LOOMING FUEL SCARCITY
Long queues have returned to many filling stations across major cities in recent weeks. This is almost two months after the Federal Government withdrew subsidy on petroleum products as a prelude to the deregulation of the Downstream Petroleum sector.
Consequently, government announced a new price regime, which increased the pump price of fuel to N97 per litre, from the old price of N65 per litre. But, the ongoing fuel scarcity has resulted in an unofficial price hike of between 50 and 100 percent in many states.
Following the lingering scarcity, fears of impending energy crisis is looming. This is sequel to speculations that Nigeria's strategic reserve is fast depleting, while oil marketers are alleged to have shunned the importation of fuel. Beyond that, the oil marketers and government agencies such as the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, (PPMC) as well as the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have been trading blames over the present scarcity of fuel.
While the NNPC, PPRA and PPMC have put the blame on the recent probe of the oil sector by both chambers of the National Assembly, oil marketers on their part have claimed that the problem was exacerbated by the reluctance of banks to grant them credit facility.
Also, while the blame game was going on, the Senate summoned the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and that of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke. Others invited to testify on the lingering fuel scarcity were the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mr. Austin Oniwon and head of PPPRA, Mr. Reginal Stanley, that of PPMC, Mr. Haruna Momoh and Director, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) Mr Dapo Olorunshola. Their explanation before the Senate Committee on Downstream, headed by Magnus Abbe, did little to ease the queues, as the scarcity still persists.
We find this entire official buck passing quite amusing. It does not resolve the issues that brought about the present scarcity and the far-reaching consequences of an imminent energy crisis if the issues are not urgently addressed. Nigerians are surprised, indeed enraged, that barely two months after government removed subsidy on fuel and the harvest of promises that would have made fuel scarcity a rarity, they are back to the same, old official ineptitude. This is a sad development.
Indeed, the present fuel scarcity is a self-inflicted wound. It is embarrassing and unfathomable how oil marketers and government agencies cannot address the perennial scarcity decisively. What is very obvious now is that the big issues in the oil sector are yet to be adequately addressed. Nigerians had thought that before subsidy was removed on January 1, 2012, government and its advisers in the oil sector would have found solutions that hitherto had hindered the full deregulation of the sector.
We urge government to go back to the drawing board and resolve all the lingering issues in the management of the petroleum sector, including the subsidy regime. If Nigerians cannot find fuel to buy or labour to buy it at exorbitant price, that makes the removal of subsidy meaningless. This is the contradiction in the government's deregulation policy.
The way forward is for all the government agencies saddled with the management of the petroleum industry and the oil marketers to find a common ground that will make fuel readily available across the country and at the approved price. Anything less will defeat all agreements that were reached between government and labour during the last nationwide strike. This is the time to address squarely all niggling issues responsible for the current hitches in petroleum supply across the country. All in all, proactive measures that will forestall a likely recurrence of energy crisis in the country have become imperative.