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The perennial fuel scarcity at Yuletide

By Babs Odukoya
24 December 2009   |   7:31 am
FOR more than two weeks now, Nigerians have gone through greater hardship due to a fresh round of fuel scarcity across the nation, yet there has been no convincing explanation as to the cause of the scarcity. Many thought that the scarcity would ease off as Christmas draws nearer or that somebody is doing something about it but instead the situation gets worse daily with no end in sight. As usual, there has been a serious blame game between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and independent petroleum marketers. It is a hide and seek game that Nigerians are used to.

The scarcity is allegedly caused by a combination of factors ranging from uncertainty over a proposed deregulation policy to withdrawal of major marketers from importation and delay in the issuance of import licences by the NNPC. But the bulk of the blame is that of the NNPC which currently is the main importer of fuel in the country. What we are confronted with, once again, is the mismanagement of the downstream sector.

In our editorial of November 26, 2009, we had referred to the NNPC’s claim that the country had enough fuel to sustain it for 40 days. That claim cannot now be sustained; since then the scarcity has only got worse. Where then is the fuel shipment that was said to be on the high seas? It is unfortunate that on a daily basis, Nigerians are misinformed about the true state of affairs that directly affect them. If fuel is really available and is being hoarded, what mechanism is in place to arrest that? Why are the hoarders of the fuel not arrested and brought to book? Is it that the NNPC lacks basic information about the importation and distribution of fuel in the country?


In the past two weeks, desperate motorists and citizens who need fuel have besieged the few filling stations where fuel is available. Stranded passengers bemoan the ugly situation. Fuel hawkers have a field day as black market trade in fuel thrives. A 10-litre keg of fuel that normally sells for N650 is sold for N1,500 or more. Ironically, the fuel attendants prefer selling to hawkers who in turn sell to motorists at cut-throat prices.

Without equivocation, we strongly decry the ugly fuel scarcity situation that features every Christmas. Without getting things right in the first place, all the talk about deregulation can only make things worse. There is administrative inefficiency at the highest levels. This must be corrected before any policy thrust can work. It is lamentable that Nigerians contend with a messy fuel scarcity situation every Christmas. The NNPC should sit up and address the matter that rubbishes Nigeria’s image.

The unabated scarcity has overwhelmed many weary Nigerians across the federation at a time people the world over are in a festive mood. It only re-enacts the suffering and pain the ordinary citizens of this country are subjected to daily. While fuel scarcity has become a perennial problem in a country that is reckoned as a major exporter of crude oil, its intensity every Christmas and New Year simply shows that something is fundamentally wrong. It is baffling why this anomie is allowed to persist without solution.

Those entrusted with the duty of overseeing the fuel supply system cannot absolve themselves of blame. With all the machinery at the disposal of government and its agencies, all that is needed to make fuel available is planning. Whether it is granting of licence or the actual importation, planning ahead would ensure the availability of petroleum products and the resuscitation of the country’s refineries. We don’t accept the usual excuse by the NNPC that fuel is available each time there is scarcity and yet it is nowhere to be found. Government should do something to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians.