Petrol scarcity worsened in Nigeria on Friday, with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) describing the prolonged product shortages as unacceptable and intolerable.
The situation is continuing despite assurances by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) and the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) that the country has enough fuel in stock to last over a month.
Since February this year when some operators imported adulterated petrol into the country, most parts of the country have not had stable supply of the product. However, the problem has recently spread to Lagos where a litre of petrol currently sells for as much as N280 in some petrol stations and as much as N400 per litre on the black market.
Petrol queues are growing by the day across Nigeria. There is no part of the country where the price of this vital commodity has not gone up astronomically. The scarcity has led to a boom in the black market.
As queues lengthen across the country, the authorities are insisting that there is fuel stock that could last the country for 34 days, stressing that in spite of rumours of a planned price increase, the government was not considering hiking the amount Nigerians get the product.
“The authority wishes to inform the general public that the federal government has no intention of increasing the price of petrol during this period. The NNPC Limited has imported PMS with current stock levels sufficient for 34 days,” the NMDPRA stressed.
While many fuel stations remained shut in Abuja on Friday for lack of the product, the NNPC stations still selling the product have witnessed queues stretching over two kilometres at every point.
At the outskirts, the few petrol stations which were selling for as much as N350 to N400 per litre, cause long queues, with motorists spending long man-hours on the fuel lines.
Chaotic scenes were seen at Conoil and Total filling stations located at the Central Business District of Abuja, as motorists tried to gain entrance to the stations without having to stay on the long queues.
The NNPC and the NMDPRA have this year enunciated several reasons for the scarcity experienced in several parts of the country, ranging from the importation of bad fuel in February to disruption caused by the Salah festivities in June to the floods in Lokoja and recently to the bad roads in Lagos.
“The recent queues in Lagos are largely due to ongoing road infrastructure projects around Apapa and access road challenges in some parts of Lagos depots,” Executive Vice President, Downstream, NNPC, Adeyemi Adetunji, said during the week.
Several filling stations, including the NNPC mega station in zone 1, Conoil and Total, opposite the headquarters of the NNPC in Abuja, had long queues, causing traffic jams in the capital city.
In addition, black marketers have also taken advantage of the situation, selling their wares to interested motorists for as high as N4,000 for a 10-litre container, that is about N400 per litre in the streets.
But in a statement jointly signed by the National President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba and President Trade Union Congress (TUC), Festus Osifo, the leadership of the unions said they were seriously bewildered and disturbed by the “persistent shortage and uncontrollable” prices that players in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry were meting out to Nigerians.
The NLC and TUC stated that persistent shortages of petrol in the country have become a source of pain to the Nigerians, noting that the scarcity has led not just to long avoidable queues, adulteration of the product by some unscrupulous elements; exploitation of consumers but has turned fuel stations to traffic menace.
“All these have tragic consequences for the Nigerian people and debilitating effects on the health of the economy which itself is not in a good state,” the unions added.
They alleged that the shortage was deliberately foisted by players in the downstream sector in order to hike the price far above the government approved threshold.
Maintaining that it is an added problem when non-state actors begin to arrogate to themselves the power to determine the price of a litre of fuel far above the rate pegged by government in the current subsidy regime, the unions pointed out that the Nigerian masses were being defrauded.
“The Nigerian people and tax payers currently expend several trillions of Naira annually to subsidise petrol. The same people cannot be exploited and made to pay over N240 per litre when the current ex-depot price is currently fixed at N148.19 per litre. The opportunity cost of the subsidy payment is enormous and yet the benefit of the subsidy regime is gradually being eroded.
“No country develops when its people are subjected to perennial hardship and its industries are shackled by unnecessary chains of miseries,” the NLC and TUC noted.
According to both unions, it is even more disturbing that the government is equally demonstrating a high level of culpability in the unwholesome situation by its silence and unwillingness to frontally and publicly address the harrowing experiences of Nigeria in the current situation.
They insisted that no concerned and responsive government would bury its head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich while the citizens are being brutally exploited.
For the records, the TUC and NLC stated that no private individuals or companies are importing a litre of petrol into this country, stating that all products are imported by the government.
Furthermore, they explained that there is no record whatsoever that the agency of government that is importing the products has added a kobo to the price it sells the products to the marketers.
“We are strongly worried that leaving our energy security and sovereignty in the hands of unscrupulous capitalists and their collaborators will further plunge this nation into the economic abyss we are working hard to avoid.
“The labour centres therefore demand of the federal government an end to the avoidable, unnecessary, crippling and pain-inducing fuel shortages and unapproved price hike of up to N240 in the country.
“No excuse is good enough to cripple the country. If there are challenges, they should be fixed; we have a government in power to fix challenges not to make excuses,” the unions said.
The unions stated that they were ready and willing to engage the federal government and assist in all ways possible to overcome the country’s present challenges.
They cautioned that the unions will not fold their arms and allow the Nigerian people to be taken for granted as the government seems to be manifestly doing on various crucial national issues.
“Regulatory and law enforcement agencies should do more to protect the larger Nigeria society from exploitation,” the unions noted.
The National Public Relations Officer, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Chief Ukadike Chinedu, had said that its members who own the bulk of the filling stations across the country, were now subjected to purchasing petrol for about N220 per litre.
Emmanuel Addeh and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja