As experts, others proffer solution to the persistent fuel crisis…

When many thought the issue of petrol scarcity was over, like a bolt out of the blue, Nigerians are once more caught in the web; BENJAMIN UMUTEME reports.

According to experts, numerous factors have continued to play a role in the unending petrol scarcity charade. Some of these are: Inadequate maintenance leading to frequent shutdowns or breakdowns of refineries; inadequate funding from the government to upgrade existing facilities or build additional ones; the lack of infrastructure like pipelines which are necessary for efficient distribution.

However, it’s noted that the main reason for the fuel scarcity issues in Nigeria is the inadequate supply of petroleum products due to a lack of refining capacity. In addition, there is also illegal smuggling of refined petroleum products out of the country, which further contributes to the fuel scarcity issues.

Speaking with this reporter, Adefolarin Olamilekan said the inefficiency in the oil and gas sector has been made manifest in fuel queues.

According to him, “The sad situation is a delayed manifestation that characterises the supply and logistics value-chain, ranging from our inability to refine crude oil locally, importation of petroleum products, policy inconsistency, weak corporate and regulatory governance and corruption.

“A critical review of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria shows how the government has always failed to address challenges leading to scarcity of petroleum products either by acts of artificial scarcity, official negligence or sabotage activities.

“Meanwhile, the government’s promises to fix the refineries are yet to be fulfilled, thus making a lot of citizens to doubt their ability to make the sector work for Nigerians with steady supply and affordable fuel.”

Panic-buying

In a statement signed by chairmen of the House of Representatives committees on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Midstream Petroleum, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, and Odi Okogie, respectively, the green chambers urged Nigerians to exercise patience and not engage in panic-buying as the cause of the queues has been addressed.

According to them, with the availability of petrol not in doubt, normalcy would return in a few days. Ugochinyere stated that from their own findings, there is about 1.5 billion litres of petrol that can last for 30 days.

He noted that it is as a result of logistics that the queues have resurfaced and these logistic issues range from difficulty in transporting products from the mother vessel to the respective petrol stations.

He assured that the lawmakers have got assurances from the regulators in the value-chain that those bottlenecks were being cleared.

Ugochinyere said, “We hereby express our concerns over the temporary presence of fuel queues in petrol stations across the country. This has adversely affected the lives and businesses of Nigerians across the country. As elected representatives of the Nigerian people, we are greatly disturbed by this development. However, we are convinced that this is temporary and in a couple of days, we shall get over it. From our investigations, we have found out that there is availability of petrol products. We have on good authority that we have in our storage facilities, at least, about 1.5 billion litres of petrol that can last for 30 days. It is however saddening to note that it is as a result of logistics that the queues have resurfaced. These logistic issues range from difficulties in transporting products from the mother vessel to the respective petrol stations; movement of products from offshore marine vessels to the stations, and the disruption from Escravos channels.

“We have gotten assurances from the regulators in the value-chain that these bottlenecks are being cleared. In the course of this public holiday, more grounds will be covered. From our findings, the issues that necessitated the disruptions which led to the appearance of fuel queues in petrol stations have been cleared. Obviously, it will take a few days for things to return back to normalcy. Therefore, we call on Nigerians not to fret over this development. We have gotten assurances from the regulators and the unions that these will be cleared in the next two days. It will require more time, like two to three days, for products to be distributed to all stations nationwide.

“As a Committee that is geared towards ameliorating the sufferings of the people we represent, we have been monitoring this development. Also, in line with our legislative duties of over-sighting the downstream and midstream petroleum sector, we have been in touch with the key stakeholders, the regulatory bodies and the transport unions, with a view to ensuring that the products get to our people timeously and without further delay.

“At this juncture, we strongly frown upon the activities of middlemen who have taken advantage of the short disruption of supply, to maximise profit and generate inordinate gain for themselves, at the detriment of our people. We hereby call on security forces to support the NNPCL, NMDPRA, PETROAN, NARTO and other key stakeholders in the distribution chain, so as to ensure that acts of economic sabotage that has to do with hoarding, arbitrary increment in price, products diversion and smuggling are detected and dealt with. Our people have been through a lot in the last few days and we must not plunge them into further pains. We appeal to all traders and those rendering services, not to unduly take advantage of this temporary challenge, which will be cleared in the next few days.

“We urge Nigerians not to engage in panic buying, nor be enmeshed in unnecessary rush to buy products. As a country we have storage of over 1.5 billion litres which can last us for over 30 days. More products are arriving and more products are on the high sea. The only challenge that caused this disruption was the logistics issue that had to do with the marine shuttle vessels, which was to move products to marketers, who are on standby waiting to serve the people. The logistics issues have now been resolved.”

Way forward

Analysts say the government must ensure that the country’s refineries begin to work, just as they opined that efforts must be put into ensuring that gas is properly utilised.

“First of all, we should endeavour to make sure our refineries are working. We should also make sure that Dangote Refinery is fully working.

“We must also look at fuel subsidy removal critically. You know, when you remove fuel subsidies a lot of things must come. That is why gas remains a very important tool. When there is enough gas, it gives room for a lot of things. I think the CNG should work effectively, the refineries should be working and Dangote as a private arm should also be functional. I think that would have solved our problem.

“We must also have what is called mystery shopping, where we monitor those marketers. Sometimes, they have and refuse to sell. So, there must be a watchdog that will be checking them,” Aliyu Ilias, a public affairs analysts, said.

On his part, a political economist, Adefolarin Olamilekan, said the government must ensure Nigerians enjoy regular supply and affordable fuel.

According to him, the way out of the reoccurring fuel scarcity is for the government and industry players to play by the books. He noted that the Petroleum Industry Act 2022 is explicit on what needs to be done to make the sector work for Nigeria and Nigerians.

“Another is for the government to be committed to ensuring the four national refineries function to full capacity, in order to reduce over independence on fuel importation that has over years caused distortion to the naira, inflation and depletion of our foreign reserves.

“In addition, the government needs to be strategic in the supply and logistics value chain of petroleum products. In this case the government must prioritise and introduce efficient transportation systems, such as pipeline transportation systems, rail and inland waterways systems.

“Moreso, NNPCL would need to expand their outlet beyond the current numbers as it would decongest the over-reliance on the private sector.

“Similarly, the government must fight corruption within the sector, as well as put to end all forms of sabotage by individuals and groups who constitute problems through hoarding, pipeline vandalism and oil theft. Sanctioning of licensee private depot owners and filling stations would go a long way to sanitise the midstream and downstream of the sector appropriately,” he said.