Cost, pains of unending fuel scarcity

Before Yuletide celebration last year, Nigerians began to witness scarcity of fuel. Many thought that the problem would be solved quickly, considering its timing and assurances from government and relevant petroleum agencies.Instead, the scarcity of the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) has continued intermittently and unabated to the extent that wasting hours in queues in search of fuel is gradually becoming a way of life in Nigeria.

Government and its agencies have given several reasons for the scarcity and efforts towards addressing it, but the lingering queues at filling stations in major cities including Lagos and Abuja have proven otherwise. So, solutions remain elusive. This is because it has been more of blame game between government and its agencies and the petroleum marketers than finding permanent solution to the problem.

While the NNPC has continued to accuse marketers of sabotage and manipulation in the oil sector, marketers have called for complete deregulation of the sector, to allow for healthy competition and efficiency.Some Nigerians, including the marketers have argued that government’s insistence on N145 per litre of fuel is not sustainable, considering that the landing cost, which has also been confirmed by government, is N170 per litre. This disclosure showed that the claim by government that subsidy has been removed wasn’t true.

With the current situation of fuel saga, marketers, black marketers and some filling stations are making brisk businesses at the detriment of many Nigerians who are desperately in need of the product. While some marketers are allegedly diverting fuel and selling above official pump price, some filling stations are sell at night above pump price, after adjusting their metres. Others also hoard to sell to black marketers at night, who resell at higher price.

That is why some filling stations would be under lock and key in the daytime, while black marketers sell fuel beside and in front of it unperturbed. The Guardian learnt that the federal government is not dispose to hiking the pump price of fuel, despite the push by some marketers. It was revealed that it was for this reason that NNPC has remained the sole importer of the product since President Buhari government came to power.Investigation reveals that the activities of the middlemen in the sector is also compounding the problem, because they don’t have filling stations, but they are known for allegedly buying and diverting fuel to the highest bidders in any part of the country.

Nigerians bear the brunt of all these and no one is sure of when the problem will be tackled permanently. This is despite recent promise by NNPC to build more fuel depots across the country to supplement the existing ones that many believe are not enough.Speaking to The Guardian on the development, a Lagos-based businessman, Mr Oke Okodu said that the intermittent fuel scarcity is seriously affecting the economy and human life. “It is time government found permanent solution to this problem. Nigerians are not asking for too much. What is this problem? Is it not a shame that we are crude oil producing country and we are still importing fuel?

“I have a terrible experience over fuel scarcity in the East during Christmas celebration. I was buying a litre of adulterated fuel at N300. The fuel spoilt the injectors of my two cars and I hired a car to bring my family back to Lagos after the celebration.“I spent a lot of money to repair the vehicles. Not quiet long we returned to Lagos, the scarcity started again. Is the scarcity going to continue like this without a solution? That is my worry. Today, there is no electricity supply and there is no fuel to power generator,” Okudo decried.Similarly, a black marketer who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that he engaged in the business because his sister is a manager of a filling station in Lagos.

“Yes my sister is a manager of a filling station. Whenever there is fuel scarcity, she often supplies fuel to me at normal price to sell at black market at unofficial price. I have made good money from it and that has been the practice for a long time now. I will not stop the business until scarcity stops or my sister no longer work at the filling station.”

Meanwhile, the lingering fuel scarcity has become a source of worry and pain to an average Nigerian. Even as the situation appears to be normalising in Lagos with increased supply of fuel, investigation reveals it is not the same across the country.

Enugu Residents Condemn Fuel Scarcity, Price Disparity
From Lawrence Njoku (Enugu)

Enugu residents said the lingering fuel scarcity has continued to inflict pains on them. While majority of them now live in denial of certain privileges of life to enable them afford the scarce commodity, the product has continued to sell at indiscriminate rates in the state. To buy in any of the petrol stations operated by major marketers at the official rate of N145 per litre, when it is available, one would need to queue throughout the day. Those of the independent marketers however are selling between N190 and N195 per litre without vehicular or human queues. Of worst hit in the entire scenario are civil and public servants, who believe that the rise in price created by the scarcity is seriously eaten deep into their pockets, as their monthly incomes have not improved with the scarcity.

Ikechukwu Ugwu, a staff of the Ministry of Commerce, Enugu, told The Guardian that he had resorted to walking his way to work any time he could not find help somewhere. He stated that from his Gariki residence in Awkunanaw to the state secretariat on GRA, Enugu, he was paying N150, stressing that with the scarcity, he now spends between N280 and N300 daily to his office.

“I have not had additional kobo on my monthly salary since this scarcity started.  I have tried to manage my paltry pay and what this means is that, I walk some distances and use bus services where possible. If I continue to pay the fares, I may not be able to feed my family any longer.“There are things I no longer do and these include curtailing some social activities that I attend. For instance, I am the type that like visiting the public places during European matches and there, I drink as the matches go on. But since this year, I have stopped. I watch football matches from my house, when there is light and when there is no light, I retire to sleep. The way it is, you must curtail certain things, especially those of us whose salaries are stamped to be able to overcome the challenges of this fuel crisis, otherwise, you run into trouble before the next one,” Ugwu said.

Another resident, who simply identified himself as Uchenna, said that he had not run the generator in his house in the past five weeks, irrespective of the epileptic power supply in his area owing to funds to buy petrol.“I cannot be buying at this exorbitant rate for my car and generator at the same time. So what I have resorted to doing is that, I have stopped operating the generator for now believing that the situation will improve one day. With the present rate of fuel, it will take about N2500 to fill the generator tank each time I want to use it but the money is not here”, he said.

A business centre operator, Mr Clifford Emeka, says it cost him N1900 at the present rate to buy a 10 litres of fuel to operate the generator in his office daily. He said the generator has become his main source of power supply due to the epileptic nature of the public power supply. To meet up with the cost, he has to design different price templates for instance, N10 per copy of photocopy with the use of public electricity and N20 per copy with generator. He said that typing services also increased from N100 to N150, the same as airtime for browsing among others.