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Buhari leaves for Nairobi, London as fuel scarcity bites harder nationwide

By Collins Olayinka, Kingsley Jeremiah (Abuja), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Odun Edward (Ilorin), Monday Osayande (Asaba), Ahmad Muhammed (Kano), Anietie Akpan (Calabar), Inem Akpansoh (Akwa Ibom), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) and Uzoma Nzeagwu (Awka)
02 March 2022   |   4:31 am
From far North to oil-rich Niger Delta, Nigerians who are already impoverished by the high cost of living, are grappling with the harsh reality of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) shortage, as the hope of adequate supply dims.

Commercial motorcycle riders queuing for fuel at a filling station in Akure, Ondo State… yesterday. PHOTO: SAM OLUSEGUN ALADE

• Kaduna, Ilorin motorists sleep at filling stations
• Marketers deny blending of adulterated petrol, say product yet to be evacuated
• We’ll not lift PMS for depot owners selling above N148.77, says NUPENG
• NMDPRA, NNPC deploy security agencies to check petrol diversion
• Ex-depot price now N185

From far North to oil-rich Niger Delta, Nigerians who are already impoverished by the high cost of living, are grappling with the harsh reality of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) shortage, as the hope of adequate supply dims.

Yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari, who doubles as the Minister of Petroleum, left the country to take part in a special session to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations Environmental Programme in Nairobi, Kenya.

He will proceed to London, the United Kingdom, for a routine medical check-up as part of the itinerary that is expected to last two weeks. The President, already, has been knocked for the trip described as extravagant and not demonstrating the real situation at home.

As he travels between East Africa and the UK, he leaves behind a country dotted with endless queues and unending blame game, over, who is responsible for the ending PMS scarcity.

His ministry supervises the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, which has become the sole importer of the product and other state parastatals at manning critical components of the system.

Indeed, marketers noted that the situation would prevail until the adulterated products are evacuated from the affected stations, adding that the products cannot be blended as insinuated by the NNPC.

With a litre of the product selling for as much as N300 at the black market and N200 at some filling stations, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), yesterday, threatened that its members would not lift products for depot owners selling above official depot price of N148.77. The Secretary-General, Afolabi Olawale, stated this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

“One of the lines of action we are going to take is any depot that is not selling at the official rate, our members will not carry their products,” he said.

Last week, the union issued a 24-hour ultimatum to marketers to revert to the official rate of N148.77. It had accused the marketers of exploiting Nigerians by selling PMS at the depots far above the official rate.

“Depot owners are not the ones directly importing the products but taking products from NNPC. Nobody has given official statements that PMS is no longer under subsidy regime and, in that wise, the general public cannot be buying products at N250, N220, N180, from the depot. We are asking all these depot owners to stop exploiting the general public and sell at an official rate,” Olawale told NAN.

NUPENG’s threat came as the ex-depot price is said to have hit N185/per litre. The adjustment of the ex-depot came without any clear communication from the government, and this is seen as one of the many leadership gaps coming from the ministry headed by the President. The subsidy regime was to end with the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), which the President abruptly announced suspension until after his tenure in 2023.

Unending fuel queues, roads dotted by fuel hawkers and stranded commuters have become common features of major cities and towns across the country. The situation is the same in Abuja, Asaba, Benin, Enugu Ilorin, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Uyo.

In many parts of Lagos, long queues at fuel stations dispensing the product have led to extremely slow-moving traffic as motorists waste their limited fuel on the road.

In Kano, the scarcity has forced motorists indoors as traffic situations have eased in the ancient city.

Long queues have taken over a few filing stations that dispense as motorists continue to suffer untold hardships.

Some motorists have to park their vehicles at home and resort to trekking or joining public transport to their various destinations while transport fares have significantly increased.

A retired civil servant, Abdullahi Mallam, explained his harrowing experience any time he had to buy fuel at the filling station.

“With the scarcity, I am compelled to spend N1200 per gallon at the black market. This has forced me to curtail my movement; I can no longer move around as before. It is, indeed, a nasty experience,” he lamented.

Another resident, Mustapha Adamu told The Guardian that he stopped queuing at filling stations and resorted to the black market, stressing: “Some of us have succumbed to pressure and started buying at whatever price. Ironically, as big as Kano is, only a few filling stations are selling, the vast majority have shut down.”

In Kaduna, a neighbouring state, motorists, who had almost given up, filed at several filling stations, yesterday, following news of improvement in supply. But that had not stopped black marketers, who continued to have a field day. They crowded different filling stations to fill their gallons, which they sold at exorbitant prices to motorists, who could not endure hours or days of waiting.

At the black market, a gallon of four litres sold for N2, 000. Many private and commercial vehicle drivers stay many days in queues at filling stations. Most filling stations that had been selling had run out of supply since last week.

In Ilorin, Kwara State, only major marketers sell for N165 per litre. A few independent marketers sell between N200 and N210 per litre while black marketers sell for N300.

MEANWHILE, dispensing into gallons is outlawed at filling stations, allowing black market merchants to make a brisk business out of the misfortune.

Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Rafiu Ajakaye, promised a task force set up by the state government would ensure there is sanity in the market. Yet, motorists sleep at filling stations as the scarcity defies measures.

Expectedly, the number of vehicles plying major routes has reduced by about 50 per cent, subjecting commuters, who have to trek to their destinations, to agony.

The scarcity has led to an increase in prices of staple foods and other household items just as commercial cab operators have doubled their fares.

The situation is almost similar in major towns outside the state capital. Including Offa, Omuaran and Lafiaji. This has increased the cost of intra-state travelling and the general cost of living.

In Delta, an oil-producing state, most outlets, but NNPC Mega Stations, sell at prices ranging from N250 to N300.

In Asaba, the state capital, yesterday, was a sad day for two journalists from the State-owned Delta Broadcasting Service (DBS) as they were brutalised and their camera damaged for filming queues at NorthWest fuel station along Asaba/Onitsha Expressway.

Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), DBS chapel, Pere Botu, said: “The police and other security operatives were behind the incident,” adding that the GM has called the Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Ali, who said he was in Abuja, to make a complaint.

Many fuel attendants have struck deals with black market dealers who circumvent the queues to get the product in their gallons and sell to consumers at cut-throat prices.

Over 80 per cent of petrol stations in Enugu State had no product. The development had triggered an upward rise in the price in filling stations that were selling as well as long queues in the state.

The cost of commuting has also increased by, at least, 100 per cent. Short distances previously charged N100 are now N200.

In Anambra State capital, most filling stations had the product but there were queues as only one or two pumps were being used. Most of them sold N190 or N200 per litre. However, NNPC Mega Stations in Akwa sold for N165 except that the queues are better imagined.

In Onitsha, the queues were scanty but the prices ranged between N200 and N250. At Nnewi, it was from N210 to N220 per litre.

Fuel queues have become part of the lifestyle of Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. Most independent marketers in Calabar and environs sold between N170 and N190 while the major marketers sold at N165 or N170 as at yesterday.

A pump attendant said panic buying compounded the situation and that there was sufficient product to go round if only consumers could buy only what they needed at a time.

In Uyo, a litre of PMS was from N190 to N200. And since many marketers rather sell at night, black markers have taken over the market. Transport fares have increased by as much as 50 per cent to 100 per cent.

Meanwhile, Nigerians who wait on the promises of NNPC Limited to see the end of scarcity as soon as possible may need to adjust their expectations as marketers were not clear on a feasible solution as of yesterday.

While the queues are getting worse across the country, marketers yesterday told The Guardian that the ex-depot price which was around N140 per litre has now moved to N185 in most depots, making the N165 litre pump price unrealistic.

Most marketers, especially the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) that supplies over 90 per cent of the products, said the prevailing situation had forced them to shut down.

While The Guardian learnt that the NNPC Limited may have shelved a new N500,000 ship-to-ship coordination charge for each transshipment operation for petrol, IPMAN said the charges by some associations at the depot, especially the tankers drivers have moved from N2,000 to N50, 000, adding extra operation charges that would be factored into the pump price.

Recall that memo from NNPC Limited with Ref. NNPC/ML/STS01, dated 18 February 2022 and addressed to all marketers with the heading, read: “Please be informed that the NNPC Management has directed that effective 10th February 2022, the sum of Five Hundred Thousand Naira, (N500, 000.00) only will be charged for STS Coordination fee for each transshipment operation involving NNPC Marine Logistics.”

Insiders at Depot and Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPMAN) said the national oil company told marketers not to pay the charges.

“They didn’t allow payment, which is contrary to the letter. I will keep monitoring to know if they ask for it after now,” a source said.

Speaking yesterday in Abuja, the Vice President of IPMAN, Abubakar Shettima, said there is no product in depots for the marketers to retail.

He added that only a few private depots had products and now sell above the normal ex-depot price, urging the government to either allow full deregulation of the sector or do the needful to ensure that the queues disappear.

As part of measures to halt shortage, the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) said it has deployed security agencies including the Department of State Security (DSS) to escort loaded trucks that convey petroleum products to approved retail outlets to avoid diversion.

The Authority’s Chief Executive (ACE) of NMDPRA, Farouk Ahmed, who disclosed this yesterday, added that the NNPC Limited and other authorities are collaborating to ensure product availability in the country.

He explained: “The Authority is working with security agencies and other relevant security agencies to ensure trucks go to approved fuel stations with the correct volume and the correct locations. In the case of Abuja, we are loading from the Suleja depot. We have security personnel that escort every truck to their destinations. This is to prevent product diversion and unnecessary profiteering by unscrupulous stakeholders. The Authority is also working with the NNPC Limited to ensure seamless supply of petroleum products across the country.”

The NMDPRA boss revealed that the Authority has also increased its surveillance and monitoring activities in a manner that prevents opportunities for those that want to take advantage of the situation.

“Nationwide, the Authority has increased its monitoring activities. Of course, we have to stop people that will want to take advantage of the situation. This is why we have established routes through which people can report any unscrupulous activities,” he said.

Reacting to allegations of under-dispensing and using fewer pumps by filling stations, Ahmed said: “Sometimes, stations do not use most of their pimps for technical reasons. If there is a new delivery, it is normal to finish dispensing the old product before beginning with the new one. There are operational reasons certain things happen at the filling stations which the general public is not aware of.”