A nation’s embarrassment
YESTERDAY’S announcement of an agreement between the government and other stakeholders to end the fuel crisis that has bedevilled the nation for weeks, it must be said, came too late and with too much agony.
With persistent scarcity of petroleum products now a measure of shortage of good governance in Nigeria, neither the government nor other stakeholders, especially petroleum products’ marketers, should under-estimate the embarrassment and pains to the nation.
Yesterday’s announcement is a relief but all should seek to put an end to the recurrent suffering of the citizens.
Although there have been several fuel shortage crises in the country despite its being a major producer of crude, the current crisis has turned out to be one of the severest the citizens have had to contend with as diesel, aviation fuel, kerosene and liquefied natural gas have become scarce too.
The situation has undermined socio-economic activities, disrupted both small and big businesses and made life unlivable for Nigerians.
Generally, the cost of living has increased significantly, big corporations like banks now close their offices to customers as early as 1:00 p.m. instead of 5:00 p.m. in a bid to conserve the little petroleum products they can afford to power their generators.
Telecommunications companies have threatened to shut down their services as they can no longer afford adequate petroleum products. Life in Nigeria is now a Darwinian struggle where only the fittest are able to procure petroleum products.
The average citizen who gets fuel after waiting in the queue for hours pays as much as N600, contrary to the official price of N87 per litre.
In the woes, since electricity supply has dropped to near zero, with diesel, kerosene, petrol and gas off the market, life has become brutish for Nigerians, as those with generators and the means to fuel them cannot even get the products.
This crisis was compounded by the strike by tanker drivers who stopped fuel lifting from all tank farms. Nigerians are suffering from the deleterious impact of a byzantine subsidy scheme that has been nurtured over the years by the government and petroleum marketers to enrich a few.
Yet, discerning citizens have warned that the subsidy scheme has become a bastion of corruption; a means of unconscionable theft of taxpayers’ funds.
Now, the claims and counter-claims over how much subsidy money is being owed marketers by the government resulted in the scarcity of petroleum products nationwide and have once again thrown into focus the need to review the scheme. Admittedly, the nation is in a big dilemma as regards the subsidy.
This is because before the government can discontinue the policy, it has to pay all the claims by the marketers, some of which may be dubious.
The marketers are made up of Major Oil Marketers Association (MOMAN) and the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA).
MOMAN consists of the six major oil marketing firms, Oando, Conoil, Forte Oil, MRS, Total and Mobil while DAPPMA consists of independent products marketers who own fuel depots, storage and marketing facilities. MOMAN and DAPPMA say that after the N154 billion payment by the government, there is an outstanding subsidy claim of N200 billion.
But the government says the outstanding payment due to the marketers based on weekly data by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) template cannot be more than N131 billion. To be sure, petroleum marketers who are being owed by the government deserve to be paid their claims.
But must they blackmail the nation and create artificial scarcity to punish the citizens because they are being owed by the government? The marketers had threatened that they would withdraw their services if they were not paid.
So, it is indeed curious that DAPPMA could now come out to say that its members are not on strike but that they only lack funds to import petroleum products.
The marketers must be told in unequivocal terms that Nigerians would not forget how they have subjected them to hardship and history will judge them harshly for this continuous exercise in blackmail. Indeed, their action at this time is tantamount to a threat to national security.
The government must investigate all those involved in this blackmail with a view to bringing them to justice. Nigerians are impatient for a solution to constant fuel scarcity. The marketers have asked for a post-dated Sovereign Debt Note (SDN) to be issued to them.
They also claim to have written to the President-elect Muhammadu Buhari in a bid to end the crisis. But, according to them, Buhari has not responded to their letter. If the crisis is to end permanently, the in-coming government needs to play a major part.
Yet, the marketers must know that government is a continuum and that genuine transactions are not repudiated simply because there is a change of government. Were this to happen, there are legitimate ways of seeking redress in a business deal.
A permanent solution is to make Nigeria’s refineries work, something Buhari has, happily, promised.
The government must face up to the reality that it cannot continue to use the citizens’ taxes to maintain refineries which are not functioning optimally.
It must accept the challenge of conceding the refineries to private investors and create an enabling environment for those private investors to bloom in the downstream sector of the nation’s petroleum industry.
It is sad that official connivance has not only made the government-owned refineries dysfunctional, it has equally frustrated the take-off of private refineries in the country. This is why the private refineries that have been licensed have not been able to start operations.
Nigerians have suffered untold agony in the last few weeks and are still suffering from the scarcity-induced hardship. Yet, they must not be wearied with the sophistry of subsidy claims’ calculations.
All they are interested in is for the government and the marketers to permanently end fuel scarcity crisis by running an open, transparent and efficient fuel supply system that begins and ends with functional refineries in Nigeria.
That is the only way to stop the subsidy scheme and its attendant corruption. And it is the only way to save Nigeria the kind of agony and embarrassment it has lived with since.