By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA —MINISTER of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, yesterday, said the ongoing fuel scarcity in the country would permanently come to an end by the second week of April.
He also apologised for his comments last week that the feul scarcity will end in May.
His words: “I share the pains of Nigerians, I feel that pain everyday when I walk the streets: on Easter day, I was in Lagos monitoring fuel distribution and the depots, I had given 24 hours attention to the problems.
“I have continued to work with one sole purpose, which is that every problem must have a solution and I think that is the reason I was picked.
“I do apologise for the comment that I made jocularly with my friends in the press about being a magician and it offended Nigerians; it was not meant to be, it was a side jocular issue. I did go on to explain what needed to be done, I did not know that it would create the kind of hyperbole (exaggeration) that it did.
“Let me first admit that I am not a typically experienced politician, I am a technocrat: I come to work.
“Some of the phraseologies that I may use, while being acceptable in the arena in which I play, obviously will not be acceptable in the public political arena. So, if any body’s sensibilities were offended by those, I totally apologise.”
The minister equally said immediate resuscitation of the nation’s refineries to function to optimal level was one of the panaceas to the fuel scarcity.
This came as he said he had no intention of resigning from his position over last week’s comment that the commodity would remain scarce till May, which attracted criticisms from some All Progressives Congress, APC, stalwarts, with some calling for his resignation.
He, therefore, asked those sponsoring people to Abuja to protest to that effect to save their money for different things useful to their lives.
Kachikwu apologised for his last week’s comment that the ongoing petrol scarcity will continue till May, adding that it was only “magic” that could bring a faster remedy to end the scarcity.
The minister, at a meeting with the Senate Committee on Petroleum, yesterday, insisted that the scarce commodity would be readily available across the country by the second week of April.
I was thoroughly coached on what to say
But he declared that he was told on what to say when he appeared before the Senate committee, saying what he was reeling out to the committee was what he was asked to say from the coaching, although he did not disclose those who coached him.
Asked by members of the committee to give dateline on when Nigerians should expect the petroleum products in full, Kachikwu said: “I was thoroughly coached before coming to this meeting. But there is a potential answer to this question. First is a political answer, which says we are doing our very best to go away from this situation but the training in me never attempts to be very exact because I set a goal post.
“All I can say as an amendment to that is that in the month of April, within the first two weeks of April, we would have this issue completely resolved and you will not have this problem anymore.
“I am working very hard to make it the first week in April, it’s not going to happen in March and all am doing right now is logistics arrangements to try and cushion the pains as much as I can and Nigerians can help me by not double buying.
“But, once we begin to get into the 5th, 6th of April, you will see a dramatic change in all this. Sometimes it is difficult to change your skin at an old age. So I tend to tell the truth the way it is even if I get into trouble in the cause of doing them.
“But the reality, distinguished senators, is that we are doing everything humanly possible, nothing is out of the table, no solution is thrown into the trash bin and we have got to a point where we can confidently say we are bound to see the last days of some of these occurrences in our history.”
Resuscitation of refineries only solution to scarcity
He added that while the scarcity of the commodity may end by April, Nigerians may have to wait till May for what he called “major revolution” in the availability of the fuel.
While assuring that fuel queues will disappear across the country within the stipulated period, Kachikwu said 90 per cent of Nigerian depots were not functional, a situation he explained, was aggravating the fuel scarcity.
“Refineries in Nigeria are old and dilapidated but with appropriate funds and retooling, they will be revived to full capacity. It is one of the solutions to the problem at hand,“ he noted.
He proffered another solution thus: ”The ultimate solution is the computerisation of the structure where every product that goes into the depots is tracked when it is loaded, it is tracked when it gets to the filling station, and then vehicles in this country must carry scanners and trackers. Once you do that, it will record where a truck landed ultimately and we are working on those solutions.
“We have finished the first, where we can track our products from the depots in Lagos into the depots in states. What we have left not done is begin to track from the depots straight into the filling stations and we are working on that and hopefully, in the next couple of months, we should get to that point and once you do that, then you can actually leave a very serious sanctions on those who are actually getting themselves involved in diverting products.
“Most fuel products come into Nigeria from Europe and it takes 14 days for fuel to land here,” he said, adding that the government intended to solve the situation by engaging consultants to manage the depots across the country.”
N600bn subsidy arrears
The minister disclosed that advertisement to engage the consultants for management of the depots would start soon, regretting that despite the fact that Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, had since doubled its usual supply to Abuja, scarcity remained.
He also disclosed that the Federal Government had since paid N600 billion subsidy bill it inherited from the previous administration.
He said: “When we came in August, this country had arrears of unpaid subsidy bills that were in excess of close to N600 billion which have not been paid for over a year and so, progressively over a period of 6,7,8 months, we paid this.”
N1trn to be saved from subsidy
He said the country had so far saved over N1 trillion from the removal of subsidy.
He said: “One of the things I started doing on assumption of office was how to ensure supply of petroleum products without the need for subsidy regime.
“I am glad that as at January 1 this year, the country is no longer paying subsidy and is saving us a cumulation of over a trillion naira in one year period but that was the first major issue.”
On privatisation of oil sector
Speaking on privatisation of the oil sector, the minister said: “Privatistion in this sector will help and I don’t think His Excellency is opposed to that.
“What he is worried about is the absence of infrastructure in place. This cannot happen unless some of the structural deficits that we have in our operations are corrected, unless the nuances of fraud are wiped out of the system, it doesn’t matter who does it, we are still going to back to square one.
“So, what else for the refineries, what else for the depots. I am not averse to private capital, private participation but clean the debt which is what we are doing.
“So, ultimately, that is where we should be headed and if you look at what we have done with the price modulation which is an indirect privatisation module for trying to determine pricing and last month we actually went down on pricing.
“This quarter, we are going to remain stable on the same pricing but as the crude prices move on, we are going to begin to have reactions to those modulations because ultimately you will never be able to repair the refineries and you now look to have investments in the depots.”