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President, take responsibility for bad fuel

By Editorial Board
15 February 2022   |   3:55 am
Amid an inexcusable shortfall of petrol fuel supply in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, the importation and distribution of bad fuel, with monumental consequences to many users, is adding insult to the injury of Nigerians.

Amid an inexcusable shortfall of petrol fuel supply in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, the importation and distribution of bad fuel, with monumental consequences to many users, is adding insult to the injury of Nigerians. Surely, the ugly episode is a manifestation of the high level indiscipline and below par responsibility of the leadership of the country’s oil sector management, led by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, officers of which deserve to be appropriately sanctioned, even as somebody is held liable for the huge damage already occasioned.

After some years of normalcy in fuel distribution, driven by the present monopolistic importation arrangement of the NNPC Limited, Nigerians woke up to the return of queues at filling stations, with some unfortunate consumers paying for adulterated fuel. As usual, there has been some buck passing on who to blame for the present situation, while waiting for the matter to dissolve into anonymity. However, Nigerians deserve better than the ‘we are sorry’ emanating from the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari. Obviously, someone is sleeping on duty. Surely, the time is overdue for President Buhari to disengage from the duty of the Minister of Petroleum Resources who from all indications is guilty of complicit negligence of events under his watch.

Last month, petroleum products with methanol quantities above Nigeria’s specification were imported into the country. After some back and forth, the authorities admitted to the misdeed at first, with scanty information. With accusing fingers being pointed at certain firms, it didn’t take long before the advertorials were published to exonerate some actors and pass the buck to the NNPC. Reacting, the NNPC GMD, Mele Kyari, said the methanol-blended petrol was imported into the country by a few suppliers through four premium motor spirit cargoes under its Direct Sales Direct Purchase (DSDP) arrangement. The DSDP arrangement is part of strategies by the NNPC to ensure a sustained supply of petroleum products in the country.

Kyari said all the suppliers of the contaminated petrol had been put on notice for “remedial action.” No sooner had he blamed the operators than the oil consortium and individual companies refuted the claims by the NNPC on who imported the methanol-laden petrol into the country. They insisted that they get petrol from the NNPC, the sole importer of all PMS in Nigeria due to the current subsidy regime.

The allegations and counter-allegations signpost the poor coordination and quality of regulatory agencies in upholding rules for the safety of Nigerians. Kyari told Nigerians that the cargoes’ quality certificates issued at the load port (Antwerp-Belgium) by AmSpec Belgium indicated that the gasoline complied with Nigerian specification. According to him, “the NNPC’s quality inspectors including, GMO, SGS, GeoChem and G&G conducted tests before discharge, also showed that the gasoline met Nigerian specification.” Kyari noted that as a standard practice for all PMS imports to Nigeria, the said cargoes were equally certified by inspection agents appointed by the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDRA).

However, Kyari gave further excuse, saying: “It is important to note that the usual quality inspection protocol employed in both the load port in Belgium and our discharge ports in Nigeria do not include the test for methanol content and therefore the additive was not detected by our quality inspectors.” The question is: didn’t the testers notice anything awful or different about this batch of product or did they feel Nigerians deserve no better than whatever they get? After all, petrol is petrol? Already, industry data has shown that the NNPC may need an estimated N201 billion to clean up the mess. The Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority had explained that, for every 200 litres of the adulterated product, 800 litres of petrol with good quality would be required for the blending to be done. What a huge cost to clean up a mess that should have never happened!

But the bad behaviour has become episodic in nature and should not be dismissed with a wave of hand. In September 2016, a report launched by the Public Eye, a Swiss organisation, which through its exclusive investigations and in-depth research, shines a spotlight on the ways that companies impact disadvantaged populations, revealed the double standard, which refiners in Europe employ in their refining processes. Even though these refiners comply with their extant regulation on dirty fuel, they collaborate with oil marketers in Nigeria and other African countries to ship dirty fuel into the region. In fact, in the same year, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire agreed in Abuja to ban the importation of dirty fuels from Europe, but Nigeria has yet to stick to that agreement. In 2020, an international resource watchdog group, Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), again revealed that petroleum products refined by illegal refineries in Niger Delta were indeed cleaner than what marketers import into the country.

Records show that this is not the first time Nigerians would be saddled with the burden of bad fuel. In 1997, petrol with an offensive odour was imported into Nigeria during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha. In February 2008, a major importer and marketer delivered 33,000 metric tonnes of gasoline imported from a commodity trading firm in Switzerland. The importer admitted in a press statement that the fuel was contaminated with ethanol — after confirming with the supplier, adding that the high content of ethanol was not reflected in the original certificate of quality issued at the load port nor was it revealed to it by the supplier prior to the 28th of February 2008. In a similar manner as it is presently, the defunct Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) passed the product despite regulatory tests and checks at the port — but did not test for ethanol, since it was not a requirement for PMS. For a nation committed to Paris climate deal, the impact on the environment and cost to the people whose vehicles were damaged cannot be quantified.

As specified by the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), two regulatory agencies are to perform the duties of the defunct Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF). The new agencies are the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (NURC) and the Nigerian Downstream and Midstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA). If the events of the last few days are anything to go by, the NMDPRA has failed woefully in its responsibility to protect Nigerians, if it has assumed that responsibility. Also, the NNPC leadership cannot be spared. It has, perhaps, forgotten that it is now a limited liability company and operates under the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) and no longer enjoys the privileges of being a government agency.

The disruption in the supply chain caused by the actions and inaction of some people will soon reflect in the inflation figures for January and February, considering that the price of PMS is a major trigger for inflation. That they imported bad fuel is bad enough, but the cost implication of the act is worse for individuals and corporate bodies who got their vehicles and fuel-powered machines damaged as a result, and especially for the country’s economy. Somebody, particularly the NNPC ought to pay a price for this.

The National Assembly should go beyond their usual grandstanding and stand for a noble cause in the interest of Nigerians who have been taken for granted for too long and are paying for decades of inefficient, money-draining, dead refineries. With local refining, standards can be upheld and Nigerians would not be subjected to the wills of foreigners and importers.

Sanctions are used to enforce a standard of behaviour that is deemed socially acceptable and this is essential for society to regulate itself and maintain order. If this action goes unpunished, Nigerians should expect another misdemeanor soon. It might not be petrol this time around, it could be something worse. Nigerians deserve better than sorry; the Honourable Minister of Petroleum should do better than talking tough. He should take responsibility!

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