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The oil curse: Ezekwesili’s prayer and answer

By Emmanuel Aziken

A commodity that ordinarily should be a blessing to a country is pilloried for its poor political management. The renewed scarcity of petrol in the country despite acclaimed efforts in the rehabilitation of distribution infrastructure again draws the question, Is there really an oil curse?

Not many would have been shocked by the prayer offered by Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili for Nigeria ’s oil to dry up at a talk shop in Lagos last week.

“I am one of those Nigerians who are praying for Nigeria oil to dry up so that our government can quickly take immediate actions towards diversifying the nation’s source of revenue,” Mrs. Ezekwesili reportedly said last week.

A former World Bank senior executive and before then, a senior player in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mrs. Ezekwisili’s supplication is indeed not a new dimension to the troubles that have characterised the country’s crave for sanity in the oil industry.

While many Nigerians and state government officials have remained stuck to the politics of sharing the revenue from oil, many have shied back from helping in the problems accruing from producing the oil and even the local distribution of the commodity.

It is as such lamentable that today even in the federal capital, petroleum queues have become the order of the day. But it was not meant to be so especially after the inauguration of a new team at the Products and Pipeline Marketing Company, PPMC at the beginning of 2011.

To its credit the new PPMC management had been able to stabilise products supply to many areas of the country at the beginning of last year. It was as such not surprising that ahead of the general elections that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP could use availability of petrol at the price of N65 per litre in many parts of the country as one of the achievements of the Jonathan administration. That campaign boast was against the background of the bottlenecks, hoarding, scarcity and inflation in the cost of the product across the country prior to the inauguration of the new PPMC team.

In turning the supply side around, the new team focused on the rehabilitation of the nation’s network of product pipelines which currently runs for more than 5,000 kilometres across the country. The pipelines connect the nation’s 21 loading depots and 19 pumping stations spread across the country.

The pipelines and associated infrastructure estimated to cost more than N1.4 trillion despite their advantages are, however, not easy maintaining or rather protecting.

The alternative to using the pipelines is to put almost 2,000 tankers on the road at the same time to carry the products to the different sections of the country. For a country of a landmass of 910,770 sq kilometres and an estimated population of more than 150 million that would be no easy task. That option is also worsened by the difficult road network across the country and the poor state of insecurity as evidenced by Boko Haram in the Northeast and kidnapping and armed robbery in many other parts of the country.

It was as such gladdening that the NNPC and PPMC have re-commissioned most of the product pipelines across the country. Among those reportedly re-commissioned and now in use are the Kaduna-Suleja line, Kaduna-Kano line, Suleja-Minna line, Kaduna-Gusau line, Kaduna-Jos line and Port Harcourt-Aba line and Warri-Benin line.

It is reported that the re-commissioning of the above pipelines has now led to renewed activities at depots in the far North and Southeast. Depots in Suleja, Kano , Minna, Jos, Gusau and Aba which have laid fallow for more than a decade and in some cases even before the return to democratic rule in 1999 have now received products. The advantage is that the expenses on hauling fuel from Lagos and other refining centres in the country should have been largely removed.

“The successes achieved with the re-activation and rehabilitation of the above mentioned lines is rooted in the strong belief that the pipelines are by far the safest, most efficient, quickest, cost effective means to distribute products especially for a country as large as ours,” the PPMC is quoted as saying.

“Once the pipelines are available, PPMC is ready to pump all products to the Depots located in all regions of the country. It is only when the pipelines are not available that they are compelled to use other methods to make the products available,” the source further elaborated.

But with all the advantages, protecting the pipelines is no simple effort. Vandals in every section of the country have turned it not just into a pastime, but a lucrative venture, the practise of sabotaging the pipeline network for tier own gains.

The present petrol scarcity in many sections of the country is reportedly traceable to the sabotage of the pipeline at a point near Arepo in Ogun State , near Lagos .

“Three PPMC Engineers who went for repairs were shot and 3 of them are confirmed dead,” the company claimed adding that “The said point is along the Atlas Cove-Mosimi line that feeds five (5) Depots and accounts for products supply to the whole of the Southwest region and also contributes to about 60% of total bridging to the North.”

The NNPC is also faced with the problem of profiteering especially by kerosene marketers who buy the product at N40.90 per litre but go on to sell at N90 to retailers who in turn sell for any price as much as N150.

It is an issue that is again galvanising the pro-subsidy lobby in the industry. But how far they can go is another issue.

Remarkably, much of the products sold at the government subsidised price do not get to the masses as much of it is reportedly diverted to aviation, manufacturing enterprises and other industrial concerns.

Even more probing is the question of the continued reliance on kerosene for domestic use given the abundance of gas and its cleaner implications for the environment.

With a per capita consumption of 0.75 kg of gas, Nigeria is reported to have the lowest consumption of gas compared to some countries on the West African coast and that is despite the fact that Nigeria is the fourth leading country with the highest proven gas reserves in the world.

That is typical of what is described as the oil curse on the country. Whatever prayer that is needed to remove it is undoubtedly welcome!


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