By Iregbenu Paul
A rising frustration cuts across the country as premium motor spirit, commonly known as fuel gets scarcer and its price skyrockets, with different filling stations selling at varying high prices and with attendant long queues.
So badly has this year’s fuel scarcity hit the citizens; transportation fares to various parts of the country are nothing to write home about.A situation better not experienced.This year’s fuel scarcity appears to be the worst. Yeah, it is. It came at a time the country is barely exiting recession. One still find traces of inflation and this fuel scarcity is a kind of fanning the embers of fire; so much suffering within the polity.
The fuel scarcity situation is even tricky. Fuel scarcity always happen in December. This is worrying. This year’s own has precipitated suspicion that is already in the air against the ruling government; it is believed that the current government is targeting a particular tribe that normally travels home to see their loved ones during December’s festive season. The president general Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo reiterated this belief when he said, “They know that at this period in the year Ndigbo travel a lot to their homeland, that’s when the government chose to close our airport, that’s when they allow fuel shortage to take place, this is very unfair and insensitive.
“It’s a deliberate policy of impoverishing our people to ensure that whatever wealth our sons and daughters bring home during Christmas is expended on the obvious effect of fuel shortage and none for investment.
“The proceeding events in the country especially as it relates to Ndigbo since this administration came to power underscores the imperatives for our people to think home with their wealth.”
In the face of this suspicion, the government’s behaviour towards the issue of fuel scarcity is one that demands gross concerns. It took the federal government ages to make a statement and when it made one, it depicted an apparent state of helplessness on its part. The president made his statement through his Twitter handle, @MBuhari, only after his potential opponent in the 2019 election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar made his via his Twitter handle, @atiku. The president tweeted:
“The fuel scarcity being experienced nationwide is regrettable. I sympathize with all Nigerians,on having to endure needless fuel queues. I’m being regularly briefed, especially on the NNPC’s interventions to ensure that there is enough petrol available during this period & beyond.
“I have the NNPC’s assurance that the situation will improve significantly over the next few days, as new shipments and supplies are distributed across the country.
“I have also directed the regulators to step up their surveillance and bring an end to hoarding and price inflation by marketers.
“Let me also assure that the relevant agencies will continue to provide updates on the situation. I thank you all for your patience and understanding.”
While this assurance is a belated one and as today does not change the status quo, it is important to draw the attention of the government to the cause of this endemic problem that normally occurs in December and especially, this December. According to the National Operations Controller, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Mike Osatuyi, “The problem is that the importation (of petrol) is being handled almost 100 per cent by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation as private importers have backed out because the increase in crude price has made the landing cost enter subsidy.
“When the crude price hit $59 per barrel, we could not sell petrol again at N145 per litre if we were importing on our own. It is only the government (NNPC) that is importing and can warehouse the subsidy.”
He continued, “Right now, the landing cost of the PMS is N154. If you are importing at N305 to the dollar, by the time you add bank charges, it comes to N307 to the dollar. If you apply that to the current crude price, the landing cost is N154-N155. By the time you add all the margins, the pump price is about N160-N167.
“Before private importers can resume importation, the exchange rate to a dollar must be N250 and we can sell at the price of N145 per litre.”
What can the government do in the face of this worrying scarcity. It is simple, allow the private sector to play a bigger role in importation, refining, distribution, marketing and other activities in the downstream sector; over-regulation of the petroleum downstream sector is of no good to Nigeria. The Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Muda Yusuf, supports this as he said, “It’s unfortunate that fuel queues have returned. But there is a very fundamental problem with our petroleum downstream sector, and the problem is that it is over-regulated. You cannot have a sector as big as that serving our size of population and we expect only the government provider to be supplying fuel. It is not a sustainable model.
“So, there is an urgent need to push back the role of government in the issue of retailing fuel, importing fuel and all of that. Right now, it is only the NNPC that is importing the PMS. Such a thing cannot be efficient; it creates room for all manner of abuses; some of which the marketers cannot disclose because of their own businesses.”