I AM always in a quagmire between Free Market Economy, FME and Government Social Responsibility, GSR. It is like standing between the devil and the deep blue sea.
If we deregulate the Petroleum Industry, will it make fuel more available and affordable? Will people stop vandalising NNPC pipelines and setting them on fire? Just like Arepo in OgunState.
Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo has been thumping his chest, that when he came in as President in 1999, telephone lines, aka 090 …, was more than N250,000 per line, but before he left in 2007, you could obtain a phone and a line for as low as N2,500. I am not a mathematician; could somebody please work out the percentage drop?
The free marketers capitalised on this and have been shouting themselves hoarse, that only deregulation will bring the prices of petroleum products down on the one hand. The recent NNPC pipeline fire disaster in Arepo, OgunState has become their linchpin.
On the other hand, the social critics have been blasting the government that they have a social responsibility to keep subsidising petroleum products. They keep enunciating the hazardous consequence that is attendant with deregulation. They have not given a thought to the fact, that though there may be initial teething problems, with time petroleum products’ prices would come crashing, just like telephone and its lines.
Nigerians are adamant, just like Peter Tosh sang, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
Investors said that market prices are not competitive enough, so they cannot invest in petroleum refineries. They gave the government a long shopping list, which would be near impossible to fulfil.
I found out to my chagrin, that despite our being the seventh in the line of World Petroleum Exporting and Producing Countries, we are the only one that import petroleum products. Our refineries, in terms of refining capacity, are about the 54th in the world.
Let’s look at a few of the refining capacity of some refineries in the world.
Jammager Refinery India- Refines 1.2million barrels a day. Falco in Venezuela refines-940,000 barrels/day .. SK Energy of South Korea refines 850,000 barrels/ day. Exxon Mobile Singapore refines 605,000 barrels a day. Ras Taura of Saudi Arabia refines 550,000 barrels a day.
Nigeria has three refineries: Kaduna refinery NNPC- 110,000 barrels a day;
Port Harcourt refinery NNPC- 210,000 barrels a day; Warri refinery NNPC-125,000 barrels a day.
These combine to translate to 445,000 barrels a day, which is not up to one of the refineries mentioned above.
Venezuela with a population of 29 million has about 11 refineries, one of which is Falco refinery with a refining capacity of940,000 barrels a day. So she refines all her petroleum and exports the products. Can you beat that?
And Nigerian refineries hardly achieve 60 percent refining capacity mostly due to sabotage, but this is a topic for another day. Even those in the NNPC and their GMD would be in same dilemma. If they should advise government to deregulate the Petroleum Industry, knowing that it is the only way, there would be abundance of petroleum products. People would call for their heads, that they are trying to shirk their responsibility which is provision of petroleum products everywhere in Nigeria at affordable prices.
I do not in all Godly sincerity know the current GMD of NNPC. I do know that his name is Yakubu. I cannot, however, tell whether that is his first or surname; but I am convinced that whatever hand he has put on the plough of NNPC (petroleum products wise) is yielding dividend.
Following the fire disaster at Arepo, there was panic everywhere, especially in the South West region of Nigeria. This was compounded when the Ogun State Governor came out firing from all cylinders, putting the blame on NNPC. He accused NNPC of aiding pipeline vandalism in the state, adding that it did not take enough precautions to prevent the vandalism. NNPC countered that the lands adjoining pipel ine right of way is not under them to control, or demolish obstructing structures. It said that the state government, in a bid to make money, allocate the lands around the perimeter fence of the pipelines-which for security reason should be a free land zone. This is to grant access to the pipelines in cases of disasters..
I think it would be wise that all states that harbour NNPC pipelines should work out a combined management team with NNPC to ensure right of passage and remove any existing structure on the way, if that is not in existence. This should also include the setting up of a joint community vigilante for pipelines as well as high-tech monitoring schemes for all NNPC pipelines in Nigeria.
It was quite re-assuring to hear the NNPC spokesman assure Nigerians that the Arepo fire disaster would not lead to any shortage of petroleum products.
That NNPC will do everything within its power to restore normalcy in the Arepo area. As I write, I learnt repair works have been completed in the area and supply of petroleum products re-started.
NNPC should be commended for prompt response and for the assurance that there will be no fuel scarcity. Panic buyers have been stopped in their tracks.
This is how it should always be. Prompt response to disasters.
Dr. CHUKWUEMEKA NZEMIRO, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Owerri, Imo State.