The queues are back again

07 March 2016, Abuja – Notwithstanding the reasons adduced by the government to explain the sudden petrol scarcity and its attendant consequences on the Nigerian economy, the persistent sight of lengthy lines of motorists at service stations across the country suggests that government has yet to come up with a formula for addressing the unending problem, writes Chineme Okafor

Queues-at-Oando-filling-station-at-the-Berger-end-of-the-Lagos-Ibadan-Expressway...-on-SundayAlready, Nigeria has gone through two major petrol supply scarcities within the first quarter of 2016. One was in the early days of the year, and another just started last week, but with the expectation that it would end soon.

One of the recent which was quite substantial in impact was however carried over from late 2015 when oil marketers protested and reportedly scaled down on their importation of products into the country, therefore leaving the job of importation and distribution entirely to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Each time the country goes through this cyclical petrol shortages at its filling stations, the impacts have always come quite heavy on the citizens. Transportation costs and other costs of doing business, which ordinarily are high in the country shoot up and slow the pace of economic activities across city centres and semi-rural areas.

Yet, the immediate causes of this condition which have always been attributed to either shortage or delay in cargo deliveries due to debts owed marketers over subsidy, disagreements between operators and relevant stakeholders like the tanker drivers, oil workers unions as well as distribution and logistics challenges owing to poor storage and distribution infrastructure system, are left pending after each cycle.

As it were, the last shortage in fuel supply across the country which lasted over four weeks was squarely blamed on the poor distribution facilities, unavailability of foreign exchange for marketers to import with as well as reported dishonest practices amongst some downstream operators.

At the height of it, the Managing Director of the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the NNPC, Mrs. Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue, told THISDAY in an exclusive interview that other than the PPMC, which was then doing almost all the sourcing and distribution of petrol, no other operator in the downstream sector was supplying products, hence the sudden shortage.

Then, Nnamdi-Ogbue said that the company found itself overburdened by the entire consumption demands of the country, put at 40 million litres per day. She stated then that meeting up with such heavy supply had resulted in delivery delays especially to service outlets up north.

“Basically, we were meant to meet about 48 per cent of the national demand of 40 million litres daily, but we have been faced with the challenge of having to meet more than 90 per cent of the national demand.

“The majors and other marketers are not meeting their quotas and we have had to cover for them.

As you know, the PPMC is marketer of last resort, when everything has gone differently, you can always rely on PPMC, and so, the situation we have found ourselves in is that the federal government has approved and released subsidy claims. However, there is difficulty in accessing foreign exchange,” Nnamdi-Ogbue told THISDAY then.

Now, almost a month down the line, another round of products scarcity has begun with its attendant challenges.

This time, the basis of the scarcity which started in the Lagos area but then swiftly spread to other parts of the country like Abuja, Enugu and others was reported to be from shortage in supply from drop in importation.

While downstream stakeholders like the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) allege that the fresh scarcity was linked to unavailability of petrol for the marketers to load from the petrol depots, the NNPC in response refuted the claim, insisting that the country had enough stock of petrol and that the scarcity was artificial.

IPMAN in a newspaper report said that 8,000 loading tickets of its members were pending at the loading bays in Lagos. The association also noted private depots owners in the Lagos area had been selling petrol to them above the officially recognised ex-depot price of N77 per litre.

What this means is that this cadre of marketers whose stations are majorly in the hinterland of the country has not been able to access products for onward transmission to consumers within these areas, hence the scarcity.

But NNPC insists otherwise

While maintaining that the country had abundant fuel stock, the NNPC last Monday said that it would from March 1 begin to take delivery of 45 million litres of petrol every day for distribution across the country.

The corporation in a statement from its spokesman, Mr. Ohi Alegbe, explained that on a daily basis, one cargo of petrol will be delivered to it. Its disclosure thus suggests that it could as well cover the entire 40 million daily petrol need of the country.

The development is however not far from the reality that NNPC in the Quarter-1 (Q1), 2016 import allocation approved by the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) for the importation of three million metric tonnes of petrol got up to 78 per cent of the total allocated volume for the period, while the balance of 22 per cent would be supplied by other oil marketing companies.

NNPC also said that it had stepped up collaboration with the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and other downstream industry players to end the resurgent fuel queues, adding that it secured the commitment of the leadership of MOMAN for effective collaboration in this regard.

It thus assured that the queues for petrol at filling stations will disappear shortly with the increase in supplies. “Within the last 48 hours we have received six cargoes of petrol (270 million litres) and beginning from 1st March, 2016, we shall begin to receive one cargo of petrol every day (45 million litres),” the NNPC statement said.

It said that daily trucked out to filling stations in the Lagos area had increased to 295 trucks per day (9.7 million), an increase from the regular 245 trucks that it used to do, while the ones to Abuja from Suleja depot had also been stepped up to 210 trucks per day (6.9 million litres) from the regular supply of 160 trucks per day.

Similar increment in daily supply volume, it said was also done in the Port Harcourt, Calabar, Kano and Kaduna areas to ensure seamless availability of petroleum products across the country.

It equally announced that the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, had directed the full activation of an Intra-Ministerial Joint Monitoring Task Force made up of officials of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), and the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), to ensure and enforce compliance to laid down rules and regulations governing the supply and distribution of petroleum products.

Yet, the situation as at Thursday had not changed substantially, necessitating a backlash from organised labour movements in the country.

Labour also Reacts

Also, in reaction to lingering fuel scarcity which the NNPC said would soon be gone, the country’s central labour house, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), has called the government and NNPC to task on the situation.

NLC through its President, Ayuba Wabba, noted that the government was yet to sincerely open up on the reasons behind the new scarcity.

Labour, notwithstanding, asked the government to be decisive against reported sabotage attempts by suspected oil marketers who they said were uncomfortable with the government’s programmes in the downstream sector.

“We are disturbed by the recurring scarcity of petroleum products, especially petrol, which has caused long queues at some fuel stations that are selling while many more closed their gates with claims of non-availability of the product.

“Nigerians are yet to be told what the cause of the current scarcity is; we however believe government will not allow any individual or corporate organisations sabotage efforts to restore sanity and good governance in all facets of our society as it is obvious the ongoing scarcity is a calculated sabotage by petroleum marketers to sell the products at high prices for more profits,” Wabba said.

He further said: “Petroleum products, especially petrol, is key to our economy as it is what powers commuters, including workers, offices and businesses. The delays motorists contend with in long queues at petrol stations have led to loss of unimaginable man hours which have impacted negatively on our economy.

“We therefore call on government to strongly intervene by sending out appropriate agencies, especially the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to enforce the sale of the products as some marketers have been reported to be hoarding the products.”


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