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‘Scarcity of aviation fuel, our shame’

By Helen Ovbiagele

The plane coming into the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos was meant to arrive at 7.30 pm, but it didn’t arrive until an hour later, and the passengers began to come out at about 10pm. Two of us were there, waiting to welcome a friend who was flying in that night.

At the best of times, that airport is not a place you should linger in, so, our anxiety began to grow as we scanned the passengers who were coming out, for our friend. How safe would it be for us to drive the long distance to the other end of town where she would be staying? Should we take the 3rd Mainland bridge or Ikorodu Road, we wondered? We were getting no response from her mobile phone, and our anxiety heightened.

“Look Helen, our safety is important,” said my companion, who could no longer bear the situation. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally stay out this long. If she doesn’t come out at 11, we should leave.”

“Hey! We can’t do that, and leave her stranded at the airport. I think we should wait until we’re told there are no more passengers left from that flight.

Be patient. After all, we know that she’s on this flight, because she spoke to us when they had boarded. We have a driver with us. We’ll be okay. Where’s your faith?”

I began to feel unsafe too, as the crowd thinned, and shadowy figures loitered around us. What to do? We began to discuss again, whether to stay or leave.
Mercifully, soon, our visitor came out and we rushed to welcome her. Great relief all round!

On the way to the Island, she apologized for the late arrival of the plane.

“Ladies, I’m sorry you had to wait this long for me,” she began, “I feel guilty for keeping you out this late. We had an hour’s delay before take-off.”

“Oh, we’re sorry to hear that,” I said. “Was it a fault with the plane, or, were you waiting for late passengers?”

“None of those, Helen. Actually, the underlying fault isn’t the plane or its operators. Rather, it’s Nigeria’s.” she added with a giggle.
“Ah! Here we go again with Nigeria-bashing! What have we done this time to delay your flight from your country? We refused you landing or what?” asked the other lady jokingly.

“We were told that the plane needed to carry extra fuel with which to return, because there’s a shortage of aviation fuel in Nigeria. How about that? You guys are an oil-producing country, and planes now have to bring in their own fuel with which to re-fuel. That’s real funny!”

“There’s no such thing!” I protested. “You’re joking, right?” I asked with a sinking feeling.

“Sorry, I know how you feel, but sadly, I’m not joking. It was the first time I was hearing of such a thing, but other passengers who travel this route frequently, told me that it’s the normal. I was very surprised. Not to worry, my dear ladies. It must be a temporary thing, and the back-up fuel is wise.”

We switched to another topic in our conversation, but I must confess that I felt very let down by our rulers! Have things so deteriorated in this country that planes have to carry extra fuel with them when flying into Nigeria?

Carrying extra fuel in jerrycans while travelling in the country, is not strange here. Before you travel, it’s wise to ask around if there’s fuel on the way, and at your destination, so that you’re not stranded at a point. I learnt that there are some parts of the country where there’s a permanent shortage of fuel and where fuel is never sold at the stipulated price of 97 naira per litre. Well, this is a situation we try to contain.

However, allowing aviation fuel shortage/scarcity to persist and thereby expose to the world, our inepitude in managing our own affairs, especially oil-related ones, is a disgrace to the nation. No nation should be comfortable with airlines having to bring their own fuel into the country for any reason. Aviation fuel should be easily available and affordable, so that the aviation business can run smoothly for all concerned. Sometimes, we don’t have our own interests at heart.

If we make things difficult for those who operate airlines, they may withdraw their services from this country. Yes, this may lead to loss of income for them, but it would also throw many Nigerians onto the unemployment market, and drastically affect the hospitality business, as hotels would have low patronage. Part of the reason some airlines gave for higher fares here than in Ghana, was this problem of Aviation fuel, among other things. Next thing we know, we’ll be going to neighbouring countries to take flights to other countries. Wouldn’t that be a disgrace to the most populous black nation in the world?

I suppose the blame would be put on the deregulation of the prices of some imported oil products – gas, diesel, aviation fuel and kerosene. These are not subsidized by the government, so, their prices and availability are at the convenience and discretion of the importers.

Kerosene, which I understand is close to Aviation Fuel, is meant to be sold for 50 naira per litre, because it’s supposed to be what the masses use for cooking. This price wasn’t observed for long, and instead, there’s been perennial shortage of kerosene since then; leading to high prices. The masses then have to turn to our traditional fuel for cooking – firewood and its derivative – charcoal. To get these they have to fell trees, to the detriment of the soil and environment.

Yet, we’re talking green, planting trees, and discouraging the felling of trees! If we’re serious about this, then kerosene, which at petrol stations presently hover around 140 naira per litre, should revert to fifty naira; gas which refills at 3,500 naira per 12.5kg cylinder should have its price lowered drastically, so that the man on the street can afford its use.

We have all the relevant experts in Finance, Oil & Gas industry, Security, etc. who can advise our government on how to make this possible, and bring the needed relief to our citizens.

 


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