Musings On The Pengassan Strike Stoked Fuel Queues, 48 Hours After
Since the senior staff association in the oil industry, Petroleum Energy and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) called off it's short-lived strike action about 48 hours ago, one has been monitoring the fuel queues in Lagos and beyond and can report authoritatively that the situation of the queues is yet to abate generally across the country.
Monday 18th December 2017 which was the day the nationwide PENGASSAN strike began and was called off, was a day that all hell broke loose in the Lagos metropolis and was supposedly reinforced in other states of the federation as petrol stations were turned into a theatre of war by people fighting to get fuel at all cost because of the fear of the consequences of lack of fuel to power vehicles, motorcycles, tricycles, machines, homes, factories and offices in a country where the public power supply is poor and erratic.
The reality of the situation is that fuel is the livewire of the Nigeria economy as the whole essence of our being revolves around it as a result of the failure of the state to be alive to it's responsibility of social safety and security.
Unfortunately, instead of being a blessing to the Nigerian people with it's abundant natural endowment of crude oil in which Nigeria is the 6th largest producer in the world, it has become a curse and Achilles heel of the Nigerian economy.
While other oil producing countries reap the benefits of their endowments through affordable and accessible fuel, massive infrastructural development, mass employment, industrialization and high per capital income, our story is that of corruption through subsidy fraud of about N800bn-N1.3trn annually until the advent of the present administration, oil bunkering, pipeline vandalization, mismanagement and looting, broken down infrastructure, poverty, mass unemployment, low per capital income, chaotic arrangements and indiscipline of stakeholders.
Before the PENGASSAN strike stoked fuel queues, the country was already battling with fuel queues in most states of the federation save for Lagos state for about two weeks now, as a result of sharp practices by stakeholders who have refused to embrace change for our collective good.
While the oil management authority (NNPC) kept on assuring the general public that the drop in distribution quota was not enough to create scarcity and that people should not resort to panic buying, the vampires in the oil industry despite being in tune with the state of affairs, rather capitalized on it to reopen their illegal channel of exploitation through the black market of which they have been deprived for over 2 years now as a result of the efficiency and effectiveness of the NNPC.
From reports monitored via the media and other sources, illegal black markets for fuel business sprang up over night as a four litre gallon of fuel costing N580 at the official price of N145 per litre at the pumps were now selling at the thriving black market at between N1000-N1200 and above for a 4 litre jerry can. Reports even have it that some petrol station attendants were demanding and collecting between N500-N1000 before vehicles were allowed into petrol stations to purchase fuel at the pumps in some states, e.g. Niger state.
While most of the petrol stations were shut or dispensing fuel at one or two pumps out of about 8 or more pumps to ensure that the fuel queues lengthened as panic of shortages gripped the public, the black market with it's exploitative price had steady supplies that should be a source of concern as to any discerning patriotic mind. Mind you, these thriving illegal black markets in some environments existed beside or within walking distance(s) from official petrol stations which didn't have petrol and so, one doesn't need to be a seer to decipher the source of petrol supplies to the black market.
As a result of the public outcry and concern for national security, the NNPC despite it's assurances, went out to investigate the source of the fuel queues and as expected, the outcome of their activities led to the recovery of about 144 hoarded petrol tankers in Kano, the sealing up of some fuel stations for hoarding and selling above the official pump price as well as other nefarious activities by some irresponsible players in the oil industry.
While one would like to commend the NNPC for the laudable steps taken so far in arresting the situation, it is important to point out that the monitoring agency for fuel dispensing, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) needs to be overhauled and reinvigorated to make it effective and responsible.
Time and time again, the sale of fuel at the pumps across the country have revealed sharp practices by marketers who under dispense or sell above the official price because of the belief that nothing will happen and truly, except in some situations, nothing really happens even when people make report to the authorities.
The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) from one's observation over the years is as guilty for dereliction of duty just like those who have gone scot free for breaking the law by under dispensing or selling above the official price. Thus, there's need to rejig the laws for offenders in the oil industry to make it more stringent and deterring because the present reality for sanctions is like a slap on the wrist for economic crimes because it encourages and aids the impunity in the sector.
However, one is glad by the recent pronouncement from the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu on the plans to stop importation of refined fuel by 2019 as local refining is expected to come fully on stream just like in other oil producing countries of which Nigeria has been an exemption and embarrassment for so long. This is a commendable way to go and one hereby calls on Nigerians to hold this administration to it's word on this promise in due course.
One inescapable fact that has come out from the reoccurrence of fuel queues either before or as a result of the PENGASSAN strike induced one, is the need to reorder and restore sanity to our oil industry which is a house of commotion for exploitation and abuse by the stakeholders and the time to do that is now!
48 hours after the PENGASSAN strike stoked fuel queues, the situation remains the same and so we ask, how long shall we wait for normalcy to be restored as Nigerians gear up to celebrate the Yuletide just like the rest of the world?
Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), wake up to your responsibility as quickly as possible because Nigerians do not deserve what they are presently going through in this festive season or at any time, to access fuel for their use.
Nelson Ekujumi is the Executive Chairman, Committee for the Protection of Peoples Mandate (CPPM).