The Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, appeared before the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) on Tuesday to give reasons for the acute fuel scarcity across the country and the efforts being made by his ministry to resolve the embarrassing situation.
He regretted the situation and apologized to Nigerians, who he said were really going through difficult moments, and promised that the scarcity would end on or before April 7.
Kachikwu said he would not resign from his position as minister and instead asked those who were threatening to stage a protest in Abuja to save their money because he took the appointment to work for his fatherland.
The minister stated, “I will not resign. I am here to do my job. Those who are planning to stage a protest against me in Abuja should save their fuel money because I have a job to do, and I am committed to doing it well.
“I share the pains of Nigerians. I feel that pain every day. I walk the streets and those who are following my trajectories since I resumed office would see that even on Christmas day, I was at the refineries. On Easter Day, I was in Lagos monitoring fuel distribution at the depots. I have given 24/7 attention to the problems in this industry, which are unbelievable. I have continued to work with one sole purpose in mind, which is that every problem will have a solution.”
Kachikwu added, “I do apologise if a comment I make jocularly with my friends in the press about not being a magician offends some Nigerians; it wasn’t meant to be. It is a side jocular issue and I did go ahead to explain what needed to be done. I didn’t intend to create this kind of hyperbole that it did.
“Let me admit that I am not a typically experienced politician. I am a technocrat. Some of the phraseologies that I may use, while being acceptable in the arena in which I play, obviously will not be acceptable in the public political arena. If anybody’s sensitivities were offended by that, I totally apologize.”
He attributed the current petrol scarcity to the refusal by the major oil marketers to import, diversion of the product by marketers, pipeline vandalism, panic buying and non-computerisation of the distribution network to monitor trucks.
The minister lamented that since the payment of N600bn subsidy arrears, which the current administration inherited from the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, oil marketers had stopped fuel importation.
The development, he said, had forced the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to overstretch its capacity, human resources and facilities in order to bridge the gap, but that the corporation lacked the immediate capacity to handle the task.
Kachikwu said, “Let me put the reasons for the scarcity in three categories. First, when we came in August, this country had arrears of unpaid subsidy claims that were in excess of N600bn, which were not paid for over a year.
“Progressively, over a period of eight months, prior to my coming on board, people had been staying away from importation not at a heavy level, but by about 10 to 15 per cent of allocations were not being met.
“There was hope that ultimately, if the subsidy regime continued, they would get paid; so, some people continued to import, but by the time we came in, people had reached a breaking point and most of the companies didn’t have the liquidity even to go to the banks and open letters of credit, and that became a major issue.”
He said it was obvious that having cleared the N600bn subsidy claims, the country could no longer continue with the subsidy regime owing to dwindling oil revenue and the fact that monumental frauds were being uncovered in the system.
He maintained that privatization of the refineries remained the best solution to end the lingering fuel crisis in the country.