The Federal Government yesterday denied claims by oil marketers that it is owing the group N200 billion.

Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala who disputed the debt figure said what the oil marketers are owed is about N131 billion based on Petroleum Pricing Products Regulatory Agency’s (PPRA) template.

The Executive Secretary, Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Thomas Olawore, had said, “The government had paid N154.2bn out of N354.4bn and we are left with a balance of N200.2bn.

“What happens to the N200.2bn? That is why we requested that the government invites us so that we can be told how it intends to liquidate the remaining N200.2bn.”

But Okonjo-Iweala, while speaking with journalists in Abuja said contrary to claims by the marketers that they were being owed about N200bn after being paid N156bn last week, what is being owed them is about N131bn.

The minister attributed the current fuel scarcity to the activities of a cartel that is determined to hold the nation to ransom.

She expressed surprise at the attitude of the marketers saying that “they were more liberal in times past even when their outstanding was in the region of N2.3 trillion.”

According to Okonjo-Iweala, “it has become a situation where we have a cartel that can ground the nation to a halt at will.

“I strongly suggest that the nation has to do something about it. It has been very stressful for four years, trying to cope with a group that controls a very important sector of a nation and they are small enough to organize themselves.”

This she said “means that they can hold the nation to ransom anytime they want. And that is what is happening.

“I remember when I came back as finance minister on August 17, 2011, the first thing that confronted me was this scandal of subsidies. By then more than N1 trillion had already been paid. And we went through that whole thing and since then we cleaned up, restructured and trimmed down.

“You see that the amount we have been paying year by year diminished substantially to about N971 billion a year down from the N 2.3 trillion of 2011. We brought it from N 2.3 trillion to about N 971 trillion that has been in the budget each year. So, we made very substantial restructuring and changes to the whole process that brought the amount down for the nation. But yet we have to deal with this problem and the whole country has seen us trying our best struggling,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala noted that oil marketers are a small cartel that are into no-risk business based on a template negotiated with PPPRA a long time ago which factored in exchange rate differential and profit margin guarantee.

According to the finance minister, “the template that governs their business is designed to cover all their costs plus profit margin. That is a PPPRA template which I have quarrelled with for quite some. So it is really no risk business for them. Or very little risk. I am not saying there is no stress. Of course, they have stress. But the risks are all covered by the template that was negotiated with PPPRA long ago. And it is actually that template that we have been quarrelling with”.

That template she added “says that they must be paid exchange rate differentials, interest rates, profit margin guarantee plus the principal amount they spent in the business.”