Lasting solutions to fuel queues

THE Muhammadu Buhari regime and its predecessor, the Goodluck Jonathan government, in the past five years, struggled hard to save Nigerians from the harrowing experience of fuel scarcity, long queues at filling stations and the accompanying high cost of petroleum products. While the Jonathan regime paid heavy petroleum subsidies to keep scarcity at bay, the Buhari dispensation summoned the political will in May 2016 to further  deregulate  the downstream sector, thus eliminating the subsidies which were corruption-prone. However, the government still pegged the price of premium motor spirit or petrol at a price not above N145 per litre, up from the N97 it sold under Jonathan. The sudden return of long fuel lines in major cities across the country after 19 months of uninterrupted supply has little to do with lack of adequate supply in our reserves as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has confirmed. It owes to matters which only the government, sitting down with stakeholders in the supply chain, can resolve before they become major problems which could dog the Yuletide season. For instance, fuel marketers are complaining of difficulties in sourcing bank facilities, and the Depot and Petroleum Marketers Association (DAPPMA) is grumbling that government still owes its members foreign exchange for imports they delivered before the current price regime took off. Also, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) is complaining of exorbitant charges by DAPPMA, which it alleges collects N142 per litre of fuel even after paying NNPC N133.28 per litre. This has led some fuel stations to arbitrarily adjust their retail prices to N150 per litre without the authorisation of the NNPC. Other issues surrounding the emergence of the queues include the perennial situation of bad roads nationwide, worsened by the failure of the Federal and Lagos State Governments to clear the Apapa traffic gridlock, which keeps thousands of tankers on kilometres-long queues. We are pleased, however, that the Federal Government and the National Assembly have responded to the unfolding scenario by inviting the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Maikanti Baru, who cut short a foreign trip to clarify issues. We hope that this matter will be resolved to ensure that the strike, which the marketers are threatening to begin as from this week, does not occur. It is very vital that the Apapa gridlock is cleared and never allowed to return. Also, the issue of bad roads must be addressed while implementation of plans to increase the haulage of petroleum products by rail should be accelerated. The Federal Government must design a comprehensive roadmap to end fuel scarcity in Nigeria permanently, through total deregulation and the establishment of more private refineries apart from the Dangote venture. It is a very achievable objective.