By Luka Binniyat
Nigeria, the world sixth biggest producer of crude oil, had in the past few days, been displaying its notoriety for shocking failures in almost everything, as record breaking fuel queues across most cities in the country greeted this yearâ€™s Christmas.
The most brazen display of this shortcoming took place in the Federal Capital City of Abuja, where fuel queues hit over a kilometre in some filing stations.
â€œNever in my life could I have ever imagined that I would spend four-days and night waiting for my turn to buy fuelâ€, lamented Inua Shuibu, 45, a commercial bus driver while responding to Saturday Vanguard at Conoil Filling station, Area 11 Abuja.
â€œI have witnessed fuel queues during the regime of Abacha (late Gen. Sani Abacha)â€, he said, â€œbut this is not the Nigeria that I have come to know in the past ten years. This is worse than Abacha fuel queuesâ€, he said.
Transportation cost has spiralled by about 200% within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and about 450% to travel outside the FCT
Abuja to Okigwe in Imo State , for example was N1,500 last week but is now N5000
The prices of foodstuff and even wears have equally moved up.
Every one that spoke expressed the same sentiment of resentment against the system; against imagined and real cartels believed to be behind this ravaging war against the people.
But, it may not be entirely fair to put all the blame on failure of governance and the â€œmafiaâ€. For right here at every filling station in Abuja, ordinary people, who are charged with simple responsibilitiesÂ of ensuring that things works properly, use the opportunity to crudely exploit anguished motorist and cyclist who spend days taking turns to buy at official rates,
In defiance of the â€œno-jerry canâ€ order imposed in filling stations, fuel pump attendants brazenly flout this order, filling hundreds of the containers to some street boysÂ working for them. Right Across the street, instead of selling a litre for say, N70Â Â as at Thursday, it was soldÂ for N400 per litre to desperate buyers.
Urchins and Police who man the gates of filling stations take bribes of between N1000 and N2000 Naira to allow those that are inconsiderate enough to shunt. At times, these groups formÂ long queues of their own, even shunting on each other at times- if the price offered the gatekeepers is good enough.
Managers ofÂ filing stations, also orderÂ that instead of using six pumps to dispense fuel, only one be used, at best two, in most filling stations.
All these add to increased delays for law abiding citizens who insist on due process.
Thus, Nigerians masses are helping to prove that given the opportunity to lead, would also make lifeÂ miserable the masses as long as they alone stand to benefit.
So, the problem is indeed hinged on selfishness by government, marketers and sundry personnel in the chain of affairs that finally leads to dispensing fuel.
Many believe that the government has deliberately refused to import enough fuel, so as to cause scarcity and hurt the people as a way of â€œconvincingâ€ them that only deregulation can work.
It is doubtful if that is an intelligent argument, but only, perhaps when viewedÂ as a war between two contesting interests: those who are making billion on subsidyÂ from importation on one side, and those who want the subsidy stopped so that they can make their own billions from a subsidy-free environment. This argument is good, when one looks at the deregulation of diesel.
The last government had hands-off anything to do with diesel in 2006, throwing it open to the dictates of marketers. But, its price has continued to marginally inch upwards from about N45 per litre in 2006 to about N120 in 2008, when the international price of crude oil slumped to five years low of about $37 per litre. Diesel retail price in Nigeria today, is clearly independent of any genuine template. The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Authority (PPPRA) has never been able to query this exploitative anomaly. The price of dieselÂ is fixed by the Nigerian cartel.
The same argument can be made for petrol.
As long as government cannot make marketers to spot exploiting Nigerians on diesel, it would never be able to decide what is unfair deregulated pricing.
So, it does not matter whether there is deregulation or not, the truth is that some group must make a fortune from it.
But, whatÂ is important, perhaps isÂ for Nigerians to back the powers that would make these huge profits in a manner that would hurt them less.
And it looks that government is set to hurt the people the more as no one has a clear picture of the truth. While the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) would say that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) does not have any fuel stock in its depots, the NNPC would debunk the assertion, insisting that it has so much fuel in its depots that it has no space to offload petrol bearing ships berthing off Lagos Ports.
The NNPC would blame Petroleum Tankers Drivers (PTD) of refusing to lift fuel to filling stations to NNPC depots or say that a vital supply line, had been ruptured. Or that some pipelines at some refineries had been clogged by condensates
But, the Independent Petrel Marketers Association of Nigerian (IPMAN) who control 98% of all the filling stations in Nigeria, have been vocal in saying that the NNPC depots do not have fuel for the PTD members to load.
And the most curious aspect of the problem is that the Federal government does not see the fuel crisis as enough problem to botterÂ with.
No one has addressed the nation on the matter. While, maybe, it is because no one is in charge.
And it is sad, that downstream oil sector is the worst hit by the absence of the President.
For if he were here, he would have done everything to remove this fuel queues – the perennial disgrace of the â€œgiant of Africa â€ that has now hit all time low.