Nigerians have described the annual fuel scarcity in the country especially at Christmas as an act of cruelty that could not be justified. Indeed it has become a frightening trend expected to occur in December every year as oil marketers seize the opportunity of increased transport activities to drive home their demands from the federal government.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) always promises to flood the market with petrol and other products to ease the scarcity, but history has shown that oil marketers remain unyielding as they strive to get the federal government do their bidding.
If recent events are anything to go by, then 2018 may not be an exception with regards scarcity of petroleum products at yuletide. Barely a fortnight ago, the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN) said it would from midnight of Sunday (December 9) stop the loading of petroleum products across its depots as a result of the failure of government to pay the outstanding subsidy debts which it owed oil marketers.
The association stated that its latest decision was due to the intervention of well-meaning Nigerians including the National Assembly as represented by the Senate Committee on Petroleum Downstream and the constructive engagement of the Federal Government team by the labour unions most affected by the disengagement of DAPPMAN’s personnel.
It named the labour unions to include the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers, National Association of Road Transport Owners and the Petroleum Tanker Drivers.
DAPPMAN said that it had resolved to recall its disengaged personnel within five days, to give the Federal Government’s team the opportunity to conclude its process of paying marketers the full outstanding of N800bn with the first trench being the amount already approved by the Federal Executive Council.
It said it acted in good faith to avoid unnecessary hardship which could befall Nigerians during the Yuletide, adding that “we hope that government would make good its promise to see that those issues are resolved by Friday, December 14, as promised.”
Although DAPPMAN suspended its earlier directive to shut down depots nationwide after giving the Federal Government a five-day (until Friday December 14) grace to pay part of the outstanding debt which it owed the marketers, citizens are becoming worried about the effects of a possible strike action by the group.
Worried by the recurring decimal, MMS Plusspoke with some veterans in petroleum sector as well as Logistics experts.
The Chief Operating Officer, Jevkon Oil and Gas Limited, Engr. Olukwu Dumkwu sympathized with both the Nigerian masses and the depot operators.
According to Dumkwu, every businessman is in business to make money.
“If you want to make everybody happy then you should resort to selling ice-cream but if you want to do business you must be serious about it. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a place where business associations would reach an agreement with the government but the government would never take such agreement serious” he said.
Explaining further, he said: “To be fair to marketers and depot operators, the only way and the only period they can put intense pressure on the government is unfortunately during the yuletide seasons. They believe that the government wouldn’t want the strike to go on because of the season, thus the government would fulfill part of the agreement that they entered years or months ago. Some of these agreements were reached years ago and the government came up promissory notes but promissory note isn’t money”
Although he agreed that one could take a promissory note to the bank to raise money to go about his business, clear cargoes, pay salaries, among other issues, he maintained that these marketers also go through immense pressure to pay staff salaries and stay afloat in the business.
“They have to maximize every opportunity they can utilize to get the government to pay them their monies. The bank can only give 30% of the value on the promissory note; this still doesn’t meet their needs. It is painful that it has to happen at this time but I sympathize with both the masses and the depot operators because they are a point where they have to do this to survive. The pressure should be on the government to do the needful and address issues before we get to the yuletide season” he added.
Speaking as a logistics expert, the Director General of the African Centre for Supply Chain (ACSC) Dr. Obiora Madu stated that if the complexities from crude oil deals and other petroleum activities doesn’t destroy the country, nothing will.
“If this oil doesn’t kill Nigeria then we won’t die. It comes with laziness and a lot of corruption. We were told in the past that there is nothing like subsidy but we have seen that the subsidy is even higher than it was in the past. People are owed subsidy just like before, and we keep having this recurring decimal” he said.
He opined that a viable solution to the menace could be attained if the federal government creates an enabling environment that encourages people to invest in small-scale refining of petroleum products.
“Refineries don’t have to be as big as the projects in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna. If people could refine petrol in forests without access to top equipments, and operate what we call illegal refineries, it means it is possible for the government for the government to empower these people and get more Nigerians participate in this business. The government has burnt their facilities, rooted them out and killed their initiatives. I am not trying to vindicate them but most times we throw the baby away with the bath-water” he said.
Dr. Obiora stated that there was no quick fix to solving the perpetual issue of fuel scarcity and feud between oil marketers and the federal government.
“We must take a long term approach to study the environment and do something about it. The government also has to be cognizance of the sufferings that people go through at this time of the year and preempt this action by the oil marketers. You can’t start negotiations with them at this time of the year. This issue should have been resolved several months ago” he added.
Although all efforts to reach the NNPC spokesman, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu were futile until press time on Friday last week, the Corporation remains optimistic that there would sufficient supply of petroleum products to prevent any scarcity.
NNPC assured petroleum products consumers across the country not to engage in panic buying in the countdown to depot shutdown by DAPPMAN, stating that it holds 2.6billion litres of petrol and 90,000 metric tonnes of diesel.
NNPC Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs, Ughamadu, gave the assurances as he stated that the shutdown would not affect products distribution as NNPC has ordered all its depots across the country and those of bulk purchase Marketers it recently entered agreements with to undertake a 24 hour operations to avert any shortages in products distribution in the country.
“All NNPC depots, Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) throughput partner depots, the Major Marketers depots and depots of Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPMAN) members who signed the Bulk Purchase Agreement, BPA, with PPMC as well as NNPC Retail stations, Major Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) filling stations, will continue to operate at maximum levels to ensure uninterrupted distribution of petroleum products nationwide.
He said despite the threats by DAPPMAN, government was committed to going ahead with settling the N236 billion first tranche of the verified subsidy claims of the Oil Marketers in line with the approval of Federal Executive Council (FEC) and National Assembly (NASS) by Friday, 14 December, 2018 as promised by the corporation’s Chief Operating Officer, Downstream, Engr. Henry Nkem Obih in a statement recently.
The NNPC spokesperson advised members of the public to report to offices of the Departments of Petroleum Resources (DPR) across the states any fuel stations which attempts to take advantage of the situation to inflate products price, saying that the price of PMS remains N145 per litre.