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May 3, 2024

Petrol scarcity: Again, the state fails the people, by Adekunle Adekoya

Petrol scarcity: Again, the state fails the people, by Adekunle Adekoya

WHEN queues started growing at petrol stations some two weeks ago, one initially thought  it was because of the nature of the market. Since subsidy removal was announced last May 29, the cheapest price at which petrol could be bought was N568, at NNPC-owned filling stations. Other marketers sold above that, and in the Lagos area, often as high as N665, depending on which part of Lagos. Thus, most of the time, marketers other than NNPC had their attendants snoozing at the pumps, while NNPC stations recorded a surfeit of buyers. That is an anomaly deserving of discourse later.

One of the reasons often given for “appropriate pricing” of petroleum products (read that to mean increment in price) is that the product will always be available as the higher prices will guarantee steady supply. That is bunkum, as experience, both current and latent, have shown. Over just one weekend (the last one), people woke up to find that filling stations have locked their gates against customers. Those who left their gates open had only diesel and cooking gas to sell. The usual nightmare began last Sunday, with many motorists virtually scavenging for the product. The transport system immediately and viciously responded by doubling or tripling fares. As a result, commuters on shoestring budgets got stranded and resorted to trekking long distances to their destinations. Of course, prices of food items recorded upward notches, all in response to the scarcity of petrol. The situation worsened prevailing experience with energy: fewer people could afford to power their generators as a result of scarcity; remember, we’re in blackout town! Where petrol was available, black marketers were in charge, offering a five-litre keg of petrol for sale at between N4,000 and N5,000. That is about N800-N1,000 per litre. Is that going to be our next destination in terms of pricing? Lamentations ruled the lips of many Nigerians with the refrain: For how long will our country continue like this?

All the while, the state’s petroleum monopoly, NNPC, continued to churn out the rhetoric that petrol is available, and that shortages at the filling stations were due to “logistics challenges.” These challenges, NNPC Ltd said, have been resolved, but that normalcy will take some more days to restore. This position was countered by the association of independent marketers, which said that petrol scarcity will linger for at least two weeks. Their position was hinged on the fact, according to them, that many refineries in Europe from which products are sourced are currently undergoing maintenance. Since we run on imported petroleum products, there seems to be more credibility in the position of the marketers.

As the suffering continued, the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum Resources, Downstream and Midstream weighed in, announcing that the nation has in her storage facilities 1.5 billion litres of petrol, which is expected to last at least 30 days. So, the next question is: Where is the petrol? In fact, who and what are making petrol unavailable to Nigerians? Nigerians who ply the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway daily, like me, can see queues of tankers lined up from as far as Ilasamaja, through Berliet Bus-Stop, Cele, Ijesha, onwards through Mile 2 towards Coconut Bus-stop, where you begin to see fuel depots. For nearly two weeks, the queues have not shortened. If anything, they seem to be growing, indicating there are issues with access to the depots or availability of the product at the depots.

Just what is happening? Is the situation attributable to European refiners undergoing maintenance or the logistics problems which it was claimed have been resolved?

One thing is clear: Nigerians do not know why they can’t get petrol to buy, and they deserve to know why, because they are paying for it through the nose in all areas of life. 

As the situation is with electricity, this round of petrol scarcity is one that should make everybody in government hide their faces in shame, starting with the petroleum ministers. I am of the bent that many people employed in the petrol supply chain have not done their jobs as well as they should have, despite the handsome rewards for their employment. If it is about European refiners shutting down for maintenance, somebody should have known about that and worked ahead to ensure that the nation is not left in the lurch as a result. If, again, as the House of Representatives Committee said that we have no less than 1.5 billion litres in storage, then the issue might be that the “logistics challenges” have not been properly resolved as the NNPC Ltd claimed. Don’t know what to believe again. But whatever the truth is, I am convinced that some people have not done the job for which they were employed very well, the consequences of which is the harrowing experience Nigerians are going through now. In the private sector, it would be a major disaster if this kind of thing happened, and heads will roll without remorse because of the bottomlines that will be affected.

Since this is government work, I KNOW nothing will happen to anybody. In fact those asking questions are doing so as “eye service.” 

As is usual with our people, we opt to see the better side of situations, no matter how bad. I saw one cartoon on the internet, which people are sharing furiously. A character in the cartoon asked why the Federal Government has not handed NNPC over to Nigerian Breweries. The other character in the cartoon asked why such a thing should happen. The reply was: “Have you ever heard of beer scarcity?” TGIF. Where we go block, since beer scarcity never happens?