TAYO Aboyeji, is the Lagos Zonal Council Chairman, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). In this interview with The ICIR‘s Joseph Olaoluwa, Aboyeji bares his thoughts on the intractable scarcity problem in Nigeria, and on other issues.
QUEUES at fuel filling stations in Nigeria are back and sales have been epileptic. What exactly is wrong with the system and what can be done to solve it permanently?
We all know that some weeks ago, some marketers, according to the NNPC, brought in sub-standard fuel that Nigeria cannot use and that caused damages to many vehicles. In the process of blending it or sending it back to where it came from, that shortage of supply caused the fuel scarcity. Till today, the government has not been able to meet up with the supply of premium motor spirit (petrol). We are hopeful the product will be available in abundance.
The pump price of petrol per litre in the various states differs. In some states, the price is more than N180 per litre. What is NUPENG doing about telling marketers to maintain the normal price across the country?
NUPENG is only the conscience of the masses. The scarcity was not caused by the masses, it is government, and, moreover, the average Nigerian doesn’t love one another. The Federal Government has not announced an increment in the product; it is still subsidized, so why would some people sell above the approved price? That is why the union had to come in.
If you go to the filing station, some are selling N170 in the depot and when it gets to the filing stations, it goes beyond N165 per litre. That is why we said it is not acceptable; that the depot owners should not sell above N155 per litre.
Have they complied?
Some complied but for those that have not complied, we have a taskforce that is enforcing it. We cannot close down the stations, but we can start by taking on the depots owners to stop selling above the approved price.
Is there any disagreement between IPMAN and NUPENG on what the pump price of petrol should be?
IPMAN and NUPENG are like brothers. If we disagree, we will still come back to agree. There is no need for any disagreement here. What is the government-approved price for filling stations? It is N162/litre and disagreements will not show up if everyone complies with the government’s directive. On that, we are right. Anyone that wants to counter us has issues to contend with. And I believe that IPMAN will cooperate with the Nigerian masses and not aggravate the current situation by selling above the government-approved pump price.
The NNPC said it spent N201 billion to clear the imported dirty fuel. What is your take on that?
How could the government or whoever, import bad fuel and still use Nigerian money to correct it? This is condemnable. The fact that nobody has been prosecuted for the criminal importation is even more painful. It is very bad. This kind of thing in other countries can cause unrest, but we are a patient people. We will wait till government sorts it out and people will move on as usual. But that shouldn’t be acceptable.
Some officials of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing were once alleged to be diverting N621bn meant for road construction. How did NUPENG react to that allegation? What is it doing about the issue of bad roads as it affects transporting petroleum products?
NUPENG had identified 21 critical roads for government to repair or fix. When we were about to go on strike then, the NNPC came in and promised to bring out N621bn to repair the roads. When we learnt that the money was being diverted, we cried out to the public. However, the government issued a clarification that the money was intact and it would soon start repairing the 21 roads.
Did they give a timeline?
They did not give us a timeline but they said it would start soon.
You, as a player in the business of haulage, what would you say is the best means of moving petroleum products?
Our pipelines are not safe and that is why the products are being moved by road.
Several groups have threatened to protest regarding epileptic fuel scarcity. What should be the way forward?
We don’t support anybody to take laws into their hands, they just have to bear with the government. Let’s wait to see what happens about their promise that the product would be available in abundance everywhere.
Should the subsidy conversation be dropped?
No, we should continue the subsidy conversation until we are able to refine the product locally. Refineries once worked in Nigeria, but why they are not working now is a result of pipeline vandalisation. Even when refineries worked and the product was being pumped, we discovered that some people were vandalising the product and it wasn’t getting to the receiving end. However, we have made our position known to the government on the way to go so that those vandalizing the pipelines would be unable to do so. Still, government should fix the refineries or we would continue having problems year in and year out.
Petrol black market thrives during fuel scarcity. Some of these black marketers sell adulterated fuel that destroys car engines.
What is your take on this?
The issue of petrol black market is not the problem of NUPENG. We cannot enforce that. The security agencies are there to do so either for the black market or adulterated fuel. We are not encouraging that, but we feel it is the responsibility of security agents to deal with the situation.
How can the Nigerian government gain from the Russia-Ukraine war in terms of the global gas market?
When one road closes, another opens. If Russia does not give us gas, Nigeria should build its own gas refinery. From there, we will get enough gas for local consumption. I wonder why we are depending on the importation of gas. The government should take advantage of the war and achieve gas production locally.