• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigerians caught in the web of scarcities

Fuel QUEUE

With the scarcity of almost everything and the spate of their sad recurrences, those who describe Nigerians as very resilient people are right. The citizens are caught in the web of multi-faceted scarcities.

From essential commodities like petrol and food to critical services such as power supply and security, the Nigerian populace grapples with a multifaceted crisis that threatens their livelihoods and well-being.

In the last decade, hardly a quarter will pass without a scarcity. From the scarcity of ballot papers during elections, forever scarcity of electricity, now scarcity of food, scarcity of peace, and especially petroleum products, Nigerians are being stretched beyond the limits, yet they are still standing.

Nigeria is currently facing a multifaceted crisis, with scarcities affecting various aspects of daily life.

At the forefront of this predicament is the persistent scarcity of petrol, a commodity that fuels not only vehicles but also generators, which are relied upon due to erratic power supply.

Despite being an oil-producing nation, Nigeria struggles with consistent fuel scarcity, leading to long queues at petrol stations and exacerbating transportation woes. This scarcity not only inconveniences citizens but also cripples businesses and disrupts economic activities.

As Justin Ndulaga, an Abuja-based lawyer, puts it, the only thing that is not scarce in Nigeria is the air the masses breath.

But the harsh reality, which baffles many sane thinking people, is that while a scarcity is wearing out in the country, another one sets in and the government does little or nothing to forestall its recurrence. It is something like a merry-go-round.

However, the scarcity that hits the people and the economy most is the premium motor spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol.

With 11,869, 800 registered vehicles on the road, about 75 percent of West Africa’s total of 15, 507, 000 vehicles, most of which are powered by premium motor spirit, (PMS), popularly known as petrol, Nigerians have many reasons to worry whenever there is petrol scarcity.

Again, Nigeria’s 42,057,041 households, highest in Africa, and followed by Egypt at 24, 496,076, is also putting additional pressure on the country’s daily petrol consumption level of 45-60 million litres, to power their generators in lieu of stable electricity power supply in the country.

The above are reasons the populace suffer in the hands of petrol hoarders, who create the highest bidder kind of scenario and make brisk business from selling the product at very expensive prices.

At present, Ndulaga is more worried over the 200 percent hike in transport fares on his route, with commercial bus operators threatening to increase further as the scarcity persists.

“If you consider the exorbitant hike in transportation fares whenever there is fuel scarcity, you will wish that such ugly development will not reoccur. Since Monday some unscrupulous Nigerians have taken advantage of the situation to rip-off many, including me. How do you spend almost all your salary on transportation in this harsh economy?

“I will not even attempt to go out with my car now because the cost is more than commercial transport, where you will even get petrol and adulterated ones are out there too,” he noted.

While the situation is biting harder, Mary-Jane Ikimhe, a school proprietress, decried that the government seems unconcerned as many Nigerians do not believe in their promises again.

“A concerned government should send its agents to petrol stations to seal off any station that has petrol and refuse to sell in order to linger the scarcity or that sell above certain pump prices.

“Government used to do this in the past, it should do the same now because petrol station owners, especially in Lagos, are not selling in the day time, but at night to higher bidders,” the educationist lamented.

The situation for Abidemi Fadahunsi, a Port Harcourt-based economist, is very unpleasant in a country that is blessed with crude oil, but lacks the ability to refine it.

“The situation is like man-eat-man here in Port Harcourt because petrol comes from Lagos, despite the refinery here, which they keep lying to us that it will commence production today, tomorrow and nothing has happened.

“For two days now, I have been buying petrol at N2000 per litre in the black market to power my generator. The petrol stations are not selling and those selling are impenetrable due to long queues. So, where are the black-market racketeers getting their products and why will they sell with over N1000 gain per litre when they get it below N600 at NNPC or at most N1000 per litre at other petrol stations? Our wickedness and greed for money are worsening the situation,” he lamented.

The economist regretted that Nigerians have taken capitalism farther away from its ideal as oil marketers, petrol station owners, pump attendants and even jobless youth are always praying for scarcity to make money at the expense of the suffering of many.

“It is difficult to capture business during scarcity in our GDP because you need stability and free business flow to be able to measure accurately.

“You can’t even tax the excess profit of these petrol stations during scarcity because it is money made illegally. They will usually tell tax people and auditors that their stations were closed for lack of products to sell during the scarcity period,” Fadahunsi said.

In the same vein, Alex Igbokona, an entrepreneur and father of three, decried that most petrol stations across the country had products before the rumour of scarcity that is now true, but locked their stations, hoping to take advantage of the situation later.

The Lagos-based confectioner noted that apart from the NNPC that is selling below N600 per litre, other petrol stations are selling above N800 per litre.

The station owners and their agents, according to him, are enjoying the scarcity because of the kill they are making from hoarding products to sell later to higher bidders.

Considering that Nigerians suffer a lot whenever there is petrol scarcity, Igbokona said that the government should have made all efforts in collaboration with the NNPC and other stakeholders to ensure steady import of petrol.

Lamenting that more scarcities are imminent, he said, “It is sad that our government cannot boast of a refinery, they cannot ensure steady supply from refineries built by others, and cannot encourage the private sector in fuel importation.

“The NNPC has a petrol importation monopoly and relying on the Dangote Refinery is very wrong because the man is business-minded. He left petrol to refine diesel, which will help him recoup his investment faster”.

But a senior staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, who pleaded for anonymity, explained that the government through the NNPC and the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority, is addressing the situation with a 15-day emergency supply across the country, which started on Monday and that the issue will fizzle out soon. He, however, pointed out that fuel racketeers and many unscrupulous petrol station owners may likely sabotage the efforts for selfish reasons.

“When you refer to the civil servants as evil, some of these marketers and petrol station owners are worse. They will sabotage government efforts to restore steady supply because of the brisk business they are making now. Imagine buying from NNPC and selling at N1500 per litre and Nigerians are buying because they have to move, run their businesses and live their lives. It is very sad,” the anonymous staff decried.

But beyond petrol, some government policy experts think that Nigerians should prepare for other scarcities as the economic reforms of the present administration keep having its toll on the populace, with little respite in sight.

According to one of them, the country should brace up for worse food scarcity as insecurity in the country, especially in the northern part, has prevented farmers from returning to their farms.

“Thirty (30) years ago, during the Sani Abacha regime, Nigerians slept at filling stations, looking for petrol. Today, the queues are longer, showing that Nigeria has not made any progress 30 years after. The pains are more with Nigerians paying more for non-available product. A country that operates this way is not serious with leadership. What it means is that for 30 whole years, Nigeria has continued to mark time at a point. People born 30 years ago are now managing directors of companies, yet Nigeria is decaying by the day; so sad!” said a tech expert who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Petrol scarcity

“Subsidy is gone.” This was the statement made by President Bola Tinubu in his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023.

The market reacted immediately to the president’s speech leading to an astronomical rise in the pump price of petrol across the country.

The product, which was sold between ₦190 and ₦210 before Tinubu’s government, is currently sold between ₦568 and ₦620 at the official rate.

At the time of filing this article, many filling stations remained shut across Lagos State with long queues in few ones selling between ₦600 to ₦800 per litre.

Those who could not wait on the long queues have to settle for black market selling between ₦1000 and ₦1,200 for a litre.

“We haven’t seen light since a week ago. I have been struggling to get fuel for two days. I just need a litre to pump water,” Nike, a mother of five living in Igando area of Lagos, lamented.

Power supply worsens

The power supply in Nigeria remains unreliable, despite tariff increases aimed at improving infrastructure and service delivery.

On April 3, 2024, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) raised electricity tariff for customers in Band A from ₦66 to ₦225 per kilowatt.

According to the commission, customers under Band A will enjoy a minimum of 20-hour power supply daily.

Despite assurances from the government, many customers are still battling with perpetual darkness as electricity distribution companies struggle to meet demands.

Frequent blackouts plunge homes, businesses, and industries into darkness, hindering productivity and exacerbating the reliance on expensive alternatives like generators.

The cycle of inadequate power supply perpetuates the country’s energy crisis, stifling growth and development.
Speaking with BusinessDay Sunday, Odeiga Jideonwo, president of Enugu Chamber of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture (ECCIMA), decried the sharp increase in the new tariff, he also accused some of the distribution companies (DisCos) of playing hanky-panky with the and the new arrangement.

“Electricity consumers are graded to ABCD. Band A is meant to have customers or consumers who have up to 20 hours of supply in a day. In most other states, they were honest with it; if a particular feeder does not qualify or does not have up to 20 hours supply, it is not counted as Band A feeder; the cost difference is about 300 percent, but what the EEDC did when they got that directive was to move feeders that do not have up to 20 hours supply to Band A and the consumers now pay about three times more than what they used to pay which is wrong. Now, we are under Band A; we were paying sixty (60) something Naira for a kilowatt before, now we are paying heavily per a kilowatt, over N200. But there is no power supply; we have been out of power supply for today more than ten hours, yet we are in Band A.

“So, we are please calling on NERC to call these people to order. Industries will suffer, bear the cost of diesel, because we don’t have power, you pay extremely high tariff, yet no supply of electricity; it does not help productivity,” Jideonwo said.

Food scarcity

In tandem with fuel and power shortages, the cost of food items continues to soar, placing them out of reach for many families.

The inflationary pressure compounded by supply chain disruptions, inadequate infrastructure, and climate-related challenges contribute to the rising cost of living. As a result, millions of Nigerians struggle to afford basic necessities, deepening the poverty crisis and exacerbating social inequalities.

The latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that food inflation, which makes up over 50 percent of headline inflation, continued to increase for the 15th consecutive time, reaching 40.01 percent in March compared to 37.92 percent in February.

The CPI, measuring price changes of goods and services, also revealed that March’s food inflation rate was 15.56 percentage points higher than March last year, which stood at 24.45 percent.

In addition to food inflation, headline inflation accelerated to 33.20 percent in March, up from 31.70 percent in February.

According to the 2023 State of Food Security and Nutrition World report, the number of Nigerians who are food insecure has increased by 133 percent in three years. It jumped from 63.8 million people between 2014 and 2016 to 148.7 million people between 2020 and 2022.

Furthermore, the scarcity of security poses a significant threat to the safety and well-being of citizens across the country. With the proliferation of criminal activities, including kidnappings, armed robberies, and insurgency, Nigerians are forced to bear the burden of securing their lives and properties.

Transportation, essential for mobility and economic activities, has become increasingly inaccessible due to skyrocketing costs driven by fuel shortages and operational challenges.

Commuters face exorbitant fares, while businesses struggle with increased logistics expenses, further impeding commerce and trade. The lack of efficient public transportation infrastructure exacerbates the burden on citizens, especially those in rural and underserved areas.

Security remains a scarce commodity

Killings have continued in some states by bandits, herdsmen and other unidentified gunmen.

Last week, eleven people, including a pregnant woman, were killed when gunmen attacked the residents of Inikiri, a village in Ezza Effium Community, Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Nigeria’s south-east.

Last Sunday, about four people were killed on as suspected herdsmen invaded Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State.

Killings have continued in Plateau and Benue States.

Peter Obi reacts

Reacting recently to the worsening state of electricity supply in Nigeria, Peter Obi, a former presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), said: “Yesterday, I read a report in the media on how Tanzania, our East African fellow nation, recently shut down five hydroelectric stations to reduce excess electricity in the national grid.

“Their decision to shut down these power stations stemmed from the fact that their electricity production was already enough to power their major cities and give electricity access to the rural dwellers.

“In pain, I wondered how our nation, the giant of Africa, could not be able to power even one of the major cities, for example, the capital Abuja, while Tanzania has succeeded in powering all their major cities.”

He recalled that “A World Bank report showed how strong political will and commitment have been responsible for rapid electricity access in Tanzania which has seen electricity access move from 7percent in 2011 to almost 40percent (37.7percent) in 2020, during which about 75percent (73.2percent) of urban dwellers gained access to electricity and about 25percent (24.5percent) of rural areas gained access to electricity.

“A similar report, in June 2023, showed that about 70 per cent of 40 million Tanzanians living in rural areas have received access to electricity, signifying a monumental growth in the sector, while regrettably Nigeria’s situation, remains the opposite.”

According to Obi, “In Nigeria, 60percent of our over 200 million people live without access to electricity, according to a 2022 Energy Progress Report.

“Considering the economic loss resulting from the lack of access to electricity in our nation, which remains immeasurable and with the recent electricity tariff increase, one would expect that we would be able, at least, to power one major city in each geo-political zone soon, and increase our overall access both in the urban and rural areas.

“The government must, therefore, sanitise and rescue the sector for the good of the nation. If Tanzania could achieve such a milestone in power generation, then Nigeria can do it even better, with competent and committed leadership. A stable power sector is very critical for the journey to a New Nigeria, to which we remain committed.”