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HomeTop NewsSuffering and smiling as Nigerians struggle to cope with lingering fuel scarcity

Suffering and smiling as Nigerians struggle to cope with lingering fuel scarcity

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By Oludare Mayowa

On Wednesday night around 7 pm, Peter Olusola left his office in Victoria Island of Lagos and was heading toward the Ikeja area by the time he got to the old toll gate, it was already past 10 pm, no thanks to traffic snarl right from Alfred Rewane Road in Ikoyi.

Though long traffic was not unusual in Lagos, yesterday’s traffic was compounded by fuel queues at both the NNPC mega filling stations on Alfred Rewane Road, Ikoyi and Alapere area in Kosofe LG.

Olusola was not alone, across the state on Wednesday, feedback from listeners on Traffic radio showed that many people were trapped in traffic for long hours due to long queues in the few filling stations dispensing the scarce petrol around Lagos.

Since last year, Nigerians across the country have been experiencing lingering fuel scarcity, which the authorities have tried without success to explain away by either attributing it to bad portions of roads, road construction, marketers hoarding the product, panic buying, etc.

To date, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) is yet to find a solution to the lingering scarcity of the commodity which has impacted the lives and the economy of the whole nation.

Aside from the costs of subsidising the product by the government which amounted to around N3.25 trillion last year, the costs of man-hours lost in traffic, increased costs of transportation of humans and goods, time spent in search of the scarce commodity and its impact on productivity have been huge.

Motorists all over the country buy the product at double the fixed pump prices by the regulator as a result of the unwieldy arrangement in the distributions of the sharply reduced volume of Petrol imported into the country by the NNPC and the disparity of allocations.

For Instance, while marketers buy products from private depots at between N235-N240 per litre, instead of the regulated price of N148/litre, so they have to resort to selling at prices ranging from N270 to N350 per litre depending on location.

On the rear occasion when the product is selling at N168 to N179 per litre at the Major Oil Marketers filling stations, the queues would have been extended beyond view.

In December, the Managing Director of the NNPCL Retail, Hubb Stocksman promised that marketers would receive direct product supply at the government-regulated price of N148/litre from January, many independent marketers could not access the product at the official price up till now.

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In an interview granted The Punch, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) Chairman, Satellite Depot, Akin Akinrinade said the claim by NNPC was an empty promise.

“We have yet to see any product supply. Well, the man (Stockman) has been in Nigeria for some time now and is probably beating us to our game. He’s playing politics and we don’t see the situation abating soonest,” Akinrinade was quoted as saying.

Akinrinade added that marketers as of last Friday bought products from the depots at between N235-N240 per litre, saying there was no way they would sell products below N270/litre even within the Lagos metropolis.

As the authorities play the political game of manipulating the minds of the people over the real situation causing the scarcity, the suffering being faced by the masses as a result of the lingering scarcity continued unabated.

Temitayo Olowu told Global Financial Digest that despite the worsening situation of fuel scarcity, it seems Nigerians are cool about it because there is no protest against the long-suffering by the masses.

“In the time past, this kind of suffering and the unpalatable situation would have attracted massive protests by Nigerians across the country. I could recall Occupy Nigeria in 2014 in protest against the hike in the prices of the commodity by the Goodluck Jonathan administration,” Olowu said.

The situation is becoming like the legendary late Fela Anikulapo sang in his popular song, ‘suffering and smiling’ as Nigerians have quickly adapted to the crisis and keep struggling to survive without a whimper.

In fact, some Nigerians are already asking the government to remove the subsidy if that is the only way the product can be made available.

Olowu said the prolonged scarcity and rigmarole was the government’s way of preparing the ground for the eventual removal of the subsidy without triggering massive protests from the people and they seem to be getting away with that.

However, industry players are equally propounding solutions to end the current scarcity in the system.

According to Akinrinade, the Federal Government should revive the refineries to enable local production and ease of distribution of the product.

“The lasting solution is for the refineries to start functioning and we begin local refining,” he said.

His position was supported by the National Operations Controller of IPMAN, Mike Osatuyi, who said the removal of fuel subsidies and deregulation was the key to resolving the fuel scarcity menace.

“The permanent solution is to deregulate and remove subsidies. Allow the market to be a free market, where marketers other than the NNPC will be able to bring in products. Since the government said the subsidy would be removed in June, let’s wait and see, but until then, we have to manage,” he told The PUNCH over the phone.

The Chairman of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, Olumide Adeosun, also said the deregulation of the downstream sector would eradicate fuel scarcity.

“Having subsidised PMS for so long, Nigerian institutions now have a diminished capacity to deal with the current local energy crisis. A disruption in any part of the supply chain causes ripple effects and results in queues at stations. As a country, we must begin the process of price deregulation to reduce this inefficient subsidy,” he said.

According to him, if the country wishes to implement a subsidy, it must be in areas targeted to help those it should help such as in agriculture and transportation to reduce food inflation and generate more jobs for Nigerians.

“We must find a way to liberalise supply. We must bring transparency and competition into supply to ensure steadier, more efficient supply at optimum prices. Imported products must compete with locally refined products to find a meeting point between the need for local refining and competitively low but cost-recovered prices for Nigerians for sustainability.

“The exploration, production, refining of crude oil and the distribution of refined products is an international business with ebbs and flows and has specific models, guidelines, rules, and norms designed to protect and sustain consumers of this type of energy and populations impacted by its supply chain. The government and the industry in Nigeria must demonstrably apply these accepted health, safety, environmental protection, and quality norms to be seen to care for its local populations. To cut corners would be irresponsible, unaccountable, and unsustainable.”

Would President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration be able to summon the needed courage to do the needful and resolve once and for the problematic situation in the downstream sector and end the suffering of the people?

Would the president be able to kickstart the process of subsidy removal with minimal impact on the generality of the people by way of removing the NNPC from the entire value chain, resolving the huge problem of corruption and ensuring efficiency in the entire process?

Time is ticking fast and with less than five months to the end of Buhari’s administration, the challenges look daunting but not insurmountable.

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