As Nigerians celebrate another yuletide free of fuel queues, JULIET ALOHAN examines strategic efforts by the NNPC at ensuring hitch-free movement across the country by quashing moves by oil marketers to induce artificial product scarcity.
Long queues at filling stations have become a regular feature yearly during the yuletide season as oil marketers often capitalise on this period to induce artificial scarcity with a view to enriching their pockets at the detriment of Nigerians.
The situation usually results in hiked transport fares, sometimes as high as three times the regular amount. Most families are forced to cancel their plans when the fares become too expensive for them to afford, thereby depriving them of the much-awaited opportunity to reunite with family members and loved ones.
But for the swift intervention of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the oil marketers were already in top gear to activate their yearly ritual and make quick money. Hiding under the guise of speculations and apprehension of subsidy removal, the marketers began hoarding fuel, with the intention of creating artificial scarcity of the product.
Between mid-November and early December, residents of the Federal Capital Territory, as well as in many other states of the federation were faced twice with the discomfort of waiting hours on queues to purchase fuel, due to an artificial scarcity induced by the marketers, preparatory for the rush hour.
Before their plans were quashed by the NNPC’s intervention, prices of fuel had already been forced far above the official selling price of N65 a litre to as high as between N75 and N90 a litre in some filling stations across Abuja and other places. And as would also be expected, illegal vendors, popularly referred to as black marketers seized the opportunity to take over most filling stations and other strategic places to make brisk business.
While investigations at the NNPC revealed sufficient supply of the product, filling station attendants told our correspondent that they were out of supply. At the end, it became obvious that the situation was only induced by greedy marketers who were only interested in making more money by creating scarcity of the product. However, the NNPC spokesman, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, repeatedly assured of ample supply of the product, noting that the scarcity was artificially induced.
In its intervention tactics, the corporation began appealing to Nigerians to desist from panic buying, maintaining that it would put an end to the artificially induced scarcity.
At the fore of the campaign was NNPC’s group managing director, Engr. Austen Oniwon. Oniwon, while speaking at the Annual General Meeting of the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the NNPC, appealed to Nigerians not to give in to the usual antics of marketers who induce fuel scarcity during the yuletide season, just to exploit them.
He said: “There is no reason to queue up at the filling stations just because you see others queuing up. I went round the other time and I saw people with half tank of fuel also queuing up, just because they saw others on queue.”
Similarly, the NNPC spokesman explained that the observed panic-induced fuel queues had nothing to do with shortage in supply, adding that marketers and private depot owners were being adequately supplied with the product.
“The PPMC has stepped up supply of products to Abuja and environs from the normal 150 trucks per day to 224 trucks. This situation will be sustained from now through the period of Christmas and New Year festivities till January. I can assure you that there is no shortage of PMS (fuel) or any other petroleum product now or in the foreseeable future as the PPMC has a 54-day fuel sufficiency in strategic reserve,” Ajuonuma stated.
The corporation further warned fuel station owners and private depot owners to shun any activity that could breach the effective supply and dispensing of products to members of the public, adding that anyone caught hoarding products or not dispensing products from all its pumps would be appropriately sanctioned.
The NNPC further disclosed that it was working in concert with other relevant agencies to ensure that petroleum products get to the end users at approved prices, while urging members of the public to desist from panic buying.
Heeding to the corporations advice, the queues magically disappeared same way it appeared. At the end it became obvious to consumers that their collective sensibilities were being played with by the marketers, and while they resisted the temptation of engaging in panic buying, the queues also disappeared.
Oniwon, whose tenure was recently extended by President Goodluck Jonathan due to outstanding performance, especially in the area of product availability all year round, since assumption of office, has remained committed to the course.
The NNPC management, under the leadership of Oniwon, has continued to receive commendations from Nigerians for its penchant to ensuring ample circulation of fuel, especially during the yuletide season as a similar period was enjoyed by Nigerians during the 2010 Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND at the NNPC filling station along 1st Avenue, Gwarimpa, a motorist who gave his name as Timothy Ogbui, a businessman, noted that the corporation deserved commendation.
According to him, “If not for their awareness creation, we would not know that these people (oil marketers) are just playing games on us in order to cause confusion and make money for themselves. Imagine, we are now celebrating another Christmas without fuel queues, thanks to the NNPC. Shame to those people, their plans did not work this time.”
Meanwhile, Oniwon, who noted that the government amnesty programme had considerably improved PPMC’s operations following reduced attacks on oil facilities, is optimistic that the deregulation of the sector would further boost the operations of the company. “If you see the 2010 and 2011 reports you will see improved records. The rate of vandalism has considerably dropped; most of the crude are now able to reach the refinery,” he told journalist during the company’s AGM.
Speaking further, he said, “When deregulation kicks off, PPMC’s operations will definitely improve because you will be able to recover your cost. Then we shall be forced to be more efficient in order to remain a player in the system. I assure you that the PPMC would be more profitable in a deregulated environment,” Oniwon maintained.
Already, a production target of 250,000 bpd has been given to the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a subsidiary of the NNPC, which recently increased its crude production from 60,000 barrels per day to 102,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
A statement from the corporation informed that the new aspiration is designed to increase both NPDC reserves and production base to over 1.5billion barrels and 250,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day respectively, by 2015. The strategy, LEADERSHIP WEEKEND learnt, is essential in the upstream sector to provide national energy security for the nation.
The GMD has assured that the corporation is undergoing a transformation process that would make it compete with other integrated national oil companies in the world for the betterment of the Nigerian economy.