Adulterated petrol: FG may return fuel to suppliers, 100 million litres affected, say marketers

Okechukwu Nnodim and Solomon Odeniyi

9 February 2022

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The Federal Government through its Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority may return to the overseas supplier, the contaminated Premium Motor Spirit, popularly called petrol, which was imported into the country by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited.

Oil marketers estimated that about 100 million litres of contaminated petrol were imported into Nigeria and had been recalled by the Pipelines Product Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the NNPC.

The recall caused severe queues in Abuja, Lagos, Niger, Nasarawa and many other states, as the few petrol outlets that dispensed products were crowded by motorists and other PMS users.

Many other filling stations were shutdown on Tuesday for lack of products to sell, while black marketers greeted various major roads in Abuja, selling products to interested consumers.

It was also gathered that though efforts were being made to address the concerns, the queues and shortage of petrol might drag till this weekend.

The NMDPRA said in a statement it issued in Abuja that limited quantity of PMS with methanol quantities above Nigeria’s specification was discovered in the supply chain.

NNPC increases supply to bridge supply gap, recalls polluted fuel

It said methanol was a regular additive in petrol and usually blended in an acceptable quantity, adding that contaminated product had been isolated.

The statement read in part, “To ensure vehicular and equipment safety, the limited quantity of the impacted product has been isolated and withdrawn from the market, including the loaded trucks in transit

“Our technical team in conjunction with the NNPC Limited and other industry stakeholders, will continue to monitor and ensure quality petroleum products are adequately supplied and distributed nationwide.

“The source supplier has been identified and further commercial and appropriate actions shall be taken by the authority and the NNPC Limited. The NNPC Limited and all oil marketing companies have been directed to sustain sufficient distribution of petrol in all retail outlets nationwide.”

Nigeria does not refine crude oil due to the dormancy of its refineries, hence the NNPC imports the commodity from international refiners. This implies that the source supplier is an overseas firm.

The NMDPRA further stated that the NNPC had intensified efforts at increasing the supply of petrol into the market in order to bridge any unforeseen supply gap.

When specifically asked whether the NNPC would return the contaminated petrol to the supplier, its spokesperson Garba-Deen Muhammad, referred our correspondent to the NMDPRA statement where it talked about the identification of the source supplier.

Also, industry sources stated that the standard thing to do was to inform the source supplier and possibly return the product to it based on the terms of agreement reached between parties.

On measures adopted to ensure that the product did not further get to consumers, the National President, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Debo Ahmed, stated that IPMAN had alerted all its units.

He said, “We’ve discussed with all our zonal and unit chairmen to tell their members not to sell the products. And some of the products that got to the depots were not released to the public.

“So on our part we’ve taken that precaution and we are waiting for the PPMC to call the trucks back to evacuate the products. So majority of the products are in the depots.”

On whether the volume of the contaminated products was much, Ahmed replied, “Well, I don’t know the exact volume, but what I know is that we lifted from various depots in Lagos. But we don’t know the quantity, they say it is about 100 million litres or so.”

On ways to avoid a recurrence of such situation, Ahmed stated that the agencies of government should carry out thorough inspection on products before releasing them to the Nigerian market.

He said, “The PPMC has the whole gamut of officers, the NMDPRA has to take care of the quality through its sections on quality and safety. And even at the depots, before they load, there should be preloading and after-loading inspection.

“They have to know the quality of the product before sending it out. But I think there was a mix-up somehow and the PPMC has already accepted that it is from their place and that they will evacuate the whole product.

“So they stopped most of the trucks from going out when they discovered the situation and these trucks are right now in the depots.”

On his part, the President, Petroleum Products Retail Outlets owners Association of Nigeria, Billy Gillis-Harry, said PETROAN was still looking for solutions to address the scarcity caused by the imports of contaminated products.

He, however, noted that the queues across the country might drag till the weekend, as the impact of the recalled products would be felt in the supply chain.

“We are trying to see how the situation can be remedied so that the country don’t run into any kind of crisis, but we see it dragging and hope that before the close of this week we will find a solution to it,” he stated.

Implications of contaminated fuel

An energy law specialist, Prof. Dayo Ayoade, told our correspondent that aside from the huge adverse environmental impact of such contaminated fuel, the product had already knocked the engines of some motorists.

He said, “It is a big issue because the contaminated fuel has to be taken out of the system. It has to be extracted from the filling stations and depots and disposed off. This is because since it is contaminated, you can’t sell it to another person.

“It has to be disposed in an environment that is sustainable, and in a proper manner. Now, do we have the equipment to properly take care of this contaminated fuel? That is a big issue.

“Secondly, there is the issue of who is liable for the cost of replacement of the engines that have knocked? Because contaminated fuels have negative impact on engines and I heard that the engines of some customers have knocked.”

But when asked if the NNPC would compensate motorists who had already used the contaminated petrol, the spokesperson for oil firm, Garba-Deen Muhammad, declined comments.

Falana, Adegboruwa ask NNPC to compensate motorists

Meanwhile, some senior advocates and rights activists have called on the NNPC – which is the sole importer of petrol – to compensate motorists who bought adulterated fuel.

A senior advocate, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said the government was wrong to have given the NNPC the monopoly of petrol importation.

Adegboruwa said the oil firm cannot escape liability.

He added, “If it is confirmed that there’s negligence on the part of the importer of the petroleum products, surely all those who bought the fuel are entitled to pursue their remedies against the agency especially where it affects vehicles among others.

“They would be liable and this is because they have the monopoly of importing petroleum products to the country. So the citizens are limited in terms of their choice and so in that regard they have the responsibility of ensuring that they import what is suitable for use by the consumer.

“The NNPC can’t escape being held liable and not just the NNPC, I think the government itself and the reason is because there’s no reason to monopolise the importation of petroleum products. Also, the reason we are experiencing this is because the government has failed to repair our refineries.”

Also in a chat with The PUNCH, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said the NNPC must compensate those who bought the contaminated petrol.

Falana advised victims to lodge a complaint with the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

He said, “The NNPC has to compensate consumers. They (consumers) should lodge a complaint with the consumer protection council.  Victims can institute an action against the NNPC. The NNPC also has the right to sue those that sold the fuel to them.”

Another senior advocate, Norrison Quakers, said it was irresponsible for the NNPC to have imported contaminated fuel, adding that they could be dragged to court for doing so.

Quakers further argued that the marketers who bought the petrol from the NNPC ought to be compensated as well.

The senior advocate added, “If I was an independent marketer and I bought the product from NNPC for the supply and suddenly it turned out to be adulterated fuel , the NNPC is duty bound to reimburse and compensate me for my loss. I could start first with an administrative process to demand for the reimbursement and when they refuse to do that I can now institute an action in that regard because I bought it from them.

“Secondly, a car owner who goes to a filling station to buy petrol and his car develops a fault because some cars are very sensitive, can sue the supplier as well as the NNPC. It’s like a chain; you identify the primary source and the secondary. Honestly, it is highly irresponsible for the NNPC to have imported adulterated fuel. It means standards have really declined. How do you determine the fuel that is being sold, is it not at the point of purchase?

“How do you end up buying adulterated fuel of that magnitude? Those are questions begging for answers. The president must intervene, heads must roll. It is quite painful in the age of the way we do things in this country.”

Also in a chat with The PUNCH, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, Ibrahim Rafsanjani, said this was scandalous to Nigeria, calling on the anti-corruption agencies in the country to investigate the matter.

He said, “I think this is an indictment on the NNPC, the sole importer of petroleum in Nigeria. They must be made to account for how it happened. Taxpayers’ money is used to import this petrol. This also goes to show the poor regulatory and supervision mechanism.”

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