High price of diesel and low level of loading of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) also called petrol by tankers at the private depots are reportedly responsible for the current scarcity of petrol in Abuja and other northern states, investigation by Daily Trust revealed.
Petrol queues have eased up especially in Lagos as vehicle owners buy the commodity within minutes in almost all filling stations in the state and environs while people in most of the northern states are still battling to get the product at the official price of N165/l.
Our correspondents report that drivers spend the night in most filling stations while those who don’t have time buy petrol from black marketers at between N250 and N400 per litre.
This has forced the cost of transportation and almost everything to go up amid scorching economic hardship and inflation.
In February, cases of adulteration of petrol were rife across retail stations forcing the withdrawal of the product from the market by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) just as the situation gave rise to queues for the product.
President Muhammadu Buhari last Wednesday apologised to Nigerians for the inconvenience caused by the prolonged shortage of petroleum products and also said saboteurs were behind the problem.
Though the presidency did not give the names of the saboteurs, experts and close watchers of happenings in the energy sector said the scarcity of the product will persist in the North because of increased transportation cost for tanker drivers who buy a litre of diesel for between N700 and N800 per litre.
While it is evident that petrol queues had reduced in Lagos and other southern states, the scarcity has continued in Abuja and most northern states, which are far away from most private depots and tank farms. At the AA Rano station in Nyanya-Abuja, the queue is over a kilometre long with cries from frustrated motorists.
“I have spent three hours so far and I am just creeping towards the gate; I may spend another one or two hours before I get served,” Adamu Usman, a commercial driver said.
“I bought fuel for N250 per litre in the Mararaba area of Nasarawa State in a fuel station, which has no queue because of the price. I also observed a barrage of queues at one or two stations that sell at the approved price,” said John Oche, a motorist.
In Kano, the fuel queues, which started in early February have refused to disappear even as of Monday, most stations were shut leaving only the few dispensing being overcrowded. Black marketers were seen to be having a field day selling at higher rates.
At some stations selling at the N165/litre official rate, they were dispensing from a few pumps. A motorist, who said he had been on the queue at one of the major fuel marketer’s stations since 7am, said he was only able to buy the fuel a few minutes after 11am.
“The shocking thing in this entire fuel scarcity problem is that you will enter inside the station and find out that they are only using one or two pumps. I bought it at AYM Shafa today (Monday), a station with over 20 pumps was only dispensing with three pumps. This, I believe, is the major reason for the queue. Government should compel them to dispense with all the pumps,” he said.
It was also observed that some stations at the outskirts of the city have continued to sell petrol for over N225 per litre.
In Jos, the Plateau State capital, the queues were obvious with the attendant impact of chaos, fighting among motorists, shunting of the queues by the government agencies’ vehicles, the rich, those with connections, security agencies, among others.
Our correspondent gathered that some motorists still sleep at the filling stations in order to get fuel, while others leave their homes to queue at the stations as early as 4am. Meanwhile, a random sampling of the sale price of the fuel by black marketers in Jos shows that the stations sell between N220 and N240 per litre.
A lady, Janet John said that the federal should check the issue of diversions. “Some of the marketers who load petrol in Lagos divert the product to places they can sell at more than the approved price. This is why scarcity will persist in Abuja and other state capitals,” she said.
‘Loading ongoing at 58 depots’
Although petrol scarcity has prevailed especially in Nigeria’s capital city, data made available by the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) through NNPCL indicates that petrol is available at the depot level with loading ongoing from 58 depots. The Weekly National PMS Evacuation Report for 7 to 13 March 2022, shows that NNPCL delivered 514.69 million litres of petrol to depots in one week.
According to the loading data, the top 20 depots loaded 382m litres of the available petrol in one week with Pinnacle Lekki depot and Matrix Energy having the highest load out. At the 38 other depots, which loaded about 132m litres of petrol within the period, Integrated Oil and Pinnacle depot led in the load-out.
The records show that the average daily loading of petrol has been between 49.5m and 76.9m litres since January.
Diesel price hike responsible – Transporters
Daily Trust also gathered that although the product may be available at the depot level, the rising diesel price has affected a lot of transporters who had suspended their bridging services, especially to the northern part.
In February, the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) had asked NMDPRA to review the freight rate upward else members may suspend the lifting of petrol even at the critical period.
A truck owner, Yusuf Gambo, told Daily Trust in Abuja at the weekend that diesel that sold for N250 a litre in January suddenly skyrocketed to about N700 saying some tanker owners could not cope and had to suspend some operations.
“How does the government expect transporters to still lift goods for them when the transport rate was not reviewed? It has been a big challenge to us,” he said.
Also speaking about the issues around the fuel supply, a top official of NNPCL in Abuja hinted that NNPCL was trying to move away from the Direct Sales, Direct Purchase (DSDP) arrangement so that only the company can begin to import the product directly through NNPCL shipping to avoid the adulterated petrol incident that happened last month.
The official also revealed that there is a slow pace of product importation, which is partly due to the naira exchange rate problem amidst the rising crude oil price caused by the Russia -Ukraine tension as well as slower shipping process.
On the bridging gap, the NNPCL staff said because the pipelines to depots across the country have been vandalised, the bridging system means that tankers have to carry petroleum products by road to various parts of the country.
“Now, you know the state of our roads. You also know the problem with our tanker drivers,” he said.
He, however, expressed optimism that “before the end of the month, the scarcity would have been addressed.”
The Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva at a briefing at the weekend said with the high prices of diesel, which is unregulated, petroleum tankers lifting the available petrol from the depots were limited, hence aggravating the earlier supply gap of petrol across retail outlets.
The president of NARTO, Alhaji Yusuf Lawal Othman, in a statement confirmed the federal government’s intervention in raising the freight rate to 25 per cent as he called on members to resume full lifting of petrol nationwide.
Othman added: “So, I am calling on members to get back to operations with a view to reducing the sufferings of the general public. In addition, we are trying to look into how to get Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) or diesel palliatives from the government.”
Lagos depot owners to flood Abuja with petrol
As the petrol scarcity rages in Abuja and other areas, the Ijegun-Egba Tankfarm Owners and Operators’ Association in Lagos said it will begin to deliver 40 trucks of petrol daily to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja as of Monday out of its 106 million litres in stock.
Rising from an emergency meeting on Sunday, the tank farm owners in a communique issued by the Chairman, Mr Adebowale Olujimi and the Secretary, Eshiet E. Eshie, said: “In line with our transparent posture, we wish to put it on record that we collectively have approximately 106 million litres in stock and will load and truck same accordingly” and “that all Tankfarms within the Ijegun-Egba axis are committed to load and supply 40 trucks of PMS per day to Abuja, FCT to address and augment energy supply and energy security in FCT.”
Members of the association include owners of A.A. Rano Ltd, Menj Oil Ltd, Chipet Oil Ltd, Rainoil Ltd, Stallionaire Ltd, Aipec Oil Ltd; and First Royal Oil Ltd.
FG to sanction defaulting depots
In the meantime, Sylva said all petroleum depots selling petrol and other products above the approved ex-depot price will be sanctioned.
“I can assure you that there will be sanctions for any of those depots that continue to increase the ex-depot price as approved. We are going to deal decisively with anyone who tries to take advantage of this situation,” the minister said.
By Vincent Nwanma, Simon E. Sunday (Abuja), Dickson Adama (Jos), Clement A. Oloyede (Kano) & Haruna G. Yaya (Gombe)