The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) stirred up needless controversy recently when it alleged that the persisting fuel shortage in Abuja and its environs was occasioned by commercial drivers engaging in illicit black market trade in petroleum products. The directorate’s Zonal Head of Operations in Abuja, Muinat Bello-Zagi, told reporters recently that taxi drivers and motorcyclists eager to make easy money siphoned fuel to black marketers who in turn sold it on the streets. The allegation was promptly refuted by the chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Taxi Drivers Unit, Abuja, Lawrence Fadipe, who said that taxi drivers were too busy plying their trade to get themselves engaged in the backhanded retail of fuel. Argued Fadipe: “The issue of black market operation starts and ends with the fuel attendants and marketers at different filling stations and the black marketers.” In other words, DPR’s charge regarding the culpability of commercial drivers appears to be on shaky ground.
In general, a multitude of reasons have been adduced at different times by different spokespersons for the on-and-off shortage of fuel, especially in the Federal Capital Territory and neighbouring cities. Some of these include panic buying, sabotage, hoarding, pipeline vandalism and delays in the processing of subsidy payment to marketers. For example, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said recently that the lingering fuel scarcity was a result of the disruptions in the pipeline network leading to its depots. This implies that not much store can be set by the recent statement credited to the DPR regarding the role of commercial drivers in causing fuel shortage.
At any rate, since the commercial drivers do not primarily dispense fuel, it appears illogical to attribute hiccups in the fuel distribution chain to them. This much was underlined by the transport workers who argued that: “The fuel attendants and marketers always connive to sell fuel to black marketers at odd hours instead of dispensing to motorists who wait endlessly to get the product.” It will appear, therefore, that the DPR’s contention is a case of blaming the victim or alternatively passing the buck as a way of sidetracking its responsibility.
Even if a few commercial drivers engage in vending petrol to black marketers, the underhanded transaction would be an effect, rather than a cause of fuel shortage. For if fuel was available at petrol stations, why would anyone sell to or buy from a black market dealer? The point being made, therefore, is that it is diversionary for the DPR to have fingered commercial drivers as the source of a problem which it was assigned to solve.
It is a tragedy that a nation so magnificently endowed like Nigeria cannot get its acts together by streamlining the distribution and recycling of products. Needless to say that many hours that could have been channelled to productive ventures are frittered away by citizens waiting endlessly at commotion-filled petroleum queues in search of fuel. It is indeed a gripping paradox that while many countries, including Nigeria’s smaller neighbours which do not have oil do not experience these shortages, Nigeria continues to subject its citizens to needless headaches.
Frequently, the onset of fuel queues is interpreted to be the omen that a mark-up in the price of fuel is on the way, triggering fresh rounds of panic buying and hoarding of fuel, all of which compound the situation. Matters are not helped by the fact that, now and then, government officials make statements canvassing the advantages of ‘full deregulation’ of the petroleum sector, an ominous codeword for another round of increase in the price of fuel. It might indeed be pertinent to investigate whether these official statements, which amount to scare tactics or kite-flying, do not have a bearing on the attitude and behaviour of marketers, petroleum dealers as well as consumers. That is another way of saying that the recurrent shortages of fuel are related to the larger colossal failure of the nation’s policy and political elite to get their petroleum arithmetic right, thus inflicting hardship on the citizens.
Interestingly, the same reasons that have been given for the removal of the so-called subsidies on petroleum products are also frequently given as the causes of fuel shortages. This leads to scepticism, if not cynicism on the part of consumers who are long used to these much recycled reasons and alibis for failure.
The current illogical blaming by the DPR of commercial motorcyclists and drivers for the persisting fuel shortage is one of the many untenable and unconvincing reasons given by government agencies for the many breakdowns in the fuel supply chain. Government should rise above these blame games and address squarely, its responsibilities to the hard pressed citizens of the country.