Only the full involvement of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the petroleum products distribution process can curb the menace of smuggling of fuel in the country, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, has said.
The Group Managing Director (GMD), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari, who agreed with the Minister said since the involvement of the anti-graft agency and other security operatives in the process, the daily truck out of premium motor spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol, from the fuel depots has dropped from over 103 million litres to an average od between 60 and 70 million litres.
The Minister and the NNPC GMD spoke on Tuesday in Abuja at a stakeholders meeting organized by the NNPC on how to best to stop smuggling of petroleum products in the country.
Sylva called for synergy between the NNPC and other agencies involved in the petroleum products distribution and supply process, including Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF), Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other security agencies in the country to tackle the increasing menace of smuggling of fuel across the nation’s porous borders.
The Minister said the only solution to halting the criminality surrounding the smuggling of petrol was for all stakeholders to work together to halt the trend.
When he came in as minister, Sylva said he was informed that the country was consuming an average of 60 to 62 million litres a day.
The Minister, who noted the figure sounded a little bit outrageous, considering the number of cars on the country’s roads, said he was shocked ro have learnt the petrol consumption figure in May was about 103 million litres per day.
The Minister said somehow the figures have come down today to around 52 million litres a day.
“Maybe the number of vehicles in the country ihave suddenly reduced,” he said.
“But you will agree with me that something is wrong somewhere. That is why the tracking of trucks loading products is essential for us to move forward on this issue of subsidy removal.
“I will like to put it on record that whatever we are trying to do in the area of deregulation policy in the downstream sector of the petroleum inductry will not make sense without us knowing the actual consumption level of PMS in the country,” the Minister added.
Sylva said illegal export of petroleum products through the borders, whether land or sea, must be stopped if smuggling od the commodity is to stop, adding that Operation White commissioned in 2020 would not work effectively until the EFCC was brought into the picture.
“I believe that with the EFCC in the picture, the system will work better. And I know that Petroleum Equalisation Fund is working on product tracking arrangement to check the problem. For me, I am happy to see that the EFCC is working with us, and if we can get this right, I think our movement toward deregulation will be better assured,’’ the Minister said.
For GMD of NNPC who convened the meeting the current situation has kept the country bleeding, as the government could not sustain the payment of subsidy that has accompanied the importation and supply of over 100 million litres of petrol daily .
Kyari said the introduction of Operation White and involvement of the EFCC helped the situation, adding “from the truck out report from the PPPRA data base, the load out average has collapsed from 70 million litres to 60 million litres in just one month.
He said what that means is that the country consumes less than 70 million litres.
“I don’t know where the balance goes to. But we know for sure that it is not consumed in this country,” Kyari said.
“In very recent data, we see what we really want in the beginning of May and June, there was a day we loaded out about 103 million litres of PMS within one day across the depots.
“We know it is not required. We know it is inappropriate and we also know that something wrong is happening, that somebody is chasing something.
“But we in NNPC, we are not in control of that. We are not in every depot. We don’t keep products in all the depots. But when the volume goes down, it comes down to us. When there is tightness in supply, it comes back to the NNPC and we solve the problem,’’ he said.
The NNPC boss said President Muhammadu Buhari had directed that smuggling of petroleum products must stop, adding that it was the reason for inviting all stakeholders to chart the way forward.
He said the corporation had incorporated the EFCC, the Department of Security Services (DSS), the Nigeria Customs Services (NCS), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), on a platform to achieve this.
“Mr President has directed that we must stop smuggling or round tripping, if there is anything like that. So, we must stop it by every means necessary. We must do anything to stop it. That means we have to work outside the box. We know there are layers of controls that have been there that is not working, and that is why we must work outside the box,” he explained.
“That is why we are happy to bring in the EFCC, DSS, NSCDC, and even the NCS on a different platform that will enable us to control this volume and we have seen it work,’’ he added.
On the current PMS and subsidy payment, Kyari explained that with the current exchange rate, the pump price of petrol should be about N256 per litre.
“If we are to sell at the market today, at current exchange rate, we will be selling the product at about N256 to a litre. What we sell today is N162, so the difference is at a cost to the nation,’’ he said.
With the high volume of daily fuel consumption, Kyari said the country cannot sustain subsidy payment, adding “as long as we don’t regulate the volume, until we are able to exit this current level, which I know so much work is going on, then we have to manage the volume that we are exposed to between this price of N162 and N256”.
“The difference comes back to as much as N140 billion to N150 billion cost to the country monthly. As long as the volume goes up, that money continues to increase, and we have two sets of stress to face – that of supply and of foreign exchange for the NNPC. We may not see foreign exchange cheque taking place for importation,’’ he said.
Also, the EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, said the Commission was happy to be part of Operation White since part of its duty was to ensure the closure of financial crimes in the country.
“It is quite disheartening to see what is happening. In 2012, we were faced with petroleum subsidy fraud. We at the EFCC were able to unravel a lot of fraud going on there.
“From volume falsification to alteration of bill of laden, to the non-payment of over-recovery and to what I call single importation and double subsidy payment.
“We are still trying to recover about N50 billion identified in the fraud. Now it is a different ball game. NNPC has taken the responsibility of importation of products. But the issue of smuggling is there.
“We are assuring Nigerians that anything we have to do to stop smuggling, we will do to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book and justice is met for the benefits of Nigerians,’’ he added.
The oil marketers and industry players present at the meeting also spoke in support of efforts by the government to curb smuggling of petroleum products in the country.