By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA — At a time Nigerians are expecting respite from the pangs of the lingering fuel scarcity in the country, Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu, has dashed their hopes, stating that the current queues at gas stations would persist till late May.
The minister, who doubles as Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, added that he was not a magician to make the queues disappear overnight.
According to him, it is even a “magic” that the stations are still getting volume of products they dispense to the public, judging from the prevailing circumstances at NNPC.
The minister also revealed that NNPC’s import rates had moved form 50 per cent to all-time rate of 100 percent, saying the 445,000 barrels allocated to crude swap now service 50 to 55 per cent importation of refined product.
But giving a glimmer of hope on how to achieve lasting solution to the product scarcity, Kachikwu said government was working to beef up the reserves.
He stated that when the refineries come on full stream, locally refined products would be left unsold in the reservoir to boost supply and availability of the products.
The minister was fielded questions from State House correspondents after leading officials of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas, NUPENG, and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, to a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja,yesterday.
I’m not magician —Kachikwu
He said: “One of the trainings I did not receive is that of a magician but I am working very hard to ensure some of these issues go away. And let’s be honest, for the five, six months, we have been here, NNPC has moved from a 50 percent importer of products to basically a 100 percent importer. And the 445,000 barrels that were allocated was to cover between 50 and 55 percent importation.
“So, it is quite frankly sheer magic that we even have some amount of products at the stations. We are looking to see how to get foreign exchange input. The President and I discussed extensively on how to get more crude directed at importation.
“His excellency will rather have less crude but have individuals in the society suffer less with inconveniences than have more crude and have them continue to suffer.
“So, we are going to put a new model to enable us increase the pace and actually get majors as part of the crew of those to bring in more products, so that the NNPC will sort of go back on the capacity of what it used to do and the majors will take over the balance of importation.
“I think if we do that, although I don’t want to put a time frame, but I will expect that over the next two months. Of course, you are aware the SAP programme begins in April. So, over the next two months, we should see quite frankly a complete elimination of this.
“Our strategy is that whatever is produced in the refineries will not go for sale. We are going to keep them in strategic reserve because the key problem here is that there is no reserve. Any time there is gap in supply, it goes off.
“So we are going to dedicate the next couple of months to moving all the products that we produce to strategic reserve so that we can pile up reserves in the nation and that will push up the reserves in the nation.
‘’Believe me, this is giving me and my team sleepless nights and we are working on it and we are committed to making this go away. Nigerians should please bear with us.”
Mission to villa
Speaking on his mission to the villa, the minister said a lot of concerns were raised with the President to which he showed both sympathy and commitment to resolve.
He said: “The meeting with the President was basically to review in the oil industry some of the concerned areas that he himself is trying to find joint solutions and shared thoughts. Like you know, His Excellency has too many constituencies. First will be politics, second army and the third will be the oil industry.
“So, matter of this nature touches his heart very much. And this is the first opportunity that the unions have had to spend a bit of time with him as a father. So, we shared thoughts, areas of concerns and some solution potentialities and agreed to collaborate and work together.”
Oil workers’ concerns
“I will probably highlight a few areas of concerns. The PIB. The union wants us to obviously work harder than we do and try to get the PIB passed as soon as possible. They are worried about the fuel scarcity issue and want long term solutions to finally resolve this issue.
‘’ They are worried about the refineries and are thankful we didn’t sell the refineries without looking to work collaboratively with them to see how to make the refineries work.
“They are worried about the utilization of depots and how best to do that. They are worried about all kinds of logistic issues that plague the oil industry.
‘’They are worried about job loss in the sector, arising from the position of majors who feel that the economy is giving rough end of the sticks and then try to whittle down staff. And so, we are going to be working with the oil majors to ensure that we do not experience the kind of job loss that we are hearing has the potentiality to occur in the sector.
Assurances from the govt
“The assurances His Excellency gave was willingness to work together with them (oil workers) to bring good jobs, tasking them as agents of change within the respective areas where they work to ensure that they continue to look out, contribute, take change on its head and make it happen also and for recognising the difficulties this government has inherited.
“A lot of these problems that are on the table was quite frankly there when we came and we are doing the best we can to try and work on it. But we are looking to work collaboratively, those were the assurances.”.
NUPENG, PENGASSAN speak
Also speaking, National President, NUPENG, Igwe Achese, said one of the issues that featured at the meeting was how the age-long Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, could secure a quick passage in the National Assembly.
He said: “We had a successful meeting, quite interesting in terms of the emotional attachment of Mr. President on the issue of oil and gas sector and the challenges we are facing as a nation.
“We tabled the issue of fuel scarcity, the quick passage of the PIB and to see how the sector bounces back economically and to make Nigerians smile again.”
Similarly, the President, PENGASSAN, Comrade Olabode Francis Johnson, said the President sought collaboration with the associations to bring an end to oil theft and pipeline vandalism.