12 May 2015

Fuel Scarcity And The Agony of Nigerians - by Tayo Ogunbiyi

It started like a trivial development that would soon fizzle out with time. Most government officials that spoke about it gave a glimpse of hope that all will soon be well. We were told that within a couple of days the market would be flooded with petroleum products and that the pains of Nigerians would soon be over. But quite surprisingly, the fuel scarcity being experienced across the country lingers on.

After almost about two weeks of waiting in vain to get this all-important product, Nigerians are becoming agitated because of the ensuing agonies and frustrations associated with the scarcity. Most filling stations in major cities across the country have become a beehive of activities with multitudes of people waiting endlessly for the scarce commodity. In the few places where the product is available, it is being sold in very exorbitant prices which make it to be beyond the reach of the ordinary folk.

In Lagos, motorists and commuters are groaning under the heavy yoke of fuel scarcity. From all indications, this particular occurrence might take a bit longer before it subsides. Feelers from experts in the sector have revealed that this current shortage might last for sometime bearing in mind the fact that fuel marketers are not really sure about the likely attitude of the incoming Buhari administration towards fuel subsidy and other related matters. According to experts, the major marketers might want to be very careful with regard to fuel importation until they are certain about the President-elect’s policy direction for the industry.

A major by product of crude oil, the availability of petroleum is crucial to the continuous survival of the country’s economy. Factories, companies, industries and, indeed, homes hugely rely on accessibility to this product, on a daily basis, for optimal performance. In essence, its non availability could disrupt economic activities considering the unreliable state of public electricity. For some time now, fuel scarcity is one plague, like corruption, that we have yet to find a lasting solution to in the country. Successive governments in the country have had to contend with this problem without achieving much success. At some point, especially when the refineries in the country were no longer functioning at best possible capacity, the crisis became so alarming that Nigerians were spending days at filling stations just to get this all important product.

Characteristically, the few filling stations and ‘black market’ operators that are selling the product are ripping off Nigerians by selling at cut-throat prices in spite of the stress that people have to pass through to obtain the product. Consequently, civil servants, lecturers, students, health workers among others, are presently battling with the adverse effects of the lingering scarcity. As it is customary, transport fares have sharply increased, with commercial bus drivers readily linking inability to get fuel as justification for the increase. Similarly, security at various homes, in Lagos, is being threatened as most people could no longer get the fuel to ‘power’ their generating sets. The implication is that Nigerians could no longer sleep with their two eyes closed.

It is sad that Nigerians have to suffer so much to get a product that nature has endowed it with. Those who actually benefit from the oil wealth of the country are the few political and economic elite who get engrossed in many dubious oily deals. What the masses often get are incessant increases in the pump price of the product. Of course, Nigerians are not new to such as succeeding administrations have had to increase fuel prices on various occasions. A chronicle of increase in the prices of fuel in Nigeria reveals that every regime since Gen. Yakubu Gowon has, at one time or the other, tampered with fuel prices for one reason or the other.

The Gowon regime that administered the oil boom era in the country increased fuel price from six kobo to nine and a half kobo. Olusegun Obasanjo, in his first coming as a military leader, raised the price from nine and a half kobo to 15k while the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida-led junta moved it up from15 to 70k. The interim government of Chief Ernest Shonekan also increased fuel price from 70k to N5. The Sani Abacha-led military regime moved it from N5 to N11 while the Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar administration took it up to N20. Obasanjo, in his second advent, increased it to N70 while the administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua reduced it to N65. His successor, President Goodluck Jonathan, moved it to N141 before slashing it to N97 having met with stiff opposition from Nigerians.

In recent times, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has come under heavy criticisms in view of its gross lack of accountability and transparency. It is rather shameful for a country reputed as the sixth oil exporting nation in the world to continually subject its citizens to the annual agony of fuel scarcity. The question, of course, is for how long Nigerians would continue to bear the burden of the ineptitude of those who rule us? It is bad that our lives are being endangered as a result of security challenges. It is bad enough that public electricity supply has remained epileptic, in spite of several reforms and funds committed into the sector. It is, however, undesirable that Nigerians should continue to suffer before they could get access to fuel, a product that Providence has blessed the country with.

It is hoped that the incoming Buhari administration would look into the various allegations of incompetence, lack of transparency and accountability being levelled against the NNPC. Let the change that Buhari and his party promised Nigerians begin with the country’s oil sector. This is the time to sanitise the sector to ensure that probity and transparency become the order of the day. Nigerians do not deserve these continuous sufferings in the midst of plenty.

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