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The sabotage, blackmail, extortion and agony in fuel scarcity

For more than three weeks now, Nigerians have been undeservedly subjected to untold hardships orchestrated by the wicked activities of unpatriotic others who perhaps believe…

For more than three weeks now, Nigerians have been undeservedly subjected to untold hardships orchestrated by the wicked activities of unpatriotic others who perhaps believe that prosperity (especially affluence, fame and happiness in life) can only be attained through the sinful “gains” of fuel scarcity. Any gain, no matter its value, that accrues through sharp practices is indeed worthless.

Nigerians, after two years of uninterrupted availability of petrol, have forgotten about when last they queued for hours at any petrol filing station. Even phrases associated with fuel scarcity including subsidy, black marketers and product hoarding have all disappeared from the pages of newspapers. Sadly, Nigerians woke up in the first week of December 2017 to find long queues of vehicles at petrol filling stations. The scarcity that started like a “child’s play” soon spread like wild fire to all parts of the country. What I consistently find amazing about Nigeria is the post-colonial culture where it takes only a few hours for a hitherto available commodity to beinstantly out of stock especially when oil marketers decide to create product scarcity.

Given all the claims and counter-claims that have so far trailed the lingering fuel crisis, one is provoked to conclude that there is just no reason to justify the phenomenon.Poor innocent Nigerians do not merit the discomfort they are experiencing either. When the present long queues surfaced at petrol stations, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) led by its National Secretary DanladiPasali said after meeting with officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that some owners of fuel depots were taking advantage of increased demand for the product (occasioned by the approach of Christmas) to create artificial scarcity. Nonetheless, insinuations were also rife that some marketers were hoarding the product because of an imminent price increase. 

NNPC’s Group Managing Director MaikantiBaru, on the other hand, explained that there were no plans to increase the pump price of petrol. Reacting to the situation, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Dr. IbeKachikwu, said the current fuel crisis witnessed in the country was caused by the shortfall in product supply; promising that measures were already in place to ensure that the long queues disappear in a couple of days. Unfortunately, weeks after this pledge, the queues have rather extended longer than imagined.

When NNPC increased product supply to marketers without commensurate improvement in the situation, NNPC’s spokesman NduUghamadu blamed marketers for it. Few days to Christmas, Head of Public Affairs Unit of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) Mohammed Saidu announced that petroleum marketers diverted 129, 000 litres of petrol from Abuja. He said some erringfilling stations were fined various sums that totaled over N30 million. On the eve of Christmas, a combined team of the NNPC, DPR and security agents uncovered an illegal fuel reservoir in Abuja city when, less than 500 meters away from the site, were motorists on endless queues.

Diversion and hoarding of petroleum products by marketers are acts of sabotage; lending credence to the popular suggestion that the current crisis is artificial.For the past two years, Nigerians had no cause to queue for fuel. In fact, petrol attendants in most filling stations cheerfully beckoned at motorists to enter into their stations to refill their car tanks with petrol. In recent years, attendants in some filling stations spend more time sleeping than they sell fuel to customers. If this was the case, how come the same product became a scarce commodity overnight?

One is prompted to accuse oil marketers of blackmailing government. Dr. Kachikwu had mentioned that the shortfall in product supply is attributable to the fact that “NNPC is the only importing petroleum products into the country” because licensed marketers have stopped importing as they claim to be losing, instead of gaining, when they partake in product importation. In orderto excuse their withdrawal from importation on the one hand and mischievously instigate an increase in the pump price of petrol (to justify their earlier position) on the other, marketers chose to create the kind of scarcity we are currently experiencing. What a scandalous blackmail!

Oil dealers and their oppressive activities in this unforeseen fuel crisis have, to be modest, become fantastic extortionists. Without any increase by government in the cost price and pump price of petrol, marketers review product price as many times as they wish a day; even as the petrol sold to motorists is from a single consignment of the product at one and same filling station. While it may sell for N180 per litre at 8am, the same product may be sold for N200 per litre at 10am; N250 per litre at 12noon; N300 per litre at 4pm; and N400 per litre at 7pm.

Many Nigerians were, in the past few weeks, compelled to spend substantial part of their hard-earned money on petrol or transport fares instead of the specific purposes for which they saved that part of theirwages. Income earners particularly workersusually sacrifice part of their essential needs to save some money for festive or other special events that come up at end of year including Christmas and wedding ceremonies. It is painful that an inexcusable circumstance such as the current fuel scarcity just came and devoured such highly valued earnings at once. 

The productive time wasted on fuel queues and the parching thirst, which motorists have and are yet experiencing under dry and dusty weather in most parts of the country, are some of the agonies brought to bear on them by architects of the current fuel crisis. The inconvenience endured by Nigerians in the disruption of their long scheduled end of year trips is another lamentable distress. Commenting on this matter, Vice President YemiOsinbajo said “It is a shame that Nigerians are celebrating Christmas in discomfort”.

The feasible panacea to thwarting sabotage, blackmail, extortion anddistress over fuel scarcity is for government to fix the country’s refineries and refine petroleum products locally.Besides overcoming existing corrupt practices at the downstream sector of the oil industry, it would reduce the pressure on the naira. As it was done for all state capitals,government is encouraged to build NNPC mega stations in each of the 774 LGAs in the country. May Allah (SWT) touch the hearts of all stakeholders in the oil industry to see oil as a God-given resource meant for man’s comfort, not discomfort; amin. 

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