May 15, 2016 - 4:20 AM EDT
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Fuel Racketeers Take Over Alesa/Eleme PPMC Depot

A first time visitor to the Alesa/Eleme depot of the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC) is likely to mistake the multi-billion naira Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)'s subsidiary for a local market where buying and selling of goods take place. A further look into the depot, located adjacent the Port Harcourt refining company, and one will be accosted by the sight of many people - men and women - just loitering within its premises.

Security checks at the depot are so porous that every Dick and Harry gains access to the premises without scrutiny. Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that majority of those that converge on the depot on a daily basis are not genuine oil marketers, just as they do not have valid license to lift petroleum products, but a good number of them get allocation to lift oil with more frequency than the licensed marketers. Their presence constitutes a problem to the smooth dispensation of petroleum products to the genuine marketers at the depot. They run a ring of racketeers and determine who gets what at the depot. While genuine petroleum products marketers spend close to three weeks at the depot begging for products, this group gets allocation with ease and disposes the product at their own prices to willing buyers within the PPMC premises.

"They operate like a cartel and go by the name of "buyer buyer", stated a dealer at the depot who gave his name only as Collins.

"Their clique involves staff of PPMC,compromised security agents and some greedy executive members of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association (IPMAN). They get allocation with ease and dispose it instantly at the gate. Some of the genuine marketers rely on them to get products," he said.

A member of the IPMAN, who pleaded anonymity, said "they are a very dangerous cartel that has hijacked the lifting of all kinds of petroleum products. They work as fronts for some executive members of IPMAN who are given allocation to lift petroleum products. Allocations are usually given to IPMAN executives who in turn give them to the touts who cluster around the refinery".

He added: "The moment the product gets out of the depot, it would be sold at the gate at a giveaway price. Some of the buyers are genuine marketers who own filling stations but do not have contact to lift fuel from the depot. Such marketers, after buying the consignment, would in turn discharge it to their various filling stations."

Asked how they obtained vouchers for payment of the product, the source said,"you would see this crop of people moving around with millions of naira in their car boots. It is a cash-and-carry kind of business. The moment a fuel tanker departs the depot, it would be sold at the gate to this group of people who in turn sell the product in the black market at a very high price."

Our correspondent gathered that some top managers of NNPC are involved in the business. Sources close to the depot revealed that some top managers of NNPC use fronts to lift products at the depot.

A source who was involved in the business shared his experience with Daily Trust on Sunday, "I am a dealer at the depot. But for some time now I have been out of business because my contact at the NNPC has been retired. My mentor was a director at NNPC but he was retired last year. When he was there he used to have three allocations every week and I was his link to the buyers.

"The moment his allocation comes out he would direct me to clear it. The products came in different varieties such as PMS, DPK and AGO. But PMS is very costly and gives quick money because it is in high demand. I used to sell the products to marketers from the North, who do not have allocation to lift fuel at the depot," he said.

He added "if you look around you will see so many trucks within the depot. Some of these trucks have been here for more than one month without loading any product because they have no licence to lift petrol.

"This category of people forms the nucleus of our business associates. The moment the products depart the loading bay they would be sold out at giveaway prices to those people who would in turn move them to the northern part of the country. We normally sell the product with a profit margin of N50 per litre," he said.

One person who is worried about this illegal business at the depot is the Eastern zonal chairman of the IPMAN, Mr Adokiye Dede. He told newsmen in Port Harcourt that genuine marketers have been facing difficult times because of racketeers, who he said have hijacked the sale of products.

He said marketers in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states are being made to buy the products through third party.

Dede stated that the association would set up a monitoring team at different units to check the activities of the touts at the depots so as to ensure equitable distribution of products.

"There shall be no room for touts and non-marketers who have no business at the depots. We shall ensure equitable distribution of products. We will ensure that products are not hoarded and high prices of the products will be a thing of the past. Our stakeholders are advised to be watchful of the activities of the cabals at the depot," he said.

He warned racketeers to steer clear of the depot, adding that marketers involved in any sharp practice would be made to face the full wrath of the law.

Efforts by our correspondent to get official reactions from the PPMC depot at Eleme on the illegal petroleum products racketeering at the depot proved abortive. But a staff of the company who spoke under the condition of anonymity because he had no authority to speak on the matter said illegal sale of petroleum products outside the premises of PPMC may not be ruled out.

He said it was not within the purview of the management of the PPMC to monitor what happens to products when they depart the depot.

He said: "I cannot rule out the possibility of the existence of racketeering of petroleum products outside the depot. Our responsibility does not cover monitoring the movement of products. Our concern is to sell products to genuine marketers. The moment the products leave the depot we may not know what happens to them."

"There are other regulatory agencies that are assigned the responsibility of monitoring allocations and movement of petroleum products. There is a regulatory agency called DPR. It is their responsibility to monitor the sale and distribution of petroleum products. If they fail in their responsibility we cannot be held responsible for that," he said.

The Port Harcourt Zonal Operations Controller of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Mrs Chioma Njoku, said the department recently sealed up about 33 filling stations in the state. She said the filling stations were sealed off for under-dispensing, over-pricing and hoarding of fuel.

She said the agency recently impounded truckloads of PMS meant for the state which were diverted to Uyo in Akwa Ibom State.

Mrs Njoku warned that the DPR would continue to clamp down on those involved in diversion,hoarding, underpricing and under-dispensing of petroleum products.

"The DPR, in collaboration with other agencies, has been working round the clock to ensure that we address four issues such as hoarding, diversion, over-pricing and under-dispensing," she said.

She explained that the DPR has zero tolerance for diversion, under-pricing and hoarding of petroleum products, maintaining that marketers who sold fuel to hawkers would also be dealt with.

The zonal operations controller warned those involved in illegal diversion of petroleum products to desist from such act or face the full wrath of the law.

The Port Harcourt Refining Company has a capacity to refine about 210,000 barrels of crude per day. It receives its supply through the Bonny terminal. Its crude supply is delivered through smaller vessels that trans-load the products to smaller vessels from Bonny for onward delivery to the refinery through the Okrika jetty.

The refinery was commissioned in 1985 with current nameplate capacity of 60 barrel per stream. The refinery has five processing areas where various products are refined. The refined products are stored and later distributed in various tank farms located at the PPMC depot.

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Source: News (May 15, 2016 - 4:20 AM EDT)

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