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Resurgence of petrol scarcity

In the last several days, practically every city in the country has been paralysed by acute shortage of petrol, causing widespread loss in man-hours and…

In the last several days, practically every city in the country has been paralysed by acute shortage of petrol, causing widespread loss in man-hours and slowing down economic and social activities. And the problem is not likely to end soon, with multiple and contradictory explanations of what the likely cause might be, and the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) warning that the scarcity could persist beyond month’s end due to the non-renewal of contracts of some independent marketers to import the product.  That’s a conundrum involving non-payment of subsidy claims to marketers by government that has bedevilled the procurement and supply chain of petroleum products. It is that kind of stranglehold on the nation’s social and economic jugular by the so-called oil cabal that the government, with all its machinery, has amazingly been unable to tame and subdue.  Meanwhile the hiccups, such the current one, continue, to the enduring embarrassment of the ‘giant of Africa’.  
It is well-known, as testimonies to committees of the National Assembly have made clear, that marketers have not been comfortable with the current pump price of N97 per litre that was arrived at only after a prolonged labour strike and nationwide shutdown in January 2012, when President Jonathan peremptorily announced a whopping increase to nearly 145 naira. The marketers have been grumbling that the approved price does not cover their operational cost and have been pressing for an upward review which the government has been wary of acceding to, because of previous experience and as the country approaches the 2015 elections.
Therefore the clearest explanation is that the scarcity is artificial. But the government needs not accept to be blackmailed, and should make those behind it pay a heavy price.  Whether the government has the stomach to exercise its considerable power to deal with these marketers is another matter, given the propensity of some of its officials to compromise their positions for personal gains.  
The shortage is a scandal, not just for the government but also in the deleterious impact it is having on the day-to-day activities of most Nigerians, with many forced to pay between N200 and N300 per litre at retailers’ outlets against the official price, and runs counter to the broken-record assurances of officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that there was petrol stock to last 90 days.
 Because of the sudden shortage, commuters in most urban towns and cities across the country trek long distances because commercial vehicles are in queues that snake for kilometres in some places, waiting for fuel that may not be delivered.   
Almost on cue, black markets for the product have sprung up, with many consequences, least of which is adulterated petrol that could leave motorists worse off.  The Department of Weights and Measure (DWM) last week sealed up seven filling stations in Kaduna for selling petrol above the regulated price.  But the solution is not just sealing up outlets, which would have minimal effect in the long run; it is making the product available at the approved price.
The trading of blames using incoherent and contradictory excuses by the NNPC and marketers must stop. It is bad enough that the country, which prides itself as being among the world’s largest exporters of crude, relies on importing the product it produces; it illustrates the serious economic policy gaps of its managers that the government has failed to check the rot that everyone knows bedevils the oil and gas sector.  Only recently, the administration listed the availability of fuel at filling stations as one of its achievements. What has gone wrong? Government must accept is failings and call the officials-and others-responsible to account, and also take decisive steps to restore normal fuel supply. The long-term solution, which even the government recognises but seems to have done nothing about, is either to resuscitate non-functional refineries or build new ones, or both.

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