It has been four days of a harrowing experience for motorists and commuters as a result of an ever worsening fuel scarcity nationwide. In the nation’s commercial hub, Lagos, the scarcity was first noticed on Monday with the appearance of queues at filling stations and the closure of many others. In Abuja, the administrative capital, the queues were longer on Tuesday and yesterday, in some cases spilling into adjourning streets, and making them impassable.
The result has been many man hours spent at the filling stations and a drastic drop in productivity. As often happens, the scarcity has spawned a swarm of black marketers who are selling the premium motor spirit (petrol) at N200 a litre instead of the official price of N97 pegged since 2012 when the federal government partially lifted fuel subsidy.
In its reaction to the scarcity, returning after a year of supply stability, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on Tuesday alleged that “saboteurs” had “orchestrated” the nationwide scarcity in order to “frustrate the government’s efforts”. An all too familiar line of defence. It accused marketers of “hoarding in anticipation of a price increase”. It dismissed the likelihood of a hike in petrol price, warning that hoarders would be “sanctioned”. At the sametime, it advised motorists to avoid panic buying. We wonder how that can be avoided as long as the scarcity persists.
While we agree that there is a pocket of hoarders of the products who may have created an artificial scarcity in order to force a price rise, we believe the problem is much more deep-seated. If the products were available in large quantity, the market forces of demand and supply would make hoarding almost impossible. The truth, which the NNPC is not telling, is that there is under supply of fuel.
The truth is that the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMA) did warn last week of an imminent nationwide fuel scarcity because their product stock had run out and they were yet to receive their first quarter import allocations from the government to replenish stock. The daily national fuel consumption rate is 40 million litres. The NNPC conveniently ignored to acknowledge this blunder. Also, it was the same week that the government chose to announce a change of leadership at the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), which is responsible for approving and issuing import allocations.
As it turned out, it was only on Sunday that PPPRA released the import allocations, almost two clear months into the first quarter of the year. And everyone should know that the releases would not translate to instant stock replenishment. We agree with MOMAN Executive Secretary, Mr. Obafemi Olawore, who said the importers needed time to place orders. “Even with the allocations, it takes some time before marketers can bring in petroleum products. We got allocation on Sunday night and it will take some time before the cargoes start coming in.”
We condemn the NNPC’s deliberate falsehood, aimed at misleading hundreds of millions of Nigerians who use petrol. But then we are not surprised; the NNPC hardly admits it does anything wrong. It recently denied a charge made by now suspended CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, that the NNPC had failed to remit $20 billion into the federation account as required by law. But till date, it has not said where the “missing” money is.