Fuel queues resurfaced in Abuja, Jos and some other parts of the country yesterday as news of a three-day warning strike embarked upon by members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, and the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, made the rounds.
In Abuja, motorists had resorted to panic buying, following the announcement of the strike as virtually all the filling stations visited yesterday were dispensing fuel but were crowded by motorists.
National Mirror reports that the queues started building up at about 5.15am and before noon virtually all filling stations had been jam packed by motorists scrambling to refill their tanks. Our correspondent reports that the queues, which kept growing by the minute, caused heavy traffic gridlock around the adjourning roads to the filling stations.
At the Olusegun Obasanjo Way which has three filling stations including NNPC Mega Station, Oando, and Forte Oil, the queues extended to about two kilometres. Furthermore, from Wuse to Maitama, Asokoro to Area 1, and Jabi areas, the story was the same causing traffic jam as better parts of the roads were taken over by queuing motorists.
Also black market sales thrived as fuel hustlers were seen clustered at every strategic junction with gallons of the commodity chasing motorists. Those who could not bear the queues bought 10 litres for as much as N2,000, while motorists who waited in queues spent long hours in their cars hoping to refill.
“I have been on this queue for more than two hours. This is madness. What shall we call this one again. Is it that fuel is scarce or what is happening?” queried Hajia Amiretu Salami. Most of the motorists decried the three-day warning strike noting that the oil workers action would affect Nigerians now that the Christmas was at the corner.
A civil servant, Mr. Aboki Danladi, said that the strike was ill-timed and would impact negatively on the masses. “The strike is very unfortunate. Why are the unions on strike at this critical time when Nigerians are trying to celebrate Christmas? “This is not good for the masses, the whole trouble will be on the masses as usual,” Danladi said.
Mr Alex Felix, an engineer with a telecom company, said now that Nigerians were preparing to travel for the yuletide, it was not the proper time to strike.
“I am sure, unless otherwise, many people will not be able to travel for the Christmas and New Year festivities due to scarcity of petroleum product should it continued.
“It is not even the matter of travelling but you know petrol touches virtually all aspect of Nigerians’ lives,” Felix said. Felix urged the government to as a matter of urgency carry out the Turn- Around-Maintenance, TAM, of the refineries and all other issues related therein.
Hajia Salmat Bello, a business woman, called on both the government and the two associations to work out modalities that would resolve the issues.
In Jos, Plateau State, residents have started feeling the impact of the strike as a litre of petrol was being sold for between N110 and N115. Most of the filling stations within the Jos metropolis increased their pump price, while those selling at the official price of N97 had long queues.
In Lagos, most filling stations did not see any unusual activity as motorists drove in and out without much hassle although operational hitches from loading depots had triggered a slight supply disruption last week.
But there are fears that the nation’s commercial capital may start experiencing scarcity from today as there were no fresh product supply in most of the filling stations.
The striking workers had threatened to shut down all sector activities in a statement on Sunday but the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, said discussions were ongoing to address issues raised and the action will not affect supply and distribution of petroleum products.
The NNPC, in a statement issued yesterday by Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Mr. Ohi Alegbe, advised fuel consumers to avoid panic buying or stockpiling of petroleum products as that could lead to needless queues or cause fire accidents with resultant loss of lives and property.
NNPC said it was in talks with the leadership of the unions who 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, IOCs.
The corporation and its subsidiary, the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, PPMC, also assured that it has over 32 days stock of petroleum products available for supply across the nation during the Yuletide season and beyond.
It also said 17 additional petroleum laden vessels were at the Lagos Port waiting to discharge fuel for transportation to the various depots. 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 statement also warned fuel marketers against hoarding or diversion of petroleum products as any marketer caught in the act would be sanctioned.
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity has scheduled a meeting with NUPENG and PENGASSAN in Abuja today to resolve the ongoing strike. This is contained in a statement by the Media Officer of PENGASSAN, Babatunde Oke, in Abuja yesterday.
“The Federal Government has invited the two unions for a meeting in Abuja where the affected stakeholders will be in attendance tomorrow (Tuesday) by 11a.m. “The meeting is at the instance of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity and the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources,” the statement said. It said there was total compliance to the strike in some of the oil installations in the country.
The statement said there was no loading in Lagos as most of the depots were shut and all offices were closed; where some staffers were seen, there was no work. “At Ejigbo Depot, some tankers that loaded earlier in the day were restricted but later allowed to move out of the depot because of the danger attached.
“At Apapa depots owned by Mobil and Oando, there was total compliance. “But there was skeletal work by NUPENG members at Total Depot; it was later stopped in the course of the day,” it said.
It said in Warri and Port Harcourt refineries, there were total compliance in all oil and gas locations, including the upstream and midstream as the loading bays were shut.
According to the statement, in Kaduna and Abuja, there was total compliance on the part of PENGASSAN members. It said the gate of Kaduna Refinery was shut and no entrance was allowed into the premises and there was no loading also.
“Earlier in the morning, the NNPC towers were opened for business and workers were at their desks but they were later called to stop work at about 11.45 a.m,” the statement added. According to the statement, members of PENGASSAN are fully mobilised for the strike, while few members of NUPENG are working at some of the agencies.
The two main oil workers’ unions said the strike would affect all levels of oil and gas operations from production to distribution. The unions frequently threaten strikes but do not follow through. A strike in September caused little disruption to the sector.
Natural gas supplies through the West Africa Gas Pipeline, WAPCO, from Nigeria to Ghana were briefly halted but not long enough to hurt the economy.
The workers are protesting the government’s inability to effectively maintain the country’s refineries and reduce prices at the pump in line the 45 per cent slump in global oil prices. They are also aiming to push the government to evolve new ways of combating pipeline vandalism and oil theft. -NationalMirrow