President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday ordered that oil marketers be paid their outstanding claims for the importation of petroleum products today, as fuel scarcity worsened across the country.

Jonathan, while expressing concern over the fuel scarcity being witnessed in some parts of the country, assured that oil marketers would today receive the sum of N156bn as payment for fuel subsidy.

The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, disclosed this while speaking during an interview with journalists shortly after declaring open the 20th conference of Directors General of Customs of the World Customs Organisation.

The minister while sympathising with Nigerians whose lives are being disrupted by queues, said the government is working hard to end the scarcity within the shortest time possible.

he said despite the revenue challenges facing the government, the issue of fuel subsidy payments to oil marketers had always been prioritised by the Federal Government.

For instance, she said the government had in December 2014 paid the sum of N350bn to oil marketers, noting that an additional N31bn in foreign exchange differentials had already been released.

“On the issue of oil marketers, we have really been working with them and we have been dialoguing with them all along. We’ve paid N350bn in December, we paid them N31bn in foreign exchange differentials and by tomorrow (today) we will be paying them N100bn for which we had earlier given them IOUs for as well as their interest rate differentials of N56bn.

“So, I am about to go and sign, to get that paid and I think that Nigerians can see that the government is making maximum effort to accommodate the oil marketers. They are also Nigerians, and they need to also cooperate with us.”

The Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association and MOMAN had put the aggregate subsidy arrears owed the marketers by the Federal Government at N356.2bn.

The Executive Secretary, MOMAN has said members were increasingly finding it difficult to continue importation of petrol for a while now, and that the market situation had continued to get tougher.

“Some days ago, the National Assembly approved the budget without any provisions for petrol subsidy, and nobody is talking to us.

“We want to know if we should still continue with what we are currently doing. We want to know who will be paying for subsidy on petrol. Ultimately, we want to know who pays for the amount owed us.

“There is an out-going government as well as an in-coming one. Where do we stand?. We need to get our money because our suppliers are on our necks.”

But the finance minister, during the interview called for understanding from the marketers owing to the persistent shortfall in gross federally collectible revenue.

She noted that the marketers being Nigerians should be patriotic in their business dealings with government.

“In this very difficult environment where revenues are constrained, we are doing our maximum. We have prioritised them because we do not want Nigerians to suffer. Now they too must cooperate with Nigeria and be good and patriotic citizens.”

Following the threat by the oil marketers to stop importation, scarcity of petroleum products has worsened in Abuja, parts of Lagos and other major cities across the country.

NNPC could not import the products alone because MOMAN imports about 40 per cent of the nation’s consumption.

In most parts of Lagos metropolis, long queues were witnessed yesterday.

Residents bemoaned the scarcity and the rise in price of petrol negatively affecting their businesses.

It was complaints galore from transporters, barbers, food vendors, welders to small and medium scale enterprise owners whose businesses rely on fuel usage.

From the Island to the Mainland, the story was the same as motorists spent several hours at filling stations struggling to buy fuel.

In places visited, the official pump price of petroleum products has increased from N87 to between N100 and N130 in some filling stations across the state.

Some equally barricaded their entrances, collecting fees ranging from between N200 and N500 to allow motorists in.

Black marketers also had a field day, selling a litre of fuel for as high as N200.

A commercial driver, Poju Ifedola, said that the scarcity has affected him and his family because there is no job for him to do without fuel.