The challenges b edevilling the Nigeria’s petroleum industry took a new twist last week Thursday with the report from Public Eye and Africa Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Nigeria released a report claiming importation of dirty fuel into the country.
Public Eye, a group previously known as the Bern Declaration stormed the world with the publication of its three years investigations accused two Swiss companies of exporting dangerous fuel simply termed Toxic Fuel into Africa. The report named the companies involved as Vitol and Trafigura.
Bringing the point home, ANEEJ held a press conference and a rally in Abuja where it drew the attention of the Federal Government of Nigeria to implications of the Public Eye Group findings.
Addressing the media in Abuja, David Ugolor, Executive Director, ANEEJ said, “These Swiss commodity trading companies, Vitol and Trafigura, take undue advantage of weak fuel standard in Africa, deliver and sell diesel, premium motor spirit (PMS) and gasoline, which damage the health of our people. Their business model relies on an illegitimate strategy of deliberately lowering the quality of fuels for gain.”
According to him, the accused companies while collaborating with local conglomerates uses a common industry practice called blending to mix cheap and toxic intermediate petroleum products which contain higher levels of Sulphur and other harmful substances that can never be found in Europe and the United States.
Ugolor noted that by selling such fuels and diesel at the pump in Africa, the companies involve increase external air pollution, causing respiratory disease and premature deaths. He attributed declining air quality associated with this low quality fuel to the increasing rate of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory diseases in the cities where such fuels are consumed.
Ugolor warned of the implication of remaining silent while Nigerian are sent to early grave basically due to the fault of those charged with the responsibility of monitoring quality of fuel imported into the country.
He associated the oil firm to one of Nigerians leading petroleum product marketing company, Oando Plc pointing to its relationship Vitol Group.
Oando, Vitol Relationship
On July 4, 2016, Oando Plc, announced a $210 million recapitalisation of its downstream operations. According to a news release from Oando, the new structure is a Consortium venture involving Helios Investment Partners and Vitol Group who now owns 49 per cent of the new entity created from the married named “OVH Energy.”
The new company, the release stated is a reflection of the new ownership structure. But more important is the fact that OVH Energy assets comprises over 350 service stations across the country with the infrastructures including 84,000 tonnes of storage and newly built inbound logistic jetty.
Over 350 filling stations owned by Oando across the country are currently managed by this new venture partnership with Vitol, raising fears over the expected level of risk it could pose to many Nigerians
Responding to inquiries from LEADERSHIP on the allegations raised by Public Eye, Andrea Schlaepfer, the spokesperson of Vitol said, “The Public Eye report is inaccurate and misinformed. She insisted that “In Africa, governments control and manage the import of fuels and only they are able to determine local fuel standards.”
While Andrea admitted that pollution is a critical challenge to the global community, she said her company will welcome measures aimed at addressing it, “As the recent World Bank report highlights, pollution is a problem worldwide and measures to address it are welcomed.
She was however, emphatic on where to put the blame, hear her, “It is a government’s prerogative to define the country specification and local refining capability may be a key influencing factor.
“Vitol does not control the supply chain, in which product from various suppliers, including major oil companies, is comingled, and Vitol therefore is unable to determine the quality of fuel sold at the pump, she submitted.”
On Vitol’s operations in Africa the Spokesperson stated in her email to LEADERSHIP that “Extensive investment is required in Africa’s energy infrastructure, particularly if it is to handle segregated supply and Vitol, through its terminal subsidiary VTTI has/ is building oil terminals in Kenya and South Africa and an LPG terminal in Nigeria. All are built to EU safety standards.”
Meanwhile efforts to get Trafigura to comment on the issue proved abortive as emails sent to the company through their contacts did not receive attention as at the time of reporting.
Genesis of Toxic fuel in Nigeria
Although, Nigeria is the highest exporter of crude oil in Africa, the country has failed in the area of converting raw crude to the more valuable finish products. It is no longer news that our refineries are not working and it is not certain when they will work. Thus since the refineries can’t work we have to import fuel.
The issue of dirty fuel dates back to 1996 when an Italian vessel christened Ostention laden with toxic fuel gained access into the country’s territorial waters, and some unsuspecting members of the public innocently bought contaminated fuel as genuine petrol. The result was massive damage of automobiles, generators and other machineries that uses fuel as a source of energy.
The 1996 toxic fuel christened ‘Abacha Fuel’ was the most reported. Perhaps, because of its far reaching effects on consumers. But that was not the last. In 2003, Nigerians were again subjected to the tremor of similar experience and then came the Oando toxic fuel saga of 2008.
Deregulation and Fuel Import.
The Federal Government on May 11, 2016 announced that it has withdrawn from the substitution of premium motor spirit (PMS), thereby opening wide the door for importers of petroleum products.
According the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) the subsidiary of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that made the announcement, by virtue of the subsidy removal any private sector operators who may be interested in the importation of petroleum products can now do so.