The scarcity of PMS or Premium Motor Spirit has been part of our motoring headache since the Shagari era. You can’t blame Independent Marketers and their fellow travellers (call them spirit rappers if you like) for precipitating the crisis.
Yes, filling station managers and fuel attendants are usually happified at the sight of long queues and chaotic situations around the one-armed or two-armed bandits. You call them dispensing pumps. I call them bandits because they are more often than not primed to under-dispense fuel, cashing in on the desperation of motorists.
For more than two years into the Buhari administration, fuel scarcity and its attendant snaky queues had become history. I never thought I would see long queues again in my lifetime in this country until Tuesday afternoon! The situation was normal as usual the day before. I even saw a near empty TOTAL filling station located opposite the First Bank, Kubwa in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) dispensing fuel as I drove past. I was down to a little below a quarter of my tank quite alright but I did not care to pull up at the filling station because I was in a hurry. Besides, why should I waste a second of my time when I was damned sure the spirit of scarcity had been chained by the Buhari administration?
Then on my way to the office on Tuesday, I was confronted by an usual queue at the Oando filling station along the Kubwa Expressway, just opposite the Dutse Alhaji Junction. I panicked. The panic was worsened by the fact that the reserve light on my dashboard had suddenly come on to warn me to head for the nearest filling station! I was no longer used to long queues at filling stations. I also thought the situation could be better ahead. So, I drove on. When I got to one of the NNPC filling stations after Gwarinpa, I came face to face with longer queues. I flipped my nose and continued with the fuel hunt.
By the time I came to the last filling station before the Tipper Garage with no fuel on sale, my heart leapt into my mouth. And I did not like the taste at all.
Driven by desperation, I made a U-turn on the Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway and headed back to reconnect the Kubwa Expressway where two NNPC mega stations are located.
When I saw the intimidating queues that had built up, my heart gathered speed. I became so agitated because of the serious consequences of running out of fuel on an injector engine. And as I slowed down to ease past the queues, some black market boys emerged from the blue. Lumbering with 10-litre jerry cans, they raced after me with such lightening speed that you would think their feet were not touching the ground!
I beckoned to one of them and found somewhere to park my SUV. Amidst panting, they offered one jerry can for N3,500 or N150 per litre. We haggled over the price. Eventually, we settled for N2,500. One jerry can was all I needed to cause the reserve light to vanish. Then, my heartbeat returned to normal.
The following day, I stopped over at the Oando filling station opposite the Dutse Alhaji Junction. Most of the pump attendants know me very well because I am a regular customer. In fact, they know me for asking them to keep the change whenever I buy fuel from them. I alighted with a 25-litre jerry can and elbowed my way to the chaotic pump area. As soon as the attendant sighted me, he beamed with a smile and promptly attended to me. That effort earned me a little below half tank. But I regretted not going along with the second 25-litre jerry can I left behind at home.
As at yesterday, I was inching down to a quarter of the tank. And more empty filling stations have joined the scarcity. However, pockets of black market sellers, including women, can be seen dotting the FCT streets.
Nebulous reasons have been given for the resurrection of the queues all over the country. The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG) blamed the situation on a cabal in the downstream sector. The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has laid the blame at the doorstep of hoarders. NUPENG is of the opinion that until the nation’s four refineries are fixed, the nightmare cannot be dealt with permanently. However, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) rising from its weekly meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday, ordered the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, to immediately restore normalcy.
I am sure the latter must be feeling embarrassed by the escape of the stubborn Spirit of Premium Motor from the NNPC Towers, Abuja, as to generate long queues in all the nooks and crannies of the country.
Some folks out there have even politicised the crisis, blaming the scarcity on Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a former chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who recently re-defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and whose business interests in the oil and gas sector have just been jeopardised by the Federal Government.
I don’t know who or what to believe now. It is also being speculated that the timing of the scarcity is in line with the marketers’ desire to make brisk business as the Yuletide season approaches. But this is not going to be the first Christmas to be celebrated since the return of Buhari. We have had two previous ones… 2015 and 2016. So, why now?!
Methinks the appropriate regulatory agencies should be given the marching orders to move against filling stations suspected to be creating the artificial scarcity. Where such products are kept underground, they should be taken over and dispensed to the suffering motorists free of charge. Such bad news travels fast! You will be surprised how the callous economic saboteurs would swiftly fling their filling stations open for normal business to return.
Lest I forget… should there be any such filling station where free fuel is being disbursed, please don’t hesitate to send me an SMS. You have my mobile line!