IT is that season of the year again when Christmas is in the air, but Nigerians are understandably not in a smiling mood. Apart from the skyrocketing prices of food items, another episode of fuel crisis, the fourth this year, has chanced upon them, and not even the Federal Government knows when Nigerians will heave a sigh of relief. Fuel marketers say that they have been visiting private depots to buy fuel at prices ranging from N212 to N220, and have to factor transport expenses into their retail prices. According to them, the lowest price the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) can sell petrol to marketers in the absence of subsidy is N400/litre, and PMS imports charges are becoming unbearable for the corporation. The allegation is that the Federal Government had quietly allowed depot owners to raise the ex-depot price of petrol to about N185/litre whereas the approved rate used to be N147/litre. Regardless of the explanations, it is a fact that from Lagos to Ibadan, Warri to Port Harcourt and Kaduna to Sokoto, Nigerians have been groaning for over a month as fuel scarcity takes its toll on their daily existence.
Far from the official price of N185 per litre, Nigerians have had to buy fuel at prices ranging from N250 to N300. Although the NNPC has been asking Nigerians not to panic, saying that there is enough fuel in stock to take care of their needs, the fact remains that most petrol stations are not dispensing fuel to consumers. The few that are doing so are selling it at black market prices. Indeed, petroleum product marketers under the aegis of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) have threatened to shut down fuel stations this week if the Federal Government through the NNPCL fails to make petrol available to them. Speaking with journalists at the IPMAN headquarters in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, shortly after meeting with stakeholders, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Petroleum Tankers Drivers (PTD) and others on the possibility of resolving the scarcity, the IPMAN chairman for Ibadan depot that covers Oyo and Osun states, Alhaji Bukola Mutiu, urged Nigerians not to blame marketers for the current fuel scarcity.
He said: “The fuel scarcity we are having now was caused by the NNPC, because if there is shortage in supply and you are a responsible manager of the product, you should know who to give the products to; I mean those who will not hoard the product. As independent marketers, we have the largest percentage of fuel stations— over 80 percent of fuel stations. For over six months now, none of the existing marketing companies duly licensed by the NNPC has been given the opportunity to pay. That implies that we have not had fuel at NNPC Ibadan here since the beginning of this year.”
It is indeed a pity that yet another fuel crisis has come at a time that Nigerians have become more or less like walking skeletons, plagued by economic challenges. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to process what really is the excuse this time around. It cannot be cheering news that Nigerians are again in the throes of a fuel crisis with the government being unable to give a cogent explanation. The impression is given that fuel is available in the country, but Nigerians have been paying more and more everyday for it as it is not available at the petrol stations. If the NNPCL says that there is no cause for alarm, yet there is trouble on the streests as the long-suffering populace grapples with fuel scarcity, that can only point to the absence of leadership. It is surely not fortuitous that the Minister of Petroleum, President Muhammadu Buhari, has not said anything about the present crisis. If there is fuel, why are marketers not getting it?
We would have thought that the government would be moved by the suffering being experienced at all levels by Nigerians and come out with plans to mitigate it, but nothing has so far been done by President Buhari. We are told that the NNPCL is the sole importer of fuel into the country, which should make it easy for the government to monitor the process. Why then has this problem of lack of fuel at petrol stations persisted? Is it that not enough fuel has been imported, or is it that there is problem getting the commodity to the stations? Nigerians deserve to be told what is exactly going on and why they are saddled with fuel crisis, in addition to the biting effect of inflation. And whatever is responsible should be tackled to give the people some respite.
Government exists to cater to the welfare of the people. It ought to be a ministry of happiness guaranteeing what the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, called life more abudant for the people. It cannot sit idly by while the people on whose behalf it is in office wallow in misery. Sadly, it would seem that the present government just does not understand the important responsibility of caring for the people given the way it has continued to feign ignorance while Nigerians are groaning. The government needs to sit up and attend to the current suffering of Nigerians, if only to justify its existence.