By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
ABUJA – The President of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Aminu Abdulkadir, has said the planned deregulation of the downstream sector by government may not hold the magic cure for the problems bedeviling the industry unless appropriate steps are taken to ensure availability of petroleum products in the country.
Abdulkadir, who spoke in an interview with our correspondent in Abuja , also said the role of independent marketers in the distribution chain has to be taken seriously in the process of formulating policies for the industry if such policies must succeed.
He said, â€œIPMAN is concerned about the issue of our involvement or the lack of it in the preparation of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), being that we are a major stakeholder in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria .
â€œOur members control over 78% of the distribution and retail of petroleum products in the country. What we are saying is that if there is a new policy for the industry, whether deregulation or anything, we are not adverse to such a policy, rather let us be involved in the process and be allowed to play our part as people who are eventually affected by such a decision.â€
The IPMAN boss further said the government, through the NNPC, should designate some depots to their members to anchor so that the distribution chain would not be broken which might lead to scarcity.
â€œThis is what we have been talking about all along, but it seems no one is paying heed, and that is why the petroleum industry in the country is currently besotted with all kinds of challenges,â€ he added.
On the plan by the NNPC to take over some filling stations to ensure efficient distribution of products, Abdulkadir noted that it was an exercise in futility.
He said, â€œFor 40 years major marketers have said they will acquire our filling stations, how many have they acquired over that period of time? They acquired only 1,600 in 40 years. IPMAN members have built over 18,000 retail outlets over this same period.
â€œThe ratio goes to prove our claim that we are an indispensable part of the petroleum supply and distribution chain in the country. The question really should be: What does the nation need at this critical time, is it retail outlets or refineries?â€
He added, â€œWe are looking for refineries to refine products for our local consumption, not retail outlets which we already have scattered all over the country and more are being built everyday. We have enough retail outlets to distribute the products, but we canâ€™t find the product anywhere.
â€œThe NNPCâ€™s plans to take over the filling stations is not an issue as major marketers have tried that collectively in the past and it has not worked. The fundamental issue is the unavailability of the product. Once the product is available, anybody can run the filling stations.â€
Abdulkadir stressed that the issue of deregulation was a critical one in the economy, which government must undertake in phases giving the poor state of refining infrastructure in the industry.
He said, â€œIf they insist on deregulating the downstream fully, where would they get the resources? There are so many factors involved in a system such as government is advocating. If IPMAN was made a part of the process, we would be able to advise appropriately on such matters.
â€œDeregulation is inevitable, but we have to put some things on ground, and that it should be undertaken in phases so that it can be successfully, till we gravitate to the full deregulation. There has to be a process; it has to be in stages, giving the disparate state of things in the industry.
â€œYou cannot bring something just from the blues without considering the consequences and the aftermath of your actions.â€
According to him, â€œThat is why we said we need to be a part of the process of making these bills, so that we can give our input in matters such as the deregulation policy that this government is pushing so hard to pass. You cannot have much impact if you are not an intricate part of the process.
â€œIPMAN is a major constituency in the downstream and you can only ignore this fact at your peril because you will certainly not be able to distribute the products, say, in a fully deregulated economy. We have the purchasing power; we pay billions daily to NNPC and PPMC for this product.â€
He added that as Nigerians, â€œthe association wants the best for the petroleum industry and we would have to support government programmes and policies, but we have to guard where necessary so that it does not affect our businesses negatively and protect other citizens of our nation.â€