The most disturbing thing about a disease is when its cause cannot be ascertained. And, indeed, the scarcity of premium motor spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol, is one disease that is presently biting hard on Nigerians in many parts of the nation, yet no one could categorically state why the queues have returned to our filling stations. Last Thursday, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) denied ever attributing the current fuel scarcity to delays in the signing of a contract for importation of petroleum products. Unfortunately, DPR’s statement fell short of answering why Nigerians are again subjected to a supposedly long-gone pain and discomfort.
Early on, the federal government’s position was that the long queues at filling stations were as a result of panic buying. However, the scarcity persists, thereby disproving such an excuse that never held water anyway. Indeed, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and DPR have a unique problem: communication. The flaw in communication with the public, especially as regards the petroleum sector, has put these departments of government in dire straits. It has also fuelled speculations. One of such making the rounds is that the scarcity of PMS was a premeditated strategy to divert the public’s attention from the missing $20billion discourse. Others say it is a deliberate attempt by the NNPC to punish Nigerians for the public negative perception against the corporation. Can Nigerians be blamed for trying to rationalize an unexplainable embarrassment?
The recent kerosene subsidy saga does not help the suspicion of Nigerians. Being a major energy source to households, kerosene has become gold got at great cost, sometimes for as much as N200 per litre. Yet we are meant to believe that kerosene is subsidized to the tune of N50 per litre. We are shamelessly an import-dependent economy where no one seems to be thinking of doing something about the implications of petroleum products importation in an oil-producing country. Thus, we have become a vulnerable prey and meal ticket to foreigners and importers alike. The Petroleum Information Bill (PIB), which should have served as a proper regulatory framework for the sector, has not only become a forgone and forgotten document, but has also been clad in financial controversies. Due to the non-passage of the PIB, foreign companies have continued to exercise 100 per cent control over the crude oil export business, a development that detracts from the country’s claim that it is a sovereign nation.
Petroleum marketers have blamed the current scarcity on the delay in the release of the first-quarter import allocations. Of course, this has been denied by the NNPC. As the blame game continues, Nigerians continue to suffer severe hardship in the midst of plenty. Since it is a given that we officially import what we have and export what we don’t have, government should at least hearken to the advice of marketers: “We cannot hoard what we don’t have, government should avoid fire brigade approach to importation of petroleum products since we do not refine petrol in Nigeria.”