The last fuel scarcity at Christmas?

Motorists queue t buy fuel Maitama, Abuja on December 24, 2017. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ELUKPO


Once again, the nation has gone through another trauma of fuel scarcity at the peak of Christmas and New Year celebrations. It is an annual ritual deliberately visited on hapless and suffering Nigerians. Fuel is usually available throughout the year but once it is December, the product disappears as filling stations turn dry and shut down. A blame game then ensues between the NNPC and marketers over who is responsible for the scarcity. It is an irony of fate deliberately visited on hapless and suffering Nigerians.

Usually, the scarcity precedes the plan to hike the fuel pump price of fuel. For example, before the fuel price was increased from N86.50 to N145 in May 2016, there was severe scarcity that lingered for months unending. Nigerians bore the brunt by buying from the black market at the exorbitant price of over N400 per litre.

The Buhari’s administration capitalised on the anomie and reasoned that if Nigerians could buy petrol at such high black market price, why then could they not buy at N145 per litre, which in the circumstance seemed affordable. And that was it. The price was hiked and with that the price of every single item in the market skyrocketed. A bag of 50 kg rice sold for N25, 000 and has ever hovered around that price. Barely a year and half, it appears that government is contemplating further hike despite the denials.

The question is how do we end this annual ritual of fuel scarcity? The simple answer is by producing petrol in the country and ending importation. Consequently, it is up to the government to take necessary action towards encouraging local investment in fuel production. Apart from the highly acclaimed Dangote refinery under construction in Lekki Lagos, government should encourage other small and medium producers. It is time for the much-talked about modular refineries to be encouraged to come on stream.

An earlier disclosure by the Buhari administration to integrate the many “illegal” refineries in the Niger Delta into a more structured modular refinery regime is slow in coming up, which explains why the former private refinery operators are uncomfortable and want something done quickly. This group feels that their source of livelihood is being threatened, as government doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to fulfill its promise.

Not long ago, the former “illegal” oil refiners in Rivers State reportedly vowed to continue their activities in petroleum products until the Federal Government provides them with empowerment. The artisanal refiners, who are mainly from the Ogoni said they cannot leave their only source of survival until the Federal Government provides them with an alternative.

The group had disclosed their position in Port Harcourt to the Minister of State for Environment and Chairman, Governing Council, Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), Ibrahim Jibrin, during a one-day consultative meeting organised by the office of the Project Coordinator. The ex-artisanal refiners said they can only stop refining petroleum products “illegally” if the Federal Government empowers and include them in the remediation process in Ogoni.

With nothing else to do after government took away the pipeline surveillance job from them, some of them who are graduates are still in the bush refining; hence, only empowerment would compel them to leave the bush.

With myriads of issues confronting the government, it is uncertain how soon the modular refinery project would be implemented. Government should not allow the refiners feel deceived, which would compound the problem. Instead, government should do what it says it wants to do for peace to reign.

Nothing is illegal in the real sense. The people own the land, which constitutes the resources. Hence, it is not good to alienate them from what belongs to them, as that would create problems. It is because the people have been so alienated that brought us to this sorry path.

There should be change in the way things are done. The people need support from government. They should be carried along for them to feel belonged. They should not be displaced to create room for someone else.There are many ways to empower the refiners. Amnesty has been given while quite a good number were employed to protect oil pipelines. Those are temporary measures. Other than those, the proposed establishment of modular refineries in the oil-bearing communities could provide a lasting solution for petroleum products challenges and “illegal” refining. This singular objective should be pursued with vigour.

Earlier in 2017, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, disclosed the plans of the Federal Government to make illegal oil refining in the Niger Delta a thing of the past through libralising participation in its proposed establishment of modular refineries.

According to the Vice President, government would establish the modular refineries to drive its development strategy for the Niger Delta region. He promised that the youths involved in illegal refining of crude oil would be employed in the modular refineries to be established by government in the region. This strategy is expected to be all-embracing without favouring one segment and leaving the other.

In the light of the foregoing, the challenge is how to aggregate the many private refineries into the modular refineries and at the same time involve the operators in the new deal so that no one is left out. To be able to achieve this requires thinking out of the box. Government alone should not build the modular refineries. Individuals and groups should be allowed to build while government regulates the operation.

It is advisable that all operators of “illegal” private refineries should be documented and encouraged to form cooperatives. That way, it would be easy to know who the operators are, which would facilitate effective communication and dialogue. That would also make it easy for government to reach the target group with whatever assistance it is providing.

Incidentally, government has not disclosed how many modular refineries are to be established across the Niger Delta. It is also not clear yet the extent to which individuals would be involved. Unconfirmed reports say that the Ijaw Youths rejected the Federal Government’s offer to allow two modular refineries per state in the Niger Delta. This needs clarification.

With numerous “illegal” refineries in the Niger Delta, it would not be sensible for government to peg the number of modular refineries to be built at two per state. Who would build the refineries? Is it government or individuals?

Government should be flexible in setting the conditions for licensing modular refineries. Since micro petroleum refining is commonplace as people’s means of livelihood, government should relax the process of registration and licensing.

Two modular refineries per state would certainly not be able to employ the large number of youths, hence can’t stop oil bunkering and other illegal activities. The ultimate aim is to make petrol readily available and make scarcity a thing of the past. Let this be the last fuel scarcity at Christmas in the country.

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Fuel scarcity
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