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Fuel Scarcity And Old Habits, Die Hard

By Nelson Ekujumi
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A veritable fact of life is the resistance of man to change because of old habits which die hard and so he wants a continuation of the old order, the status quo that he is used to, comfortable with and will do all within his powers to resist it, but unfortunately, the developments and progress that has been witnessed by the human race from time immemorial to the present day, is as a result of change which is the only permanent thing in life.

In Nigeria like the rest of the world, we are not immuned to this resistance culture which is a natural occurrence afflicting the human race as we grapple daily with the reality of change from old corrupt habits of conducting our private and public affairs to one of transparency and accountability which is a global trend.

However, it is important to place on record that, we all owe it as a collective responsibility to change from our old habits and as well ensure that those saddled with managing our affairs in whatever form, also toe this line in the interest of societal good and progress.

Recently, the Nigerian people were confronted with the reality of a nationwide fuel scarcity rearing it's ugly head again after an absence of about two years and since then, the public space has been awash with commentaries by all and sundry including the personnel and institutions managing our oil industry on the cause of this latest scarcity.

However, it was soothing and comforting the other day, to read in the newspapers and from other media channels that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday the 6th December, 2017 had mandated the Minister of state for petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu to bring the nationwide scarcity to an end before the weekend of 8th December 2017 which was about 5 days after it was noticed in the states, notwithstanding the assurances from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that the scarcity was as a result of panic buying.

While one is not in a position to verify what action is being put in place to ameliorate the scarcity, one can authoritatively report that by Thursday 7th December, 2017, the fuel queues that was noticed at petrol stations in some parts of Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria since 4th December, 2017 had disappeared within 24 hours of the FEC directive, but reports from Abuja, the Federal capital territory and other states, indicate the opposite with regards to fuel queues persisting in petrol stations dispensing the product as it seemed that the FEC directive to the Minister of State for petroleum had performed the magic of eliminating queues only in Lagos which consumes about 60% of the premium motor spirit (PMS), otherwise called petrol in Nigeria

Therefore, we are at a loss to explain the disappearance of the fuel queues in Lagos within 24 hours after the FEC directive and notes that even during the short lived scarcity in the city, the product still sold for N145 per litre at the pumps, but are saddened by the reports of the fuel queues and criminal increase of the price per litre in some states to about N160 per litre by marketers and this is why the reasons that must have brought about the scarcity is worth examining with a view to placing issues in proper perspective.

While one appreciates the honest admission by the Minister of State for petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu on the shortfall in supply by the NNPC, we need to ask what is the volume of the shortfall to necessitate the nationwide fuel scarcity?

We also need to examine some figures and data, to be able to understand where to place the blame for this problem in order to prevent a reoccurrence in the foreseeable future.

It is a fact that on assumption into office of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the government made it very clear that there was no room for the fuel subsidy regime inherited from it's predecessor and which was a conduit pipe for defrauding the government and people of Nigeria.

Confronted with the reality of restoring sanity to a corrupt petroleum sector in charge of a social and security product, government only way out of the quagmire of rescuing the country from a fraudulent subsidy regime which was used for siphoning away between N800 billion to N1.3 trillion naira annually, was the abolition of the subsidy regime and the birth of what was called regulated deregulation, which liberalized the importation of premium motor spirit (PMS) by importers, but placed a ceiling on the price that the product can be sold at the pumps because of it's security implications.

This new fuel regime obliged marketers the window to source foreign exchange for importation of petroleum products at a special rate from the CBN subject to meeting very stringent conditions to avoid the abuse and corruption that is characteristic of such a system.

Surprisingly, it has come to the notice of the general public that the sole importer of petroleum products today is the NNPC and we ask, why is it so? Has the window of special rates of foreign exchange for importation of petroleum products been closed to importers? Or are importers running away from accessing the window because the room for abuse and corruption has been made very difficult? These and many more questions are what the discerning public should ponder about and put on the front burner of public discourse.

However, we are aware that the average daily consumption of petrol in Nigeria dovetails between 30-35 million litres. From the records, Lagos consumes about 15-20 million litres daily, while the rest of the country takes between 10-15 million litres, so we ask that what is responsible for the disappearance of the fuel queues within a twinkle of an eye in Lagos with it's huge volume consumption? Why is it still lingering in Abuja and other states of the federation with low daily consumption volume? We also need to ask, that the illegal black markets that springs up immediately there is a fuel crisis, how do they get their supplies? Definitely, it must be through collaborators marketers who have resorted to their usual old method of creating panic and thereby fleecing the Nigerian people since the old fraudulent scheme of fuel subsidy regime has been closed.

Also, one is aware of the resuscitation and functionality of the hitherto comatose petroleum depots in Mosimi, Ibadan, Ore, Aba, etc which are now pumping products for distribution to channels outside Lagos and so, one is perplexed to explain the reason why the fuel queues should persist in Abuja and the other states while that of Lagos, has eased off with no special arrangements and even when distribution channels were not disrupted?

It is however important to reiterate that in view of the social and security importance of petrol to the Nigerian economy and state, there is need for us to emulate our OPEC countries by producing locally refined petroleum products and thus put a stop to it's importation for national image and security.

The media also needs to be admonished to exhibit responsibility and patriotism in it's reportage of issues by seeking true and verifiable information before going to press lest they be unwitting accomplice in misleading the public, creating panic and thus paving the way for the people's exploitation by economic vampires.

In examining this fuel scarcity issue, one fact that sticks out like a sore thumb is that this scarcity has generated more questions than answers and the responses to those questions will go a long way in preventing a reoccurrence because like we say, old habits, die hard but they must succumb to change in the interest of public welfare and progress.

Nelson Ekujumi is the Executive Chairman, Committee for the Protection of Peoples Mandate (CPPM).