03 April 2016, Lagos – Pedestrian as this question may seem to some readers, it nevertheless captures a burden borne presently by millions of Nigerians, including the rich and connected. Yes, even if it may be in the agenda of the Minister of State for Petroleum Affairs Dr Ibe Kachikwu, it will still be a relief for the public to know specifically for how long, can Nigerians continue buying petrol with tears as is the present situation. This is especially so as the incessant fuel crises in the country seems to be recurrent and is defiant of efforts to tame it.
Incidentally, the Minister has just recorded a resolution of sorts for the present crisis, with the resumption of discharge of the product at various filling stations nationwide. Yet the development does not vitiate the essence of the foregoing question which enjoys merit on the ground that as many Nigerians are painfully aware, the next fuel crisis is just weeks away.
Even the Minister will not claim to be oblivious of this scenario. Just as well the filling stations are also braced up for it as hardly is there any of them, including the mega stations operated by or in collaboration with the NNPC that does not cut corners in the sale of the product. The unending queues at such mega stations even when there is apparent availability of fuel attests to the contention of this column. In truth, the situation across the country is that most filling stations become price compliant and sell petrol at whatever is the controlled price when circumstances dictate, like when product is available.
The picture, however, changes when the product is in short supply as happens frequently, and scarcity sets in. Usually at such periods (like now), while motorists run into panic and queue up in apprehension at filling stations, the NNPC would be busy launching assurances that all is well; claiming along the line that it had enough supply to serve the country.
However, even as it would be busy with its campaign of assurance, a litre of petrol would be selling at several filling stations across the nation for between N150 and N250, while the second-tier fuel market, popularly called the ‘black market’ offers the stuff at between N250 and N400, depending on circumstances such as how desperate a buyer is and how exploitative the seller turns out to be.
In case Kachikwu needs evidence he can issue dedicated telephone lines for members of the public to send in reports of offending filling station operators, and he will see the deluge of responses from Nigerians. In fact it is a wonder that such whistle blower numbers are not yet in circulation to assist the NNPC in addressing its challenge of ensuring minimal abuse of the fuel distribution process.
The current crisis which is actually receding lasted for the better part of three weeks with the entire country under the siege of scarcity of petrol, and concern mounting over whether the authorities bother about the attendant loss of millions of businesses and man hours in both the public and private sectors of the economy. As like in previous instances, the situation became so telling as to leave no room for exceptions in its complement of casualties; thereby throwing up the question once again on how long the nation can continue with this unending drama of lingering shortage of petrol.
In the wake of the last crisis, Kachikwu found himself in the eye of the storm, and is credited with different pronouncements with equally different reactions from the Nigerian public. Some of the pronouncements which may have reflected the most realistic of the feeble efforts of his system to solve the problem, actually attracted brick bats for him. For instance, an earlier prophecy that “fuel crisis will end in May” actually incensed hard pressed Nigerians who wondered what the hell he was still doing in office if all he could achieve was to postpone the end of the crisis to May; seemingly a date in eternity.
However, while this column commends him for the feat, it is hoped that he will find the alchemy to sustain regularity in fuel supply in the country. For to be frank with him, the best he should make out of the present breakthrough is to see it as an eye opener to the inner crevices of the nation’s petroleum sector. It should prompt him to commence the process of reversing the public perception of his brief which so far has betrayed signs of unedifying cluelessness in tackling the demons haunting Nigeria’s fuel supply. This is just as the lessons from the last crisis should drive him to bring new ideas into the game.
Whether for the right reasons or not, many Nigerians are gradually buying into the argument that the present administration is yet to come to grips with the thorny issue of fuel supply, especially the aspect of retention or removal of fuel subsidy, in deference to the powerful interests that control the petroleum industry in Nigeria.
To buttress the point is the fact that even the resolution of the last crisis did not feature any new strategy, but a mere rehash of the very measure of the past administration which in the main was just the settlement by the NNPC, of the Major Oil Marketers of Nigeria (MOMAN) and the Independent Oil Marketers (IPMAN). Both MOMAN and IPMAN, who remain the main private sector importers of petrol and therefore the core investors and stakeholders simply hold the country to ransom at will, courtesy of a suspect subsidy policy that favours not the intended poor, but the connected oil barons and their network of associates.
Usually whenever the oil big guns sneeze, the government catches cold and goes begging them cap in hand to soften their stance. And as has always been the case, their settlement is based on a questionable compensation scheme whereby the government refunds them in respect of whatever extra costs they claim as incurred during landing the product in Nigeria.
- Daily Trust