Petrol scarcity: Nigeria choking under NNPC’S merciless grip

The scammers in Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) have surreptitiously handed over Nigerian petrol consumers to a band of marauders masquerading as petrol retail outlet operators.

Even as NNPC remains the sole importer of petrol and continues to deduct outrageous sums from crude oil sales proceeds in the name of petrol subsidy, petrol prices change on daily basis without the regulator lifting a finger in protest.

Some ungodly members of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), an organisation of friendly marketers with direct access to NNPC supplies, have joined the cruel members of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) to swindle petrol consumers.

Last week I bought petrol at N235 per litre at NNPC retail outlet on Iju Road, Lagos. Two weeks ago I bought it at N245 at a Mobil retail outlet in Idinmu, Lagos State.

The queues at the few MAMON petrol retail outlets selling at regulated pump price have become endless as mindless members of IPMAN hike pump price to N270 per litre.

Last Thursday I spent four hours at a friendly IPMAN retail outlet in Abule-Egba, Lagos where the pump price was N185 per litre.

The queue was one kilometre long but no one complained because of the vast price differential. After four hours of waiting I got 27 litres for N5, 000. At other IPMAN retail outlets with pump price at N270 per litre, I would have obtained just 18.5 litres for the same amount.

I was shocked to notice that even the rich also queued up for cheap fuel. I saw a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser jeep waiting patiently in the one-kilometre queue. I wondered why someone would buy a car for N40 million only to queue up patiently at an overcrowded outlet when he could spend just 10 minutes elsewhere and get the same service at a rich man’s price. It then dawned on me that even the rich feel cheated by NNPC and would rather pay the price by waiting patiently in long queues. At Ikoyi in Lagos, scores of intimidating limousines queued up at NNPC retail outlets to buy at regulated pump price.

From all indications, the petrol queues are here to stay. No one knows precisely when they would go away. They have been with us for almost one year with NNPC defending them with transparent lies about logistic problems at the tank farms.

Last week, Zainab Ahmed, Nigeria’s minister of finance, inadvertently told the truth about Nigeria’s man-made petrol supply dilemma. The minister lamented that the federal government now borrows money to import petrol.

The persistent petrol price hike by IPMAN members is caused by supply deficit. NNPC can no longer raise the forex to import enough petrol.

The minister’s statement suggested that forex scarcity is behind the petrol crisis. While the federal government orders the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to fund domestic deficit through ways and means by printing money for government, it cannot fund petrol imports by simply printing money.

Petrol is imported with dollars. That means that the flow of funds from international creditors determines the quantity of petrol NNPC can import at any given time.

The loan the minister talked about can only be raised from international creditors who would exact a pound of flesh from the loan beneficiary. That explains why the queues are getting longer by the day and why NNPC cannot even supply its traditional MAMON retail outlets regularly.  

Successive administrations in Nigeria in the last 30 years are responsible for the embarrassing petrol supply deficit crisis that is now fueling inflation through massive transport fare hikes. The transport fare for the short journey from Fagba, Iju to Alakuko in Lagos has risen from N300 to N500 within two weeks.

The federal government can build a medium size refinery with the cost of two years petrol subsidy. Since the NNPC has proved grossly incompetent in refinery management, government could have built refineries for credible private firms to manage.

Ironically, government has clung tenaciously to ownership of Nigeria’s failed refineries. If the refineries were privatised seven years ago, private firms would have refurbished them to rescue Nigeria from its current quagmire.

The federal government has clung to ownership of the failed refineries on the lame excuse that they are security assets that only government can protect.

From all indications the risk in privatising the refineries is not as high as that of privatising the telecoms industry. Nigeria’s telecoms industry is firmly in the hands of the private sector and heaven has not fallen.

That is an industry that coup plotters must control if they must succeed. No coup plotter ever sent soldiers to secure refineries on the coup day. Instead, they always scramble to take possession of the telecoms switch board.

Refineries must be privatised since NNPC cannot manage them. That is the solution to the current petrol supply stand-off. NNPC is not just a colossal failure but Nigeria’s greatest enemy.

The only thing it does well is treasury looting. The 36 state governors are convinced that NNPC swindles Nigeria through petrol subsidy.

None of them can institute the litigation that would compel NNPC to publish Nigeria’s accurate daily petrol consumption figure.  They are all afraid of the Willie Obiano treatment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). No one goes to equity with soiled hands.

Benjamin Adekunle, one of Africa’s best military tacticians was once quoted as saying that Nigeria and Murtala Muhammed were not compatible. He reportedly argued that Nigeria would have died if Murtala had survived.

That was a dangerous miscalculation by a victorious military tactician who was sufficiently frustrated by the country he saved. Nigeria would have survived even if Murtala had missed Lt. William Seri’s murderous bullets on the dawn of February 13, 1976.

The truth today is that Nigeria and NNPC are not compatible. Nigeria will die if NNPC survives even in its current form. NNPC must die a natural death for Nigeria to survive its merciless financial grip.

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