Tuesday , July 23 2024

Federal Government probes fuel smuggling, cuts supply to border towns

As part of measures to stop the smuggling of Premium Motor Spirit, popularly called petrol, from Nigeria to neighbouring countries, the Federal Government has detained five fuel tankers and sealed three filling stations in border towns.

It was also gathered on Sunday that the continued anti-smuggling operations of the Federal Government through the Nigeria Customs Service had made fuel supply to various border communities to decrease from 32 million litres daily to about 25 million within two months.

This implies that about 420 million litres of PMS valued at N294bn (using the average price of N700/litre) did not go to the border states during the period.

The decrease in PMS evacuation to border states by about 21.86 per cent was confirmed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited.

The National Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service, Abdullahi Maiwada, told our correspondent that the detained fuel tankers and sealed filling stations had been handed over to the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority for further investigations.

He also denied claims that about 1,800 filling stations in the North had been shut down in protest against the continued anti-smuggling operations of the NCS.

When asked if the service was still carrying out its anti-smuggling operations against fuel smuggling, Maiwada replied, “The NCS is still carrying out its anti-smuggling operation effectively and continuously. Five fuel tankers were detained on the suspicion of product diversion which could be subsequently smuggled out of the country.”

Maiwada, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, denied claims that the tankers had been released to members of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria due to pressure from IPMAN but stated that the trucks were handed over to the oil sector downstream regulator.

“The detained fuel tankers were not released to IPMAN under pressure. However, the trucks were handed over to NMDPRA for continued investigation with the intervention of the Adamawa State government, as the offence committed was centred on fuel diversion,” he stated.

On the sealed filling stations, he said, “Three filling stations have been sealed and not shut in Adamawa State. However, the three sealed filling stations were also handed over to NMDPRA for further investigation.

“The NMDPRA is expected to transmit its findings and recommendations to the Nigeria Customs Service through the national coordinator to the headquarters.”

The spokesperson of NMDPRA, George Ene-Ita, did not answer repeated calls to his mobile phone when contacted to speak on the matter. He also did not respond to text messages sent to him to get the position of NMDPRA.

Confirming the reduction in the evacuation of PMS to border states, NNPC in an earlier post on its X handle, stated that the company’s Group Chief Executive Officer, Mele Kyari, met with the Comptroller-General of Customs, Adewale Adeniyi, on the matter.

“During the visit, Kyari particularly commended the rapid impact of the NCS’ ‘Operation Whirlwind’ in reducing the smuggling of petrol across Nigeria’s border communities, with PMS evacuation to border states now decreasing from 32 million litres per day to about 25 million litres within just two months.

“Both parties pledged to strengthen collaboration in sustaining the onslaught against cross-border smuggling, to attain Nigeria’s energy security.”

N1,700/litre petrol

On June 11, 2024, The PUNCH reported that the Federal Government raised the alarm over the renewed smuggling of petrol following the massive hike in the pump price of the commodity in neighbouring countries.

It stated that while the average price of petrol in Nigeria was about N701/litre, the average cost of the product in neighbouring countries was N1,787/litre, a development that heightened PMS smuggling out of Nigeria in the past two weeks.

The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Adewale Adeniyi, who disclosed this at a press conference in Yola, had stated that the NCS had to join forces with the Office of the National Security Adviser to tackle the menace.

Adeniyi had said, “Today, we are here to update members of the public on the strategic efforts of the Nigeria Customs Service in addressing the critical issue of fuel smuggling through the recently launched Operation Whirlwind, under the auspices of the Office of the National Security Adviser.

“About a year ago, the Federal Government boldly decided to remove the fuel subsidy. This crucial step was aimed at freeing up substantial funds that could be redirected to other productive sectors of the economy, reducing pressure on our foreign exchange reserves, and diversifying economic growth.

“The immediate impact was an upward adjustment in fuel prices to reflect current realities. Despite the inflationary pressures and financial strain on households, particularly those with lower incomes, comparative studies still show that fuel prices in Nigeria remain the cheapest compared to other countries in the West and Central African region.”

Speaking further, Adeniyi said, “While PMS is sold at an average of N701.99 in Nigeria, it is sold at an average of N1,672.05 in the Republic of Benin and N2,061.55 in Cameroon. In other countries around the region, the price of PMS ranges from N1,427.68 in Liberia to N2,128.20 in Mali, averaging N1,787.57, according to the fuel price data obtained from opensource.”

The customs boss had explained that this comparative price advantage, though beneficial to Nigerian citizens, unfortunately, created a lucrative incentive for smuggling PMS out of Nigeria, where prices were two to three times higher.

He said this was substantiated by the report on the average daily evacuation of PMS to various states in Nigeria, obtained from the Nigeria National Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority.

In his speech, which was made available to our correspondent in Abuja at the time, he said, “The (NMDPRA) report shows significant changes in evacuation patterns that are not justified by corresponding economic and demographic changes, particularly in border states that share contiguous borders with our neighbours.

“Between April and May 2024, Borno and Kebbi states recorded 76 and 59 per cent increases in evacuations, ranking among the top three states. On a year-on-year basis (May 2023 and May 2024), Sokoto and Taraba states recorded the most substantial increases in evacuations, with 247 and 234 per cent increases, respectively.

“Border states like Katsina and Kebbi also recorded more than 50 per cent increases in evacuation. These discrepancies, along with the price disparity between domestic PMS (N701.99) and neighbouring countries (N1,787.57), raise concerns about the actual delivery of PMS and the potential for smuggling.”

Adeniyi had also stated that credible intelligence on activities around border areas corroborated these suspicions.

1,800 stations

Meanwhile, when asked if it was true that IPMAN members had shut down about 1,800 stations in border states due to the anti-smuggling operations of customs, the agency’s spokesperson described the claim as false.

“It is not true that IPMAN has shut over 1,800 filling stations in the North-East to protest against the anti-smuggling operations by the Nigeria Customs Service.

“The truth is that the industrial action embarked upon by IPMAN on June 25, 2024, was just in Mubi and Jimeta in Adamawa State and not in the entire North-Eastern states as claimed. The strike only lasted for a day after the intervention of the Adamawa State government and NMDPRA.

The National President, IPMAN, Abubakar Maigandi, confirmed that members of the group were carrying out their operations in the area as required but stressed that the association would not condone acts of PMS smuggling.

“We have made it clear severally that we are against the smuggling of petrol and our members are aware of this because we strongly oppose such tendencies,” he told our correspondent.





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