THE stress and pains Nigerians especially motorists and other users of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol were subjected to last week just because they wanted to refill their tanks was unacceptable. Queuing for several hours before getting or buying fuel at filling stations have once again resonated the age long question of whether oil is a curse or a blessing to Nigeria. It will be recalled that three years ago, precisely on May 4, 2012, Daily Independent Newspaper published an article I entitled: “Is Oil a curse or a blessing to Nigeria?” In that piece, I lamented over what Nigerians are doing to Nigerians. This is because, living in a country that is always quick to blame colonial masters for their woes, everything done wrong must one way or the other be linked to the imperial masters. On quote, I asked “If you read the history book, you will say what Europe did to Nigeria, but if you read our newspapers what will you say?”
Throughout last week, I read so many narratives attributed to the current fuel scarcity. First, it was the Chairman of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Lagos zone, Mr. Tokunbo Korodo. He said: “I foresee a big problem for oil marketers as a result of the devaluation of the Naira with the additional issue of many politicians scrambling to come back to power.”
Second, it was the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN). They were accusing financial institutions of developing cold feet towards the financing of products importation because of rising debt profile among others, while others accused the Ministry of Finance over its inability to pay subsidy arrears.
However, while exonerating the Finance Ministry from blame, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala said the situation is caused by mixed of factors including disruption of pipelines and logistical issues. She added:”As you aware, we paid the marketers a total of N320.8 billion from the Excess Crude Account in two installments in December last year. This underscores the fact that we are taking payment of marketers very seriously indeed. We have been in constant touch and talking with marketers. A week ago, we reached an agreement with them on their core concerns which we have agreed.
Specifically, we have taken the following steps; we have reached an agreement with the marketers union on N185 billion balance of their payment, as part of this agreement, we are only paying the costs they have incurred and their fees but also interest and forex differentials; Debt Management Office (DMO) has issued SDN which means Sovereign Debt Note to cover N100 billion out of the N185 billion agreed upon as balance for the next payment and CBN has also given approvals for the banks to issue letters of credits.” The minister however noted that while the marketers union and most members have been cooperative, some of them are not, stressing that some of them have even refused to open letters of credit to facilitate their payments.
Nonetheless, it was reported by most national dailies that, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) injected 600, 103.05 metrictons of PMS which is equivalent to 688 million liters of Petrol in to the market. According to a statement signed by the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Ohi Alegbe, it noted that the essence was to arrest any shortfall that may have been triggered by the unnecessary fears of an imminent scarcity of petrol. The statement further stated that what appears to be fuel queuing in some cities was artificial.
According to one of the national dailies, NNPC plans to import more than one billion liters of petrol this month to address the shortfall in supply. The paper also reported that the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Joseph Dawha in conjunction with the Chief Executive Officers of the Corporation’s subsidiaries, have begun detailed monitoring of fuel stations in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The move was to checkmate hoarding and panic buying. The tabloid quoted them as saying that there was enough petrol in the nation’s stock to take care of the need of motorists, assuring Nigerians that NNPC as the supply of last resort is doing everything within it mandate to alleviate the avoidable hardship caused by the situation.
However, it is the view of this writer that it is high time the oil and gas industry is deregulated. The current practice and undue exposure of Nigeria to the vagaries of factors or atmosphere of uncertainties beclouding the industry without any form of immunity is unsustainable on the long run. By deregulating the industry, I mean liberalizing and opening up the industry to the private sectors. This also includes the removal of subsidy as well as encouraging competition among others. Why the first attempt to remove subsidy failed was because it lacked due consultation and campaigns or publicity drive.
From observations, what we have in the industry today is cartels holding the nation to ransom. This is because they know full well that the product they sell is an essential commodity which Nigerians cannot do without. Instead of competing among themselves to bring innovation and creativity in to the industry, they decided to collude against the overall interest of every Nigerian. But if the government and other relevant agencies should consult very well and educate Nigerians of the benefit removing fuel subsidy would bring, the sector would be deregulated. In this case, it will dislodge the cartels and bring competition to the industry, price will crash, products would be available and Nigerians would become the king instead of victim. This is the only way Nigerians can take full control of their God given natural resources.