BY OKECHUKWU NNODIM and GODFREY GEORGE
Amid the lingering petrol scarcity in the country, a senior government official and marketers have dashed the hope of an early resolution of the problem by claiming that supply hitches may not end any time soon.
The senior official in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH on condition of anonymity on Saturday, said the fuel scarcity might get worse in the days and weeks to come as there were many issues affecting the smooth supply of the product across the country.
According to him, the inability of the NNPC Limited to import sufficient volume of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) is primarily responsible for the current scarcity.
He explained that the NNPCL did not have sufficient funds to import the required quantity of fuel for domestic consumption and the situation was compounded by the falling value of the naira as the company had to source for scarce forex to buy petrol from abroad and pay shipowners, who convey it to the country.
The official stated, “The dollar issue is a major problem as the NNPCL is running helter-skelter to get forex to import fuel, yet the product cannot be sold at the market value; so, it is bearing some part of the cost in the form of subsidy. You can’t get products at higher rates and sell at lower rates and there won’t be crises.
“The Federal Government is worried that the removal of subsidy a month to the general elections will be disastrous as the organised labour will mobilise the citizens to resist it and the security agencies may not be able to contain the attendant upheaval. This, of course, will affect the chances of the ruling All Progressives Congress in the elections.
“The President does not want to leave a country in turmoil for his successor and that is why he made provision for subsidy till June. It will be the decision of his successor to retain or remove it. Whoever wins the presidential election will face a tough time.”
The source also explained that the inability of the country to produce enough crude oil to meet its Organisation of Petroleum Export Countries’ quota was another problem, noting that insecurity and crude theft had significantly affected the production capacity.
He added, “Another issue is the failure of the crude swap for refined products deal that the NNPCL had with major international oil firms and traders. The inability of the NNPCL to meet its own side of the deal by supplying the required quantity of crude has frustrated the arrangement.
“While Nigeria has been taking refined products from the partners, it has not been able to supply the crude equivalent and the international firms and traders have stopped shipping products to the country.”
Oil marketers, on Saturday, also alluded to the problems in the downstream sector and predicted that the current scarcity would not abate until the government comes out with a clear position on subsidy removal, full deregulation and price determination.
They also faulted the claim by the Federal Government that it had not increased the pump price of petrol, as they continued dispensing the commodity at exorbitant rates.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, had announced on Friday that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), did not approve any hike in petrol price.
This was after oil marketers stated that the government might have commenced the gradual removal of subsidy on petrol, as they stated that the cost of PMS was raised on Thursday from N175/litre to N185/litre.
One of our correspondents observed that PMS was sold for as high as N250/litre and N300/litre in the few outlets of independent marketers that had the product in Lagos and Ogun states as well as Abuja on Saturday.
Few filling stations operated by major marketers dispensed the commodity at between N185/litre and N194/litre in the state and the Federal Capital Territory contrary to the minister’s statement.
Khalif Civic Oil & Investment Limited, for instance, which is a filling station located in Kubwa, a satellite town in Abuja, sold petrol for N295/litre and still had queues.
Other outlets that dispensed fuel, particularly those operated by major oil marketers, also had long queues.
The Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority did not confirm whether it had approved an increase in the pump price of petrol or not when contacted on Saturday.
“I cannot confirm that to you know, because I don’t have information on that right now,” the NMDPRA spokesperson, Kimchi Apollo, stated.
However, officials of the NNPCL and NMDPRA attributed the fuel scarcity in Abuja and environs to gridlock following an accident involving three oil tankers on the Bida-Agaie Road in Niger State on Friday.
They disclosed this during a special visit to assess the situation at the Suleja Depot, adding that though the development had affected the free flow and arrival of tankers in the Suleja area and some northern states, the situation was being resolved and normalcy was expected to return before Monday.
The Executive Vice President, NNPCL, Adeyemi Adetunji, stated that to resolve the distribution logistic issues and restore normalcy, the cost of marine transportation with the marketers was being resolved.
He said with the Yuletide season now over and people returning to Abuja from the holidays, all depots had been advised to remain open and sustain their dispatch operations.
The Executive Director, Distribution Systems, Storage and Retail Infrastructure, NMDPRA, Ogbugo Ukoha, said the authority would continue to collaborate with the NNPCL and other stakeholders to ensure seamless and efficient supply and distribution of petroleum products nationwide.
Ukoha said to ensure more product availability at filling stations, a total of 121 trucks were dispatched from the Suleja Depot to filling stations within Abuja and neighbouring states on Friday and gave an assurance that the tightness in terms of distribution would be eased before Monday.
But as at Saturday evening, queues in the few outlets that had the product were still long. Many filling stations in Abuja, Nasarawa, Niger and neighbouring states were closed due to lack of products to dispense.
In the few filling stations selling the product in Lagos, motorists spent several hours in queues and those who managed to buy petrol paid far above the official rate.
In Obalende, one of our correspondents observed that most filling station operators were collecting f as much as N2,000 from motorists to jump the queues and get privileged access to the stations.
A motorist, Lamidi Oba, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH, claimed that he had to pay N2,000 to one of the attendants, who told him to use the exit as entrance into the filling station.
He said he had been waiting since 9pm on Friday and was able to get in around 10.50am on Saturday.
“The fuel scarcity is terrible. Yesterday (Friday), I bought from black marketers at almost N700, and the fuel was adulterated. It almost knocked my car engine. I have been here for more than 10 hours. I slept here just to get fuel,” he said.
Some filling stations around Oniru, Victoria Island, increased the pump price to N382/litre. Most of the attendants openly collected bribes from motorists who agreed to pay N400 to shunt the queues. Also, motorists were asked to pay a ‘gate fee’ of N2,000.
A housewife, Mrs Nkechinyere Uzoma, said she bought petrol for N400 from a filling station in Yaba, Lagos, on Friday.
“I heard that Total Energies are still selling at N163 or so per litre. I am coming from there now to this place only to meet this long queue. Some people are even paying to get in, and I even drove out because my tank is dry. The government needs to help us,” she said.
In Ikosi, Ketu, one of our correspondents observed that the Total Energies station on Ikosi Road still sold at N163/litre, but the queues were unending.
Many motorists claimed to have slept in the queues on Friday night to Saturday morning just to get the product.
“I slept here last night. At one point, the attendants had to rest. They too are human beings. One time, they even said they no longer had products. God should save this country. The situation is getting worse,” a motorist who gave his name only as Kehinde said.
In Ogun State, the situation worsened as most motorists lamented the outright unavailability of petrol in filling stations on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
A journalist, who did not want his name in print, said he had to drop his keg with an attendant on Friday after paying a bribe of N1,000.
“When I met her (attendant), she said there was no product. I was stuck. I simply asked that I keep my keg with her, but she insisted that I must pay her a bribe. I had to give her N1,000 for her to fill my keg whenever the product comes on Saturday. I had to sleep in the office,” he said.
He also claimed that the filling station refused to sell for N160/litre but N212/litre.
A resident of Mowe, Mr Salako Adeleke, said he had parked his car permanently as he could no longer afford to buy fuel.
He claimed to have spent hours at different stations but ended up buying from black marketers who mixed the products with other liquids.
“The last time I fuelled my car was three days ago, and I bought it from a black marketer, who sold it at almost N400. How can I buy fuel for N400 in this country?” he said.
Source: The Punch