman, PENGASSAN, Mr. Abel Agarin, said, “The people you saw at Ejigbo are NUPENG members who were allowed to load. But immediately we got there, workers from the PEF who were signing their documents and the DPR workers were asked to stop working.”
He said that some tankers that loaded earlier in the day at the depot were allowed to move out because of the danger they posed if left there.
Agarin added, “In Lagos, most depots were shut and there was no loading. After Ejigbo depot, we went to Mobil on Mobil Road. We also visited Oando loading bay. At the Apapa depot and those owned by Mobil and Oando, there was total compliance. There was work by NUPENG members at Total depot which was later stopped in the course of the day.
“But by tomorrow (today), I believe that loading activities would not take place there.
In the early hours of Monday, trucks were seen loading products at Apapa depots in Lagos but at a reduced pace. Our correspondent gathered from oil marketers that the Petroleum Tanker Drivers arm of NUPENG in the state were yet to join the strike.
But a petrol tanker driver, who identified himself as Shola, said that some depots were having difficulties exiting their trucks from the point of loading.
He also said that trucks ready to leave Lagos for other states were being constrained by the Petroleum Equalisation Fund processes.
PEF is a parastatal of the Federal Government established by law to equalise the cost of transporting petroleum products from product depots to filling stations.
This is to ensure that petroleum products are made available at uniform prices throughout Nigeria.
To operate the price equalisation mechanism, marketers whose petrol stations are located close to depots contribute to the Equalisation Fund while others with petrol stations farther away from depots make claim from the Fund.
The President, PENGASSAN, Mr. Francis Johnson, said the unions had issued a 15-day ultimatum to the government before embarking on the strike.
“Before we met on October 30 and 31, the two unions had met in Enugu. We issued an ultimatum, which expired on November 15. After the expiration of the ultimatum, we also engaged government agencies and the international oil companies involved, but it was not fruitful. We don’t like Nigerians to go through what is going on now,” he added.
The Media and Information Officer, PENGASSAN, Mr. Babatunde Oke, however said that the Federal Government had invited the two unions for a meeting in Abuja on Tuesday (today).
He said that “in Warri, there was no loading, but NUPENG members were seen wearing red to signify their protest. In Port Harcourt, there was total compliance in all oil and gas locations, including the upstream and midstream as the loading bays were shut.
“In Kaduna and Abuja, there was total compliance on the part of PENGASSAN members. In Kaduna, the gate of the Kaduna Refinery was shut and no entrance was allowed . There was no loading also in Kaduna.”
Oke added that “earlier on Monday morning, the NNPC towers was opened for business and workers were at their desks but they were later called to stop work at about 11.45 a.m.”
Meanwhile, the NNPC has assured the public that the strike would not dislocate the distribution and sale of fuel to members of the public.
The Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, NNPC, Mr. Ohi Alegbe, said the NNPC was in talks with the leadership of the unions which gave the assurance that they would not disrupt the fuel supply and distribution system as the strike was basically aimed at addressing the anti-labour issues by some of the international oil companies.
The corporation and its downstream subsidiary, the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, also revealed that it had over 32 days stock of petroleum products available for supply across the nation during the Yuletide season and beyond.
It said 17 additional petroleum laden vessels were at the Lagos Port waiting to discharge to the various depots for onward distribution to members of the public.
It further assured that everything was being done to ensure that there was no hitch whatsoever in the supply system that could bring any form of hardship to motorists and those who intend to travel during the period.
The NNPC advised marketers to desist from hoarding or diversion of petroleum products as those caught would be sanctioned.
The Head, Public Affairs Department of the Petroleum Resources, Ms. Dorothy Bassey, told one of our correspondents on the telephone that there were still meetings going on to resolve the issues raised by the oil and gas workers.
She said at the management level, work would continue to go on at the DPR until the situation was brought under control.
The oil and gas workers are protesting the failure of the Federal Government to carry out turnaround maintenance of the nation’s four refineries, the non-reduction of pump price of petrol in line with the slump in global prices of crude oil and the delayed passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill.
They had vowed that the strike would continue until the government addressed their grievances, which also included the non-implementation of the Nigeria Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act.