By Victor Ahiuma-Young
FOR over two months, normal socio-economic activities have been disrupted dueÂ to unending scarcity ofÂ Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise known as petrol. It is worsened by government’s inability to resolve the problem. This has once again, broughtÂ to the fore, the futility of depending on 100 percent of imported products to service local consumers.
Worried by government’s inability toÂ address the supply crisis in the country, leaders of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and National Gas Workers (NUPENG), haveÂ presentedÂ a position paper to the minister of state for petroleum and energy at a stakeholders meeting downstream sector of the petroleum industry, heldÂ in Lagos.Â The union , suggestedÂ Â 18Â ways of putting an end to the scarcity of PMS.
The position paper signed by both the President and General Secretary of the union, Comrades Igwe Achese and Elijah Okougbo respectively, stated that the problems arising from the shortfall of supply of petroleum products is gradually dragging the economy to its knees and that the union believes something urgent should be done before it gets out of hand and posited thatÂ all hands must be on deck to bring back orderliness to petroleum products distribution in the country.
Why fuel is scarce
According to NUPENGâ€™s paper, â€œthe refineries that are supposed to be producing refined products for the end users are in a comatose state. It is a shame that the four refineries at Alesa Eleme, Warn, and Kaduna are not functioning. This is a big problem despite the huge sums of money that have been budgeted by past and present administrations towards their turn-around-maintenance and crude oil pipeline repairs.
The massive importation of petroleum products is also a big cause for concern and a drain on our scarce foreign exchange. It does not make good economic sense for the sixth largest producer of petroleum products to be involved in massive importation of petroleum products. Similarly the way and manner refined petroleum products are allocated and distributed to other stakeholders by the NNPC calls for question.
The use of selected depots for the storage of petroleumÂ products imported by the NNPC is equally discriminatory because it helps to create artificial scarcity. There are depots with computerized equipments that the NNPC can use for adequate storage of petroleum products but they areÂ allowed to remain fallow while the nation suffers from scarcity.â€
Other suggestionsÂ of the union are â€œThe huge sums of monies owed major marketers in bridging and subsidy is another headache. Most of them have refused to import products due to huge debts owed them by the government. The recent approval given for the payment of N32 billion is just a tip of the iceberg, considering over N95 billion owed them by the Petroleum products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
The issue of vandalized crude oil pipelines especially at Chanomi creeks is another problem militating against free flow of crude oil to Kaduna and Warri refineries. The refusal by commercial banks to give loans to operators in the sector to import petroleum products is also militating against the availability of the products. The ruptured and vandalised NNPC/PPMC network pipelines that traverse the nooks and crannies of the country is another problem.
The dilapidated highways in the country is also becoming a nightmare for effective distribution of petroleum products, as oi! trucks and trailers have become victims of accidents and fire along these roads that are in state of decay. Despite the huge sums of monies allocated for the revitalisation of the railways, not much development has been noticed. The railways that used to transport petroleum products from the ports to other parts of the country has become a mere shadow of itself,
How to endÂ fuel scarcity
Proffering solutions to petrol scarcity, the oil workers union called on the government to immediately fix the four refineries â€œso that they can produce at optimum capacity and at least meet 80 percent of local consumption demand of the petroleum products market. It will.take the political will of government to make them workÂ by reducing the bureaucratic bottlenecks involved in downstream transactions.
The bad roads in the country should be repaired, now that we are in the dry season. If the roads are rehabilitated, there will be fewerÂ accidents and products distribution will be more efficient. We note that Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) is underfunded and must therefore be well funded and NUPENG should be on the board of the corporation as a part of the originators of the plan to set up the organization. The railway system needs to be revitalized to bring back its lost glory.
The tracks â€˜leading to the ports should be rehabilitated, new wagons, tanks and locomotives should be purchased to move petroleum products to the countryside. The government must ensure adequate power distribution by building more power houses because without electricity the economy will remain comatose.
The power generating sets in the refineries, NNPC/PPMC depots all over the country should be changed to modern ones. The vandalised Chanomi creeks pipelines and ruptured pipelines across the country should be immediately fixed for adequate product supply movements. NNPC should ensure that those pipelines are in good condition and well maintained.â€
â€œThe federal government, should instruct the Central Bank to further recapitalise some of the distressed banks and give order that the banks should rescind the decision to stop giving loans to operators involved in petroleum products business in order to avert further scarcity and crisis in the sector.
The federal government should build more refineries through public-private-sector participation while fixing the existing ones. The government should increase security surveillance on the NNPC/PPMC pipeline right of way to stem further vandalisation and carry out regular maintenance to reduce the frequency of pipeline rupture.
The law enforcement agents should be given warnings to stop harassing and shooting tanker drivers doing their legitimate duties all in the name of extortion. Such erring officers should be. brought to book. The NNPC must stop the use of selective use of some depots to the detriment of others with adequate capacity.
The owners of tank farms with up-do-date technology should be patronized by the NNPC in products storage. Access roads to the depots should be maintained to reduce accidents and damages to oil trucks. Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) and Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) officials must work on public holidays to endorse waybills to enable tanker drivers load and distribute fuel on such days because they are on essential services to the nation on such occasions.
There is also the need to adhere to benchmark prices of petroleum products which should be strictly enforced by the DPR in consultation with the PPPRA as their officials have not been alive to their responsibilities in this direction. All the monies owed the PEF should be paid monthly to enable the fund meet its obligations to marketers and transporters on a monthly basis and to ensure industrial peace and harmony in the sector.â€
According to NUPENG, â€œThere is a need to build parking lots that will have all the necessary facilities like toilets, bathrooms, accommodation in the complex where tanker driversÂ on distribution trips canÂ rest and take off to their destinations the next day.
We call for the decentralisation of loading points to places like Koko, Calabar, Sapele, Lekki, Codonut, etc, instead of the over concentration in Lagos. This will go a long way to decongest the rush to Lagos to load fuel. Major oil producing companies should be made to refine petroleum products locally and be compelled to build their own refineries. Government should assist them to secure lands for such refineries.
Government should provide the enabling environment for the establishment and construction of modern pipelines system with security devices to check vandalisation and leakages. The depot owners should allow unionization of their workers as freedom ofÂ association is guaranteed in the constitution instead of creating a situation of slaveÂ drivers versus industrial monarchs in Labour-Management relations. State Governors should be held responsible for vandalised pipelines incidences in their states.
There should be deductions from their states allocation from the Federation account where cases of vandalised pipelines are reported because they all rely on the federation account that is realized from oil and gas production. The Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) with other stakeholders have gone far to see how they could protectÂ pipelines especially in llorin, Mosimi, Port Harcourt, Aba and Ibadan areas. Their patriotic efforts should be commended for sponsoring the anti-vandalisation struggle.â€