Nigerians woke up early last week only to find long queues of vehicles at petrol filling stations, signalling yet another fuel scarcity and taking us back to the days of suffering and uncertainty. Citizens were caught unawares because we had come to believe that fuel scarcity is a thing of the past due to a long period of product availability. However this scarcity was said to have been brought about by rumours of an impending price increase. This caused panic buying, while some filling stations resorted to hoarding in anticipation of the price increase by government.
The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) led by the National Secretary Danladi Pasali said after meeting with officials of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that some depots owners were taking advantage of increased demand for fuel during the festive period to create artificial scarcity. The Senate Committee on Petroleum Downstream said it would conduct nationwide inspection of filling stations and that it had asked the NNPC to provide the committee with its daily distribution.
Amidst more speculations and uncertainties, without any concrete explanation from the government for days, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Dr Ibe Kachikwu, on Thursday said the major cause of the fuel scarcity currently being witnessed across the country was shortfall in supply of petroleum products. He however said NNPC was making efforts to ensure that queues at filling stations will disappear in a couple of days.
“The major problem is the gap in terms of volume, because NNPC is the only one importing the product to the country,” he said. He said there was adequate storage facility for imported products, adding that emergency measures were in place to ensure that the products were available during the Yuletide and post-January. He said four vessels laden with petroleum products would berth in a few days and a total of 20 cargoes are also expected with petroleum products.
On the other hand, while answering questions from correspondents about possible fuel price increase, NNPC’s Group Managing Director Maikanti Baru said there was no plan for an increase. “I have not been directed to increase the pump price; even the other price was based on recommendation from the regulatory body,” he said.
Even though the petroleum marketers and other stakeholders usually try to cash in on the Christmas season by making things difficult for the people, especially those travelling, in this case we want the government to come out clear and tell the nation if indeed it is going to increase fuel price, what Maikanti Baru said notwithstanding.
It is unfortunate and shameful that Nigeria as a petroleum producing country relies on foreign countries to refine its crude and send it back for local consumption. Our refineries are not functioning well, and it is tiresome to hear government talking about them all the time without apparent result. Therefore the government should be serious about refining our fuel needs and not relax in anticipation of private refineries which is not in the short term to solve the intractable fuel crisis in the country.
If the refineries were working at full capacity we wouldn’t be in this problem. The government should do all it can to regain the fuel stability. The people of this country have had enough of being held hostage by some people either in the government, the private sector or the unions over greed or inefficiency. It should be noted that fuel scarcity goes beyond vehicles; it affects virtually all aspects of people’s lives, as many use it for their generators in homes and businesses. So such a crises, artificial or otherwise, grinds more than the transport sector to a halt.