The avoidable petrol scarcity 

Mohammed Idris, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and National Orientation, is a man of very few words and tremendous action. He talks less and acts more. His close associates know him as someone who keeps his words.

When Idris was sworn in as Nigeria’s minister of information and national orientation, he assured the nation that he would not defend government’s errors with lies.

Almost one year in the saddle, many can testify that the minister has kept his word. No one has accused him of telling lies in defence of government’s errors. 

If Idris has kept his vow never to defend government errors with lies, it is partially because the government itself has made it easy for the minister to tell the truth.

No one can say that about the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL). The company is built on catastrophic opacity and monstrous deceit. 

It is very difficult for NNPCL’s spokesman to tell the truth about the organisation’s activities because they are almost always wrong.

Nigerians have endured three grueling weeks of petrol scarcity without knowing the cause. The long queues at petrol retail outlets are gradually thinning out.

The irony of the strange phenomenon is that private retail outlets are taking their pump prices to unprecedented levels as the scarcity appears to be ending.

In Alakuko, Lagos state, the queues were intimidating on some frenzied days. Ironically, none of the stations raised the pump price above N650 per litre during the scarcity.

Consumers endured the torment because it was only time that was lost in the process of searching for the scarce commodity. The pump price fluctuated within a predictable band.

Everything suddenly changed as the queues were thinning out. Ayomide, a private station near Alakuko bus stop, suddenly raised its pump price to N800 per litre on Thursday, May 10, 2024. Another station in the community raised its own to N690 per litre.

Strangely enough, these stations are operating near NNPCL and Total retail outlets that were selling the product at highly reduced pump prices.

On Thursday as Ayomide seemingly swindled consumers with a pump price of N800 per litre, the NNPCL station on Abeokuta Expressway, about five poles from Ayomide station, was selling at a scant pump price of N568 per litre.

Strangely enough, there were no more than three cars in NNPCL station at any given time waiting to buy the commodity.

Just a stone’s throw from NNPCL station was Total station beside Jendol giant retail outlet near Alakuko bus stop. Total was selling at a pump price of N605 per litre.

The strange thing about the two law abiding retail outlets was that NNPCL sold strictly to vehicles. Consumers with containers seeking petrol for their power generators were politely turned back.

Total, for its part, did something strange. It locked its two gates and only sold to consumers with containers and a few commercial motor cycle operators who could meander through the tiny gap in the closed gate to access the retail outlet.

Everyone is relieved as the queues are thinning out after three grueling weeks of scarcity.

The irony of the tragic phenomenon is that Nigerians endured three weeks of grueling petrol scarcity without any consumer knowing precisely why the queues at the retail outlets were so long that black market operators were selling petrol at N1,500 per litre to those who could not wait at the harrowing queues.

NNPCL and operators of the thousands of petrol retail outlets in Nigeria traded blames until the queues started thinning out. NNPCL insulted consumers by blaming them for causing the long queues at retail outlets through panic buying.

No one in NNPCL bothered to know that since the tripling of petrol pump price after the removal of subsidy on May 29, 2023, very few motorists could afford to buy petrol that could reach a quarter of the tank. Everyone wondered where the money for panic buying came from.

When the lie about panic buying appeared too transparent to be swallowed, NNPCL blamed retailers for hoarding petrol and creating artificial scarcity.

That lie again was too transparent to fly. Everyone in Nigeria knows that petrol subsidy withdrawal was a catastrophic blow to petrol retail outlet operators.

Patronage dropped drastically as petrol was priced out of the reach of many Nigerian motorists. Retail outlets that were selling a consignment of 33,000 litres of petrol in three days now have to toil for a month to dispose the same quantity of product because of poor patronage.

That was precisely why NNPCL hoarding story failed to fly. Everyone knew that no sane retail outlet operator who borrowed N40 million to buy a product he used to buy at N7 million would hoard it and incur the extra cost of servicing his loan with the bank.

Everyone knew who was telling the lie. NNPCL’s lies are so transparent that the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, contested its petrol consumption figures when it became too incongruous.

When NNPCL raised Nigeria’s daily petrol consumption figure to 102 million litres and blamed smuggling for the alarming figure, the NCS insisted that close to 2,000 articulated tanker trucks were needed daily to smuggle 40 million litres of petrol to five neighbouring countries that lacked the storage facilities for such consignment. It demanded to know the roads through which such consignment was smuggled. NNPCL kept mum.

Throughout the three catastrophic weeks of pains and suffering, NNPCL insisted that it had 1.5 billion litres of petrol in store but never said why retailers were not getting supplies.

One source hinted that the turbulent scarcity was actually caused by supply deficits emanating from a technical defect in a foreign refinery supplying NNPCL.

The supply deficit would have been avoided if Port Harcourt Refinery was functional. NNPCL boasted that the refinery would come on stream in March after missing the December 2023 deadline. 

Right now there are fears that petrol from Port Harcourt Refinery may not hit the pumps earlier than the end of 2024. Nigerian consumers deserve better flow of information.