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Pains, more pains from fuel crisis

By Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna) Roseline Okere , Adeyemi Adepetun , Bertram Nwannekanma, Sulaimon Salau (Lagos) and Collins Olayinka, Abuja
25 May 2015   |   11:08 am
UNLESS a solution is quickly found to the lingering fuel scarcity, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) says it may ask workers to stay at home in protest.
Fuel scarcity long queue

Queue at a petrol station

• Labour threatens to call workers’ strike
• Telecomms operators may shut down services
• Lawmakers, marketers, others meet today
• Capital Oil defies strike, begins loading petrol

UNLESS a solution is quickly found to the lingering fuel scarcity, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) says it may ask workers to stay at home in protest.

A statement yesterday by the Deputy President of NLC, Comrade Issa Aremu, said: “After several weeks of deliberate deprivations of petroleum products by both the government and marketers alike with all the associated hardships, it’s time all Nigerians stopped agonising and rose in unison against this (Nigeria’s) agony caused by capitalism.

“With petroleum products’ prices as high as N350 per litre, (far above N87 per litre!) claims and counter-claims between Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and marketers over so-called N159 billion subsidy payments and all state actors looking indifferent, Nigeria is the only country on earth which unacceptably and criminally denies its citizens basic sources of energy: fuel and electricity.”

Aremu, who pointed out that Labour was studying the way the government was handling the situation, said that “Nigerian workers may be asked to stay at home if the current scarcity and price robbery of Nigerians continue.”

There were indications , also, that because of the fuel crisis, telecommunications service operators may shut down services. Consequently, about 142 million active telephone lines in Nigeria may be halted.

The operators including MTN Nigeria, Airtel, Globacom and Etisalat yesterday, cried out, saying they were not getting diesel supplies to their respective Base Tranceiver Stations (BTS), spread across the country.

The situation has not been helped by the fact that at present combined output of petroleum products from the four existing refineries has continued to fall short of the total national demand just as most filling stations in Nigeria ran out of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) at the weekend.

Specifically, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC’s) four refineries – two in Port Harcourt (PHRC), and one each in Kaduna (KRPC) and Warri (WRPC), with a combined installed capacity of 445,000 barrels per day (bpd) are almost producing at zero capacity.

And worried by the scarcity, the leadership of the Senate is scheduled to meet with representatives of the Executive arm of government, petroleum marketers, depot owners and tanker drivers in Abuja this morning to find solution to the intractable fuel queues nationwide.

On its part, the Nigerian telecommunications sector, which is estimated to be worth over $32 billion, is home to about 29, 000 BTS, which is currently adjudged to be grossly insufficient to meet the growing demands for the services in the country.

Investigations by The Guardian showed that the operators power the BTS with about 50,000 generating sets, with at least two in each site.

As at February, Nigeria’s tele-density was 101.8 per cent. Indeed, on its Facebook Page, yesterday, MTN Nigeria, which has about 61 million subscribers and over 40 per cent market share, stated that the growing diesel scarcity was jeopardising its operations.

MTN Nigeria stressed that the scarcity posed a significant threat to quality of service and the ability to optimally operate the net work.

According to MTN Nigeria’s Corporate Services Executive, Akinwale Goodluck, in the Facebook post, “most of our base stations and switches are powered round-the-clock by diesel generators and the current fuel shortage has drastically reduced the availability of diesel supply to key locations.”

Also, Airtel Nigeria, which has 28 million subscribers and 20 per cent market share in the country, warned that the fuel crises must be addressed on time to forestall any calamity.

The statement signed by its management reads: “Airtel Networks Limited wishes to inform our customers and the general public that the prevailing situation in the country regarding the scarcity of diesel and other petroleum products is presently impacting negatively, our commitments to delivering best-in-class quality of service and seamless telephony experience to all Nigerians.”

In a telephone chat with The Guardian, Etisalat Nigeria’s Corporate Communications Manager, Chinesie Amanfor, said the situation must be addressed on time, as it has become worrisome for all operators, “as diesel supplies to various sites have become a major challenge.”

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has halted from the implementation of a tariff plan called MTN TruTalk+ and threatened serious sanctions on the company as the regulator said it did not give any approval for such service.

The commission, in a statement by its Director of Publicity, Dr. Tony Ojobo, at the weekend, also barred MTN from further advertisement of such service in the print, electronic media or its websites.

The NCC in a letter dated May 19, 2015 with ref No NCC/MTN/18/15 and signed by the Head, Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement, Efosa Idehen and Head, Legal and Regulatory Services, Mrs. Yetunde Akinloye, said the records of the commission showed that the operator has no approval of the regulatory authority before embarking on the new promotional tariff plan.

According to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) latest bulletin on output of refined petroleum products in member countries, Nigeria is only able to produce 30,400 barrels of gasoline.

It added that the country produces 15,800 bpd of kerosene, 18,400 bpd of distillates and 20,700 bpd of residuals.

It put Nigeria’s output of petroleum products at 89,000 bpd, which is far less that the total capacity of 445,000 bpd.

The scarcity of the PMS grounded governance as well as social and business activities.

None of the several filling stations visited in Lagos at the weekend was open for business, giving black marketers opportunity to exploit desperate customers.

The Executive Secretary of Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN), Olufemi Adewole, who spoke to The Guardian about the meeting between the Senate and the other stakeholders in Abuja yesterday, added that marketers were not on strike but simply do not have the resources to import petroleum products.

He adduced the current fuel scarcity in most parts of the country to the strike by Petroleum Tankers Drivers (PTD).

Adewole also explained that marketers were ready to import if the Federal Government paid outstanding subsidy claims. He maintained that government has paid up to August 2014 and that payments from September last year to April this year were outstanding.

The DAPPMAN scribe also said though the organisation has written President-elect Muhammadu Buhari requesting a formal meeting, he is yet to receive a letter fixing a meeting date.

Filling stations that are barred from selling petrol above the official price of N87 per litre in Abuja have locked their gates to customers even when there is evidence of availability of the product. Car owners as well as commercial drivers now move to the outskirts where the product is sold for N140 per litre.

On his part, the Executive Secretary DAPPMAN, Olufemi Adewole, said marketers are not averse to deregulation and stoppage of subsidy on petrol.

He explained that subsidy had led to inefficiency in the system, promotes corruption and kills competition among fuel marketers.

But in what may be a silver lining in the cloud, Capital Oil and Gas Limited defied the ongoing strike by the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), as it has begun loading of over 13 million litres of petrol from its depot in Apapa to various states.

The chairman of the company, Ifeanyi Ubah, who disclosed in Lagos yesterday said that over 20,000 trucks have been earmarked for loading before May 29 handing over to boost economic activities across the country.

He said: “Our facility has the capacity to load over 13 million litres of product before today’s operation. This comes to approximately about 500 trucks of petroleum products daily. With this, it is our belief that once again our citizens will begin to smile, return to normal family and work life.

“We call on other petroleum marketers to follow suit and save our nation from this impending economic and social crisis,” he said.