By UbongAbasi Ise
“Just last night when I was coming from the airport, I saw long line of petrol stations here in Nigeria. And I really feel for the people of this country” – Samantha Power, US Ambassador to UN
“The situation is so pathetic, I don’t even know why in our state, filling stations are still selling at N200. When you come to mega-station like this you would queue. I came since 4.00am this morning, now it is almost afternoon, and I‘ve been struggling. The suffering is just too much…” – Mrs. Uduak Iwok (Total Filling Station, Abak Road, Uyo)
“This situation has affected the whole populace. We are suffering. I left my house right from 4 O’clock this morning, and I have been here since then, I can’t even buy. So it is really a big problem. It is hard to even go to work. We’ve spent so much on transport. Fuel scarcity has affected virtually everything. I think government should do something. They should come to our remedy. It is really biting hard on us.” – Frank, a Motorist at a Major Marketing Filling Station, Uyo)
“There is nobody who is happy about the situation. Having spent so much hours on the queue tying to buy the product which ordinarily should have been available, and so much productive hours lost… I came to this place around 5:20am and now it is almost 12 noon, and still I don’t know when I’m going to buy the petrol. I should have used the time for something else, it’s terrible.” – A motorist at Total Filling Station, who did not want his name in print
“First, if not for the love I have for my fatherland, my country Nigeria, and secondly, if not that it is my birthplace – I have no other, I would have run and leave this country. It has never happened this way before. It has never affected everyone this way, the economy is bad. The cost of living is high, transportation is high. Life is difficult, and the money is not circulating. It is hard, as in, very hard… I feel it, I am a businessman. – Prince Jude Titus, Movie Producer & Editor
The palpable hardship emanating from fuel crisis is just too much for people who have so far endured years of harsh economic conditions to bear. Last weekend, as I was meandering under the blistering heat through hostile, relentless fuel queues at major marketing filling station, Uyo, I sensed eyes lost in grief, pitiable faces lost in thoughts, and I was, indeed, drown in babble of tired voices coming from motorists who were unfortunately caught in the middle of naked fuel crisis, people who had irretrievably lost their time waiting for fuel that might not reach them.
It is however easy to deduce the nature of the fuel situation. It is not that the fuel is only scarce, it is because the price is high too. Where the product is sold at low government regulated price one would see overwhelming crowd of motorists. In contrary, where the price is high, the motorists would be scanty. Amusingly, this scarcity offered a practical interpretation of economic law of demand which speculated that when everything is equal, demand of quantity of product would be increased when the price is low, while the demand for such product would tend to decrease when the price is high. I observed this when NNPC-affiliated and major marketing filling stations had enough queue of motorists to contend with owing to their adherent to the approved pump price of N86.50, while independent petroleum marketers and black-market dealers who sold at high price were left with paucity of customers. But in all, the pain bites hard just the same.
The prevailing fuel scarcity situation is horrifying and it is fatal to the economy of Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria as a whole. Its far-reaching manifestations are explicable in the exorbitant increase in fuel price; commercial motorists are capitalizing on the situation to arbitrarily increase the transport fare; there is rapid hike on food prices; this also limit the movement of the people, and as well, restricts inter-city trade, thus slowing down businesses.
It is disheartening that those who are supposed custodians of downstream oil-sector are those indulging in cut-throat racketeering in a bid to make extra profit margin at the detriment of the masses. A manager at independent petroleum marketing filling station at Uyo who declined to have his name in prints revealed that affiliates of NNPC as well as major oil marketers do sell petrol to other retailers at a price of N86.50 per litre. According to him, these retailers would in turn increase the price per litre in order to make profit. Generally as it stands, the cause of this fuel situation is not that easy to establish owing to labyrinth of channels that fuel products have been steadily diverted without recourse to laid down rules. Since NNPC and the major marketers have been barred from discharging fuel above regulated price, they now resort to nocturnal, opaque business deals with unscrupulous members of independent marketers to cheat the unsuspecting Nigerians.
It is regrettable that Akwa Ibom State government has so much disconnected itself from the predicament of the people it was instituted to serve. Mrs. Uduak Iwok, a Pharmacist from Etinan who was inextricably fixed in the middle of immovable fuel queue at Total filling station, Abak Road, Uyo decried virtual absence of government in the fuel crisis in Akwa Ibom State. She exclaimed, “I have not seen the effort of the state government… I have not seen oo! Some filling stations are selling at N200 per litre, this other one is selling N240, the other one is selling N180. The black marketers are even selling at N150. I have not seen any task force coming to enforce the approved N86.50 price on those filling stations instead when they see us lining up covering the front of those filling stations, they would come to harass us. So why can’t they use the opportunity to enter those independent marketers stations and ask them ‘why are you not selling at normal price’?”
If the state government has lost track with its responsibility, I believe it is incumbent on the State House of Assembly to act. In Niger State early this month, Member representing Kontagora 1 Constituency, Hon. Muhammad Nuradeen moved on the floor of Niger State House of Assembly, a matter of urgent public importance on the issue of lingering fuel crisis in the state. Consequently, the House directed the clerk to invite the major oil marketers, independent marketers and other related oil actors to explain the reasons behind lingering fuel crisis in the state. In similar manner, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, as a matter of common interest, should pass a resolution to compel the state government to use its power and compel the filling stations operating in the state to discharge fuel at approved pump price or face the wrath of the law. The state task force and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) operating in the state should be investigated for alleged compliance with the interest of unscrupulous marketers. Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) should also wake up and act as rallying point against unnecessary increase in fuel prices and register the opposition of the people against the despicable practice of price hike. The identity of Independent Petroleum Marketing Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) should be scrapped and its members should be forced to register under either NNPC or Major Oil Marketers of Nigeria (MOMAN) because these mega bodies are highly regulated and cannot sell above approved pump price. Independent marketers are the real big problem of fuel scarcity in the country.
However, the downstream oil sector is apparently the neck of Nigeria’s economy, if strangulated, then the whole system is likely to give up the ghost. Recent fuel shortage has shown that our economy is driven with fuel just like a motorcycle: no fuel, no performance. Therefore fuel remains the elixir of life of our economic which must be paid earnest attention to.
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