Oil marketers have threatened to disrupt fuel supply nationwide if the federal government fails to clear their N800 billion debt within seven days.

They warned yesterday in Lagos that at the expiration of the ultimatum, they would cease operations and withdraw their employees from all the depots  across the country.

The threat came from the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA), and Independent Petroleum Products Importers (IPPIs).

Through their legal adviser, Mr. Patrick Etim, the marketers said that they were forced to resort to the measure because banks had taken over their investments and assets because of the huge debt.

The marketers kicked against the move to pay the debts through promissory notes, stressing that following the circumstances they found themselves, cash payment is the most realistic way out of the situation.

In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) yesterday in Lagos, Etim said that the marketers had no option than to ask their workers to stay at home over unpaid salary arrears due to the huge subsidy debts owed by the government.

He said: “The only way to salvage the situation is for the government to pay the oil marketers the outstanding debts through cash option instead of promissory note being proposed.

“As I speak, nothing has been done several months after assurances received from the government that it would pay off the debts. The oil marketers have requested that forex differential and interest component of government’s indebtedness to marketers be calculated up to December 2018 and be paid within next seven days from the date of the letter sent to the government,’’ he said.

Etim added that thousands of jobs were on the line in the industry, as oil marketers began cut-down of their workforce due to their inability to pay salaries.

He recalled that “at the inception of the current administration, marketers engaged the government with a view to securing approval for all outstanding subsidy-induced debts handed over to the current administration.’’

The legal adviser said that the current administration paid part of the debt with a substantial portion of the subsidy interest and foreign exchange differential still pending.

Also, the executive secretary of DAPPMA, Mr. Olufemi Adewole, confirmed the seven-day ultimatum notice.

Adewole said that the oil marketers on November 28, 2018 served the ultimatum letter on the Debt Management Office (DMO), minister of finance, chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Downstream, Department of State Services (DSS) and the minister of state for petroleum resources.

He said: “We urge the DMO to process and pay marketers in cash for their outstanding forex differentials and interest component claims, together with the amount already approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Assembly.

“Marketers are not in a position to discount payment on the subsidy-induced debt owed as proposed by DMO. The expected payment is made up of bank loans, outstanding administrative charges due to PPPRA, outstanding bridging fund due Petroleum Equalisation Fund (Management) Board and in a few cases, AMCON judgment debts.

“We urge that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved payment instrument, (the promissory note) be substituted with cash and paid through our bankers to stop the avoidable waste of public funds through these debts accruing interest,’’ he said.

DAPPMA also urged government institutions involved in resolving the lingering problem to appreciate the situation marketers faced and expedite payment of the debts in full without further delay.

But a competent source told our correspondent that the ultimatum was not a unanimous decision.

The source, who is a member of MOMAN, said: “This is an empty threat, we all depend on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for product supply and no one is ready to go out of business. The truth is that some of them are aware that the figure being thrown about is fictitious, it is falsified and government is aware of this and that is why it is bringing an international audit firm to cross check the figures.

“We are not being realistic but I can assure you that those of us that are in genuine business are not shutting down our facilities,” he said.

Also, the national coordinator of IPMAN, Mr. Mike Osatuyi, sad the association is not part of the decision.

“We are not part of this decision though our money is part of the N800 billion and we support their agitation for payment. Our money is part of that arrears but nevertheless we are not shutting down our facilities,” Osatuyi said.

NNPC spokesman, Mr. Ndu Ughammadu, said that the corporation was engaging the marketers, adding that “the Federal Ministry of Finance and DMO are on the issue, going by positive outcomes so far. We are optimistic of a prompt resolution of the contending matter.”

Already, there are fears that the threat of the marketers could cause fuel scarcity and mar the coming Yuletide celebrations.