NIGERIANS are currently groaning under the biting fuel scarcity, which has continued in the sixth week.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) appears to have exhausted its options and has left Nigerians at the mercy of filling station pump attendants and ‘black marketers.’
Despite claims of releasing 387.6 million litres to curb the scarcity, long queues have continued to appear at filling stations, with its attendant waste of man-hours in both Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The sixth-week-long scarcity was caused by the withdrawal of the methanol-blended Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol, imported into Nigeria in January, 2022.
Industry stakeholders told The ICIR that importation of petroleum products from Eastern European countries might have worsened the scarcity as a result of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
Nigeria does not have functional refineries at the moment. The existing refineries in Port Harcort, Warri and Kaduna post losses year after year even when they do not refine, leading to to massive importation of refined petroleum products into Nigeria.
NNPC is the sole importer but also licences other major marketers to assist in the imports.
Most Nigerians are complaining about buying petrol at exorbitant prices and they say that the recently imported contaminated fuel have damaged their vehicles.
“I had to wake up at 3.am in the morning to be on the queue. I bought a litre for N275 at filling stations in Abuja. After buying at N275, I couldn’t meet up with my weekly remittance, for I am on hire purchase,” Mohammed Yakubu, a rider of tricycle, popularly known as ‘Keke,’ told our reporter.
Mohammed’s experience is not different from that of many other Nigerians.
Our correspondent gathered that most Nigerians rely on ‘black market’ in order to meet up with their daily economic activities
This situation has spiked transport fare by 20 to 50 per cent in some parts of the Federal Capital Territory and Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital.
A bus from Kubwa to Central Business Area in the FCT previously cost N150, but it now costs between N250 and N300. Commercial vehicle drivers used to charge N100 from Lugbe to Central Business Area, but they now charge between N150 and N200.
Some motorists who shared their experiences with The ICIR complained that apart from buying at exorbitant prices, the quality of petroleum products imported into the country had effects on their vehicles’ fuel pumps.
“Since I bought fuel from a filling station at Zone 3, Abuja, my fuel pump has been jerking. I have to monitor it closely. Only God knows what they are selling to us, as I suspect their meter is hacked,” Chinedu Ugwu, a cab driver, told our correspondent.
A car mechanic who spoke to our correspondent said complaints of fuel pump had increased since the importation of the off-spec petrol into the country.
“We have got lots of complaints from motorists about their fuel pumps and engines since February. Many motorists have raised their complaints about the bad effects of the fuel in circulation,” Ekene Obiakor, a vehicle mechanic, told The ICIR.
Port Harcourt refinery is currently being rehabilitated. However, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Timipre Sylva said even if it became operational in the later part of the year, it would still not perform optimally.
Nigeria’s daily consumption has been on the rise to almost 100 million litres per day, with subsidy payment also on the rise.
Some industry analysts say, with oil price of oil rising due to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Nigeria has the opportunity to increase its foreign reserves. However, Nigeria’s porous border could mean that the country is subsidising fuel for its West African neighbours, who sell fuel at much higher prices.
Analysts say that the fuel scarcity will be a recurring decimal if the government fails to properly deregulate the petroleum downstream sector.
“The President has failed in this responsibility as the Minister of Petroleum. Can’t he kept he resign and get a more competent person for the position. This has shown he cannot manage the portfolio,” Lead Partner, Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, told The ICIR.
An Associate Consultant for the British Department for the International Development (DFID) said the management of petroleum Industry was not isolated from other Nigerian problems.
He stressed that undue interference in Nigeria’s petroleum sector by the government in the name of intervention had been the bane of the sector suffering from retrogression.
“The way to go is proper deregulation. The price would rise, but with time the product will be available and people would have choices as to where they can source their product. NNPC, being the sole importer, hasn’t helped us and won’t solve the problem, unless we deregulate properly,” he said.
“Till now, no one has been sanctioned for that import (of contaminated petrol) despite the so-called investigation by the House of Representatives. We have all moved on as if nothing happened,” he noted.
According to records, in 1997, an offensive-odour PMS, also known as petrol, was imported into Nigeria during the regime of late General Sani Abacha.
The PMS damaged car engines and caused health hazards.
Nigerians are asking when the fuel scarcity will end.
Harrison Edeh is a journalist with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, always determined to drive advocacy for good governance through holding public officials and businesses accountable.