We hear that the minister of state for petroleum, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu, and group managing director of NNPC, Mr. Maikanti Baru, have been given marching orders to end what appears to be a nationwide scarcity of petrol, also known as premium motor spirit (pms) by the weekend. The orders were given by the Federal Executive Council during its weekly meeting on Wednesday. This action of the FEC came on the heel of Baru’s forced return from London, UK, where he had been billed to receive a Forbes Oil and Gas Man of the Year Award 2017.
We commend the government’s prompt response to what is threatening to be a serious energy crisis and a national scandal. This is as it should be. Long queues of vehicles began forming at filling stations nationwide previous Monday. In Abuja, the federal capital, civil servants rushed out of their offices before closing time to refill their cars ahead of a rumoured fuel price increase. At present, the pump price of petrol is between N143 and N145 a litre. Another cause of the long fuel queues is the approach of the Christmas festivities, a season when fuel supply and distribution fall short.
Baru and the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed, both have denied there is any plan to raise the pump price of petrol. On the fear of an acute fuel shortage during Christmas, Baru assured NNPC has enough stock to last beyond January. He attributed the long queues at fiiling stations to “panic buying”. He declared: “For the umpteenth time, I wish to call on all Nigerians to stop panic buying. We have said times without number that NNPC has sufficient products to cater for the needs of all consumers.”
However, Lai did not seem to share Baru’s optimism. Indeed, he said scarcity was real, something to be expected in the cold weather that begins in December. “This is winter period. There is always more demand for refined products from petroleum during winter period in the colder countries; this is what we are experiencing now”. He assured, however, that measures were being taken to ensure domestic supply was not affected adversely by rising international demand. One of them was the marching orders given by FEC. “The council gave him (Kachikwu) a matching order that this fuel scarcity should not last beyond this weekend and they are going to work very hard to ensure that it is curtailed”, he said.
Baru might have been right about panic buying. It is also true the long queues that have been forming at filling stations since last Monday are the first in a long while. But he should not blame petrol users for what is clearly a ‘mad dash’ for the product in this time of the year. They have history to stand on. A year-end is a time when fuel profiteerers among petrol marketers cause an artificial scarcity to boost their profit margin. It is also a way to pressure the government to increase the pump price in the new year. To be sure, profiteering has been minimised by the government’s decision to make the state monopoly, NNPC, the sole importer of refined petroleum products.
There is only way to end underhand practices such as profiteering altogether: stop importation and restart local refining. The nation’s 4 refineries, if working at optimal capacity, should be able to meet the daily consumption demand of 30-33 million litres of petrol a day. But they do not and cannot because most of them have fallen into disuse. But they can and should be repaired. By all means, let’s put a stop to fuel imports to reduce our import bill and shore up the foreign reserve which is showing signs of a rebound due to the government’s bold decision stopping foreign exchange for the importation of some 41 items that we can produce ourselves. We don’t see why petrol should not be on that ban list.