Fuel Crisis; Whence The Compatriots?
By Issa Aremu
“Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey” are six opening inspiring words of our national anthem. Often we recite this anthem by route with little thought to its deep message for our collective solidarity for nation-building.
A compatriot is defined as a fellow from the same country; a fellow country man or woman (to repeat the common expression!). With 180 million fellows, Nigeria has the highest number of compatriots in sub-Sharan Africa. But lacking is fellowship, compassion and what President Muhammadu Buhari in his 2018 new year broadcast called “unpatriotism” . On Wednesday, 3rd of January, I travelled by road from Lagos to Ilorin . I saw countless petrol stations under lock and key.
From Lagos to Ilorin, Nigerians in thousands agonize at fueling stations, most of which simply refuse to sell. Few selling points were war zones. I was shocked in the few days on my way to Mosque for Subhi early prayers, seeing compatriots in Ilorin who slept at filling stations feverishly rushing from mosques to be on long queues for fuel. This is an unacceptable economic war against poor Nigerians. We are an “oil rich”, oil producing nation. According to 2019 budget, crude Oil production estimates at 2.3 million barrels per day, including condensates. Yet refined petroleum product eludes us.
This is a national scandal! Where is the compatriotism? Where are the compatriots? Why would Nigerians for whatever reasons, deny other fellow Nigerians (not Afghanistans!) fuel to transport to work, to take school children to schools, market women to market and Nigerians to look for food and means of livelihood? Which kind of a market economy we have with willing buyers, no willing sellers of an available product?
We now have a “country capture” by few petroleum marketers and their official collaborators. Better late than never that there have been two stakeholders meetings convened by President Buhari and the Senate leadership on the petroleum crisis. Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu listed the problems facing the downstream petroleum sector as Lack of sufficient reserve, low clearance speed of petrol at the ports, diversion of products as some of the reasons for the ongoing fuel crisis being experienced in the country.
All the identified problems show that Nigeria does not have fuel crisis but governance crisis. It is government through the NNPC that must have enough product reserve. It is the government that must clear products timely at the port. It is the government that must fix refineries at home. It’s the government that must put an end to criminal corruption ridden products imports for which Nigeria spends as much as $12 billion annually.
Let there be severe consequences for product diversions. Diversion of critical in elastic indispensable product like petrol must be treated as an act of terrorism. The current fuel crisis shows that there is no substitute for goodgovernance. There is the need for national as well corporate governance in both the upstream and downstream petroleum sector.. There should be prompt sanctions for non compliance and rewards for those who play by the rules.
The National Assembly must make oversight function a routine. Legislators must be more proactive. Notwithstanding their latest commendable efforts, their action is still reactive not proactive. Never again should government at all levels should be off duty.Marketers are in business to make profit which they would do through padded fuel price template or blatant products diversions.
However the government is there to ensure the prosperity of the nation and the welfare of the citizens. It is wrong for government officials to privilege marketers who are just interested in profit making with special exchange rate with utter disregard for the real sector of the economy and welfare of all. The challenge facing the petroleum downstream sector goes beyond pricing. The fundamental issue is sustainable domestic supply which can only be made possible through reinvention of the existing domestic refineries and building of more. Nigerians want to see the President and Vice President commissioning new refineries in line with the promise of Economic Recovery and Growth Plan that Nigeria will refine 80 percent in 2018.
Unfortunately Nigerians have not seen much activism on the part of the government in this direction. Getting “appropriate pricing” for imported fuel pushes Nigeria into permanent dependency making the economy vulnerable to vagaries of foreign exchange fluctuations. Nigeria must take advantage of the multiple benefits of crude oil by fixing existing local refineries, exploring local refining capacity and building petrochemical and gas plants. Minister Ibe Kachikwu once embarked embarrassingly that “It’s cheaper to import petrol than refine locally.”
Nigeria spends as much as $10bn annually on importation of petroleum products, almost the same amount to build Dangote Refinery, the biggest private Refinery in the world with proposed 650,000 barrels per day in the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) Lagos! Nigeria should move from policy distortions, policy corruption to a coherent sustainable policy on petroleum downstream sector.
The fuel scarcity was initially nation-wide. But with the commendable concerted efforts of the President and his Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo, products supply had improved in FCT and Lagos. However the states are still in shortages. State governors must get out of their comfort zones and ensure products supply in their states. I commend Lagos state governor, Ambode, Ekiti state governor, Fayose, Osun governor for their governance activism and sensitivity.
The President commendably addressed the nation with apology to Nigerians over distorted Christmas and New Year holidays due to fuel shortages. But why are most governors are indifferent to the plight of their compatriots who elected to offices? The governors must show through sensitivity to the worsening plights of their fellow compatriots that they are truly elected leaders not imposed slave masters? The governors should also join the President to denounce the activities of some marketers ..
Issa Aremu mni, A Labour Activist