BusinessDay

Anxiety as fuel scarcity lingers in Abuja

Queues of motorists struggling to purchase premium motor spirit, popularly called petrol, persist for about the sixth week since they were first noticed at retail petrol outlets in Abuja, as the essential commodity remains elusive.

While most of the filling stations are shut, a few dispensing the product have hordes of customers with apprehension written all over their faces as they spend valuable man-hours – sometimes days on vehicular lines. By the way, the above scenario is said to be playing out in some other parts of the country where fuel scarcity continues to exist.

Sadly enough, it is not only at gas stations that queues are witnessed as a result of the scarcity. Oftentimes, a large crowd of commuters could be seen at bus – terminals under the intense heat of the sun – waiting for the arrival of any available public or private transport service to convey them to their various destinations.

Naturally, the petrol shortage has afforded agents like “Black Marketers” the opportunity of cashing out big from their illegal brisk business. Strategically positioned near gas stations where they obtain fuel from unscrupulous attendants at exorbitant costs – usually in the dead of the night, the racketeers make humongous gains selling the product in jerry cans of 5,10, and 20 litres. These allegedly go for as much as N5,000, N10,000, and N20,000 respectively in blatant contravention of extant laws.

Expectedly, though, almost every aspect of human endeavour is impacted by the ripple effect of the notorious petroleum saga.

Aside from grounding economic activities in the nooks and crannies of the burgeoning nascent federal capital as well as other parts of the nation, the imbroglio has engendered an astronomical rise in transportation costs for both inter and intra-city movement said to have quadrupled to about 200 percent.

Similarly, prices of essential food items have skyrocketed with a lot of families having difficulties in affording balanced diets every day.

In the aviation industry, several flights of local airlines hit by the nation-wide shortage of Jet-A1 fuel which rose to about N700/litre before interventionist measures by government have been cancelled. This has led to hike in air fares.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has predicted that the rising prices of goods and services in the country will push 7 million Nigerians into poverty this year.

At this juncture, we must interrogate why the hydra-headed monster under review has remained an albatross over the years. Investigations carried out reveal the current fuel crisis in Abuja is about the third in its series to be recorded this year. Lending some credence to the revelation, the Socio-Economic Rights and

Accountability Project (SERAP) in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari dated March 5, 2022, observed that the first sign of fuel scarcity in the year was noticed about January 24, 2022, ahead the Nigeria Labour Congress’ nationwide protests against the planned Federal Government removal of petroleum subsidy by July 2022.

According to a report by Kemi Busari in the Online edition of the Premium Times of January 4, 2018, captioned “The real reasons for fuel scarcity in Nigeria – Kachikwu,” minister of state for petroleum resources, Ibe Kachikwu was quoted as saying that lack of sufficient reserve, low clearance speed of petrol at the ports, (and) diversion of products were some of the reasons for the ongoing fuel crisis in Nigeria.

How then do we chart the way forward as a means of proffering solutions to the lingering crisis? Dr. Ahmed Adamu, a petroleum economist in an article titled, “Fuel scarcity: Issues and solutions,” published in the Online edition of The Nation newspaper, February 23, 2022, had recommended the stoppage of petroleum importation and removal of subsidies.

While calling on the government to encourage use of alternative fuels like Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), Adamu canvassed petroleum consumption reduction programmes to include investments in light rail transit.

Throwing its weight behind privatization of the sector, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) while attributing disruptions in smooth distribution of fuel nationwide to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has explained that “the current N165 per litre pump price for PMS cannot fit in into the present realities (of things) without the pricing template being reviewed.” (The Guardian Newspaper, Online edition of 6th June, 2022).

In a tweet on her verified twitter handle @obyezeks December 23, 2017, Dr. (Mrs.) Oby Ezekwesili had made a strong case for full deregulation of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria as a panacea for controlling the recurring petrol scarcity. The one-time Minister for education maintained that government severing of the knots of politics would unleash productive incentives.

Read also: Fuel market crisis deepens as subsidy swells

Writing on “Why fuel scarcity may persist,” in the Online version of the Nigerian Tribune of February 27, 2022, Sulaimon Olarenwaju had said; “So, if NNPC is unwilling to punish those who imported adulterated fuel and the government is unwilling to fix the nation’s refineries while people are unwilling to put the government on its toes, what guarantee is there that what is will not continue to be?” One could not agree with him more.

Perhaps it’s pertinent to note that only a few days ago, the federal government raised the freight rate for petroleum products in Nigeria. Although the gesture is expected to alleviate challenges faced by marketers in trucking fuel across the country, it remains to be seen how the said upward review would engender disappearance of queues from retail outlets nationwide.

In conclusion, as we await the full operationalisation of the 650,000 barrels-per-day Dangote Refinery in Lagos which Minister of Information and Culture has described as “a game-changer capable of driving refining revolution in Africa”, the imperatives for convocation of an urgent emergency summit by the government, industry players with relevant stakeholders towards advocating proactive measures for a radical transformation of the oil and gas sector cannot be overstressed. After all, a stitch in time, they say, saves nine.

Wemambu, a social commentator, writes from Abuja

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