Zinder — There is tension in Niger Republic over alleged preference given to Nigerian oil marketers in lifting of refined petroleum products from the French-speaking West African country's new refinery, Daily Trust investigations show.
Chinese company Soraz operates the refinery which was commissioned a year ago in Zinder less than 100 kilometers north of the border with Nigeria.
A liter of petrol sells officially for more than N200 in the country and the people say prices are too high compared with neigbhouring countries.
Nigeriens, including civil society groups, politicians and public sector workers, allege that undue favour is being given to Nigerian companies at the expense of indigenous oil marketers who pay higher to lift products.
They named AFDIN Petroleum, A. A. Rano Nigeria Limited, Oando Plc and Dangote among the five Nigerian oil firms enjoying "favour" from the Niger government. A Malian and a Burkinabe firm also enjoy such favours, they said.
But some of the affected Nigerian firms said no preferential treatment was being given to them, and that they were invited by Niger authorities to invest as well as buy the surplus from the 20,000 barrels of oil refined daily.
Niger's businessmen also alleged that the loading arrangement favours Nigerian marketers whose tankers lift directly from the refinery without delays, while indigenous marketers go through the state-run company SONIDEF and end up spending up to 40 days before lifting.
But authorities in Niger dismissed these claims, saying every oil marketer buys directly from SONIDEF and not from the Soraz refinery.
Our correspondent, who visited SONIDEF's main oil depot at Jagindi area of Zinder, saw hundreds of oil tankers from Nigeria parked waiting to lift oil.
But locals said many indigenous oil firms get their supplies from the "favoured" Nigerian marketers as they could not secure licenses to lift oil.
It was further learnt that roadside fuel sellers in Niger's towns smuggle the product from Daura in Nigeria or get it from Maradi (in Niger) from authorized Nigerian oil marketers after lifting from Zinder.
People also allege secrecy in the way the country's oil business is run a year after the refinery was commissioned.
Abubakar Muhammadu Dandubai, national chairman of NPPAD, a civil society group based in Niger, accused the Muhammadou Yusouf-led government of selling Niger oil to Nigerian marketers at a give-away price.
Dandubai, who was detained for eight days in Zinder prison last year for leading a protest over high petrol prices, said, "It is unfair for the Nigerien authorities to leave Niger's oil sector in the hands of Nigerians."
"We are not against Nigerians coming to buy fuel or do business with our people but let there be a lasting arrangement that both parties can benefit without anyone complaining. Our government should be as transparent as possible and also carry our indigenous oil firms along while our brothers from Nigeria should not destroy the system through corruption," he added.
He insisted that fuel price in the country must be reduced in the interest of the common man, describing as unacceptable an argument that since the country does not need much fuel then the price should remain as it is.
Muhamman Sadat Iliya Danmalam, chairman of Zinder branch of MPCR, another civil society group, expressed regret that Nigeriens are still wallowing in poverty despite the country's oil revenue simply because of government's "myopic thinking" that it is not everybody using fuel in the country.
Danmalam, a teacher, said nobody can tell you the price at which the fuel is being sold to Nigerian marketers. "It is a common belief even in government circle that the price at which the fuel is sold to outsiders is far below the one sold to our indigenous marketers; and this is very unfair to our people," he said.
He said fuel is very expensive at petrol stations and so motorists prefer to buy it from the roadsides as it is cheaper.
Vice chairman of Damagaram region Habibu Yusouf said when the refinery was commissioned last year every Nigerien was hopeful of good future but today one year after its commissioning nothing tangible has changed in the life of an ordinary Nigerien.
He said there is no transparency in the sale of fuel because the commodity is sold to outsiders at a give-away rate, expressing regret that petrol sells for nearly N250 per liter in Niger.
Roadside fuel, according to him, is cheaper by N20 to N25 per liter. He said Niger's marketers go to Daura in Nigeria and Maradi to buy fuel from Nigerian oil marketers who get it cheaper from Niger's refinery.
'No preferential treatment'
Niger's deputy minister of petroleum Muhammadou Lawaly Gaya denied giving preferential treatment to Nigerian oil marketers, saying the business is open to all.
Gaya said Nigerians were allowed into the oil business because they have experience for well over 50 years, saying the country refines 20,000 barrels of crude oil daily but needs only 7,000 and the surplus has to be sold to their neighbours, especially Nigeria.
The deputy minister denied claims that Nigerian marketers get their products directly from Soraz, saying every marketer whether indigenous or foreign gets his fuel from SONIDEF, the Niger national company.
He urged Nigeriens to exercise patience as government plans to reduce the fuel price early next year.
The Nigerian oil firms lifting oil from Niger denied dominating the country's oil sector because of preferential treatment.
Alhaji Ibrahim Dahiru, media consultant to AFDIN Petroleum, said AFDIN has been in the oil business for many years and it was granted approval to lift oil from Niger because it has more than 500 oil trucks, adding that Nigerian marketers will not do anything harmful to Niger.
Chairman of A. A. Rano Nigeria Limited, Alhaji Auwalu Abubakar Rano, said he went into Niger oil business at the invitation of Niger authorities who he said were in Nigeria three times to seek for investors.
Rano, who said he only lifts diesel from Niger, described as "highly transparent" the business transaction between marketers from Nigeria and Niger's oil company. He added that Nigeriens should thank Nigerian investors for boosting their oil business rather than castigating them.
Public affairs department of Dangote Group denied that they lift diesel from Niger, saying all the diesel they use for their factories is sourced in Nigeria.
Oando's Group Corporate Communications Department did not respond to inquiries made by Daily Trust on the issue.