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The unending petrol scarcity

You woke up this morning disturbed by one persistent problem – scarcity of petrol. You knew that as you stepped out of your house, you…

You woke up this morning disturbed by one persistent problem – scarcity of petrol. You knew that as you stepped out of your house, you were bound to stare at the spectacle related to this.  It affects you whether you own transport  or not. Scarcity has meant that it costs more to get by; from your residence to your chosen destination, be it work, or a visit to associates, or a journey away from your location. It has a telling effect in your market. A significant mark up in prices of goods and services is a direct result of the scarcity of petrol and related products.
Across Nigeria, fuel queues are distances long with motorists hanging out at mega stations throughout nights. It is a crying shame mainly because Nigeria is a world leading oil producer nation, akin to a mother with breasts full of milk and yet incapable of feeding her children. Nigeria is a country embarrassed by its lack in the midst of its plenty. More so, because it is not a factor of any lacking in the know how that can better the situation, it is a choice the people of the country have made, to suffer in support of their primordial passions.
Oil is in the core of Nigeria’s socio economic life. Dwindling prices of crude in the global oil market have meant that the Nigerian economy has fallen into the doldrums of crashed revenues. This is affecting personal incomes as it is on record that as many as 27 of the 36 States of the Federation are in dire straits to meet even their current salary obligations.
Yet a fact to note is that the scarcity of petroleum products is a totally unnecessary and avoidable anomaly caused mainly by poor planning, bad management, corruption and greed. Poor planning has caused the country to locate its refineries far apart in the assumption that there would be law abiding citizens. No one ever imagined that politically motivated sabotage, masterminded by a few selfish and greedy elite, would hold well-meaning regimes to ransoms such as the intractable challenge of scarcity of petrol and related products.
Bad management has to do with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation which over the years has simply submitted itself to lackluster performance, and mismanagement of the oil fortunes of the country. Pipeline vandalism has ensured that the refineries did not function, and all to support scam regimes of imports of refined petroleum products. Even the refineries were sabotaged to this purpose, to the extent that NNPC which should be refining its allocation of crude oil, itself became an exporter of the commodity on the sidelines, abandoning its prime mandate. Every effort to restore the country’s sophisticated refineries gets torpedoed by vested interests in maintaining the status quo.
Today, it is bedlam at every selling fill-up station. Those who cannot wait endless hours opt to buy at the thriving black market where as at yesterday, petrol was selling for as high as N300 per liter or N1000 per gallon. The Senate is grilling Minister of State for Petroleum Dr. Ibe Kachikwu on why there is scarcity and what measures can bring succour to the public. Between whatever Dr. Kachikwu tells the Senate and the normal flow of petrol at fill-up stations across the country will remain days or even months of anger and frustration over this intractable anomaly.
The ongoing crisis has its roots in our defective trade liberalization which licensed mushroom independent marketers to import, transport and sell the commodity, with each level attracting Government subsidy. Over the years, government paid and inadvertently raised an unscrupulous cartel of marketers who aside from crippling and compromising the NNPC, now have a capacity to hoard the product and hold the government and the people to ransom. Current scarcity is largely arising from the decision of Government through what it calls a "pricing formula" to ensure availability and affordability. Clearly, the formula has failed. Independent marketers have the Government over a barrel. Greedy and insatiable, they hoard or divert their products employing all kinds of tricks including mixing petrol with water to fool inspectors, and sustain a black market that now rules the streets. Across Nigeria, idle and itinerant youth have taken to the sale of petrol in plastic jerry cans as full time employment in abandonment of education.
Ironically, the scarcity of petrol is relative. There is a clear glut in the black market on streets across Nigeria. Petrol is abundant and stacked in plastic jerry cans and sold at up to N6,000 per can. Yet black markets are illegal! What are enforcers of the law waiting for to enforce sale of petrol only at fill-up stations? It should be scrapped. Government should tackle hoarding and bootlegging of petrol forcefully.
The whole idea of subsidy was mainly to ensure that petrol is sold at the same price all over the country. This no longer justifies subsidy since without sufficiency of the product, there is no way to guarantee uniform pricing any more. The local trader reasons thus. A cow sold in Yola is cheaper than one sold in Port Harcourt owing to transportation. If beef in Port Harcourt is not subsidized, why subsidize fuel in Yola? Crude sense, may be, but it is felt strongly that Government should outright remove the subsidy and liberalize the entire downstream sector of the oil economy. Government should not be cowed by the blackmail tactics of cabals and cartels, into returning to the subsidy regimes. It is the nudging towards this that enables the subsidy cabals to create embarrassing situations as being experienced now. We should outright deregulate and enforce relevant control laws.

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