• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Reminiscences of fuel scarcity

Reminiscences of fuel scarcity

“Everything that happens once can never happen again, but everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.” Paulo Coelho

More than two centuries ago, some scholars were of the view that the economic well-being of mankind was essentially a function of natural resources. Natural resources alone have failed Nigeria woefully. It wasn’t too long before some nations realised that, irrespective of the quantity of natural resources, societies that embraced industrialization graduated to a rich class and powerful status.

Q: “Hardly a year goes by since the 1970s without fuel scarcity, accompanied by long queues of cars, motorcycles, and jerry-cans.”

It’s still a mystery, which may never be fully understood, why some nations can’t achieve economic development while others are trying desperately hard to create wealth for their people. What is very disturbing is that twenty-four years into the twenty-first century, we still have some countries in Africa that are not at the threshold of economic development.

Nigeria has crude oil and other minerals, but there has always been fuel scarcity. Almost half a century ago, there was fuel scarcity in Nigeria. This columnist got to know this because of a front-page headline that went viral on social media. On March 24, 1975, the New Nigeria newspaper published a headline titled “Petrol Scarcity Still Acute.”

In the 1975 headline, it was reported that “the petroleum shortage, which has already disrupted normal activities in the country, is still acute.” “By last weekend, the shortage had spread to the only city in the northern states that had hitherto been unaffected—Kano.”

“Motorists in the city woke up yesterday to face an acute shortage of petrol as most of the filling stations were dry in the early hours of the day. Long lines of cars were seen in the remaining filling stations at which there was gasoline to sell. But some of these too could only offer the ordinary brand as the super oil has become very scarce.”

On June 7, 1977, the Daily Times had the headline, “Fuel Crisis May Be Over Next Year.” Forty-five years ago, when ex-president Mohammed Buhari was the Federal Commissioner for Petroleum, there was fuel scarcity. The fuel crisis, which was promised to end next year, in 1978, has not ended. Even when the ex-president was the minister of petroleum between 2015 and 2023, he could not end fuel scarcity. There was fuel scarcity every year during his presidency.

Again, in 1994, precisely 30 years ago, there was fuel scarcity. This was made known on a X.com account by a man who shared the video with the caption, “On this day, April 30, 1994, same day, same time; only difference 30 years ago.”

“Nigerians in long fuel queues are lamenting; 30 years later, they are still lamenting. And in another 30 years, I will still lament.” Why? Because patterns don’t lie, especially when problems are always allowed to repeat themselves. Fuel scarcity has happened more than once in Nigeria, and it will happen again. That is why Paulo Coelho’s quote is so important in this piece.

Today, May 7, 2024, there is still fuel scarcity and long queues of cars in many filling stations across the country. Hardly a year goes by since the 1970s without fuel scarcity, accompanied by long queues of cars, motorcycles, and jerry cans.

Now most filling stations have banned jerry cans. In a filling station, Nigerians were told not to buy fuel in jerry cans except for cars. And if they need fuel for their businesses, they should go and bring their generators. The people obliged. This is projecting a bad image of Nigeria. I watched a video on social media showing generators and their owners in line. Most Nigerians are parading generators when the world is talking about green energy.

Unending fuel scarcity is due to many reasons. Fear of fuel price increase because Mr President has said at the World Economic Forum (WEF) that subsidy had to go or Nigeria would have gone bankrupt… and we know there’s still a subsidy, so people are stocking up in jerry-cans at home, and some dealers are hoarding, expecting a price increase…

Some industry experts believe that smuggling is on the rise again due to increasing arbitrage due to the instability of the naira. Besides the trillions of Naira spent generously on fuel subsidies, there is still fuel scarcity. In fact, fuel scarcity endures in major cities. The refineries have continued to fail. It’s either importation or nothing. Installed production capacity cannot meet the ever-increasing local demand for petroleum products.

It makes no sense for Nigeria to continue to import finished petroleum products at huge cost to the country. When will government-owned refineries work? Experience has shown that the federal government is not efficient in managing businesses. If anything, corruption, ineptitude, and dishonesty displayed for decades have continued to confirm this widely held view by some experts. When will fuel scarcity come to an end in Nigeria? Your guess is as good as mine. Thank you.

MA Johnson, Rear Admiral (Rtd)