As is often the case in the approach to the Christmas and New Year celebrations, fuel queues are building up in many filling stations in Abuja and some other cities in the country. The situation became worse last Monday as oil workers under the aegis of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) began a warning strike to protest the failure of the government to abide by the terms of certain agreements signed with them.
Other grouses of the oil workers include the delay in the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law and the very poor access roads to the refineries that have become a threat to petroleum products distribution in the country. They are angry about the failure of the government to repair the refineries, address oil theft and pipeline vandalism and reduce the price of petrol in line with the slump in global prices of crude oil. They are also insisting on a prompt resolution of some labour issues concerning a major oil exploration company.
The warning strike has raised fears that the forthcoming Christmas and New Year celebrations may witness scarcity of petrol. Worse still, it has brought black marketers back into operation in some parts of the country, thereby hiking the price of petrol by between 50 and 70 percent in some states.
This situation should be addressed immediately to avert a major energy crisis. This is more so as there are allegations that there are backlogs of payments owed major oil marketing companies amounting to N180 billion which could lead to disruption of supplies, as well as delays in clearing of vessels at the Lagos jetty.
In the midst of all these, oil marketers and government agencies such the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC) have been trading blames over the present fuel scarcity. This buck-passing is unhelpful. Let the relevant authorities address the grouses of the oil workers. It is not enough to reassure the people that the nation has huge fuel stocks that could last for over a month. Whatever problems are responsible for the current hitches in fuel supply should be resolved immediately.
The current situation would not have been if the agitations of the oil workers and other problematic issues had been promptly attended to. One of the ways to avert the looming fuel scarcity is for the relevant government agencies and the oil marketers to find a common ground. Anything less will likely lead to panic buying. Such unpleasant situation will not be good at this yuletide season.
Besides, this is the time to revisit the revamping of the refineries in Kaduna, Delta and Rivers State to ensure seamless production and supply of petrol. At the moment, these four refineries with a combined capacity of 445,000 barrels per day are operating far below their optimum capacity. They are all in different states of disrepair, which has led to the emergence of a cartel of fuel importers which depends heavily on subsidy, costing the nation about N1.3 trillion every year. With falling oil prices, government’s earnings have dropped substantially, thereby making the huge subsidy expenditure unsustainable.
Even though we heartily welcome President Jonathan Goodluck Jonathan’s approval of the establishment of modular refineries with combined capacity of 180,000 bpd to ease local supply of petroleum products, the inability to turn around the existing refineries remains a major drawback in the management of the downstream oil sector. If government fails to revamp the existing refineries, there will be no firm assurance that the modular refineries will not go the way of the existing ones, notwithstanding the fact that modular refineries do not require sophisticated technology.
It is also disturbing that twelve years after government granted licences to private investors to build 18 refineries across the states, none of them has come on stream probably on account of the strict regulation of oil prices in the country.
We decry the timing of the latest round of agitation by oil workers. It is condemnable that Nigerians always have cause to worry about fuel supply and prices during year end festivities, virtually every year. Over all, it has become imperative that proactive measures are taken to avert a fuel crisis. This is the time to address all the issues responsible for the current hitches in petroleum supply across the country.