Last year’s Christmas was one Nigerians would never forget so soon. As the out-gone year entered its 11th month, November, not a few Nigerians began plans to travel to their villages or other states to spend time with families and friends. But little did they know that they would be spending their Christmas in the fuel stations queuing for petrol. If these victims of fuel scarcity were to be told beforehand the calamity that was to befall them, they would have bound the devil and spoken in the kind of tongues that would have confined Lucifer in eternal oblivion.
Most Nigerians spent their Christmas in the fuel stations in what observers had described as one of the most excruciating yuletide in recent history. As early as the first week of December, the scarcity was already manifested but the federal government assured Nigerians that it had enough supply to last till the end of January. The government attributed the scarcity to hoarding by the marketers.
Just when the fuel queues were reducing in Abuja and Lagos, PENGASSAN threatened to embark on strike, citing one of the most flimsy excuses ever. Reason prevailed and after a day they called off the industrial action but at that time the damage had already been done. The fuel queues came back with a heart of vengeance.
Apparently miffed by the embarrassment it might have caused the government, the Federal Executive Council gave marching orders to the NNPC and Ministry of Petroleum Resources to end the scarcity in few days but this fell on deaf eyes as the fuel queues became even longer.
Political observers contend that the marketers are trying to force the hand of the government to increase the price of fuel. According to the marketers the landing cost of refined fuel stands at N171 and so it is no longer feasible to sell at N145. They claimed that the NNPC had been the only importer of fuel for some months now. According to them, with the rise of crude oil in the international market and scarcity of forex, selling at N145 was shaky. The government was also said to be paying subsidy to the NNPC to keep selling fuel at N145.
Some have called for the passage of the Petroleum Industrial Bill (PIB) and a full deregulation of the sector to solve the problem of fuel scarcity once and for all. However, there are those who insist that full deregulation of the oil sector will be political suicide for the Buhari administration.
The country right now is battling to reduce inflation to single digit and in Nigeria, the price of goods and services depend on the price of fuel. If the government agrees to full deregulation a year before the election, that may be the beginning of the end for the administration.
In the midst of all these, people had been calling on the president to speak and last week, he eventually broke the awkward silence.
President Buhari expressed regrets over the unfortunate situation. In a statement personally signed by the president and posted on his verified twitter handle, he said the scarcity was regrettable.
Buhari disclosed that he was being briefed regularly on the matter, assuring that the NNPC was on top of the situation. He said, “The fuel scarcity being experienced nationwide is regrettable. I sympathize with all Nigerians on having to endure needless fuel queues.
“I’m being regularly briefed, especially on the NNPC’s interventions to ensure that there is enough petrol available during this period and beyond. I have the NNPC’s assurance that the situation will improve significantly over the next few days, as new shipments and supplies are distributed across the country.
“I have also directed the regulators to step up their surveillance and bring an end to hoarding and price inflation by marketers. Let me also assure that the relevant agencies will continue to provide updates on the situation. I thank you all for your patience and understanding”.
On his part, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said it was such a shame that Christmas had been, to some extent, with this sort of discomfort. He stated that the Buhari administration was doing everything possible to quickly resolve the fuel shortages experienced by Nigerians.
Last week the presidency set up a committee to find a lasting solution to the fuel crisis.
Minister of State Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, disclosed this to State House correspondents after a meeting with the chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, with stakeholders in the oil sector on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Present at the meeting were the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Makanti Baru, Director General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Daura, Independent Marketers Association of Nigeria( IPMAN) and Depot and Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPMAN)
Kachikwu , who insisted the committee would be headed by him, said the whole idea was to do a centric analysis of what really went wrong in the last few weeks.