Just as petrol imports surged by 9.24 percent in first quarter 2020 year-on-year, a damning new report has deplored the substandard quality of fuel being imported and sold to consumers in Nigeria. In the exposé, the Stakeholder Democracy Network, a London-based resource watchdog, noted that the fuel imported into Nigeria is dirty. That disturbs greatly. It bears reiterating that amid an ocean of crude oil resources, Nigerians are paying dearly to buy diseases and death from abroad for the simple reason that their country is deficient in refining, an adaptable technology that less endowed countries have sustained with great success.
Following a similar report by Public Eye, an NGO, in September 2016, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Ivory Coast agreed to introduce strict standards to ensure cleaner, low sulphur diesel fuels and vehicle emissions standards, effectively cutting off Europe’s West Africa market for its dirty fuels. The then Environment Minister, Amina Mohammed, said: “For 20 years Nigeria has not been able to address the vehicle pollution crisis due to the poor fuels we have been importing. Today, we are taking a huge leap forward — limiting sulphur in fuels from 3,000 parts per million to 50 parts per million, this will result in major air quality benefits in our cities and will allow us to set modern vehicle standards.” That turned out to be wishful thinking.
For decades, Nigeria has been importing fuel to augment its domestic consumption needs because its four refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt (two) and Kaduna are moribund. The public oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, receives a daily allocation of 445,000 barrels to refine for domestic consumption, but unfortunately, its refineries are hardly function. Therefore, Nigeria imported 20.89 billion litres of petrol in 2019, a six-year high after the 20.14 billion litres in 2018 and the four-year low of 17.3 billion litres in 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics said. For diesel – the other killer fuel mentioned in the SDN survey – Nigeria imported 5.15 billion litres, as well as 128.11 million litres of kerosene. In Q1 2019, petrol imports cost N289.46 billion, but by Q2, the figure jumped astronomically to N837.67 billion. In 2012, a major scandal engulfed the country after a parliamentary inquest discovered that the government coughed up N2.53 trillion on the petrol subsidy bazaar in 2011. This is in a country adjudged as Africa’s largest crude oil exporter.
Despite these huge outlays, Nigeria is not getting value for its money, but rather, suffers collateral damage by importing killer petroleum products.
Samples taken by researchers from selected government-licensed petrol filling stations in Lagos and Port Harcourt surprisingly exceeded European Union pollution limits by up to 204 times, and by 43 times the level for gasoline. The report stated that since these extremely dangerous products have been banned in the EU, they are specially produced for the weakly-regulated African market.
Scandalously, the SDN report (funded partly by the UK Foreign Office’s anti-corruption conflict, stability and security fund), said the artisanal “bush” refineries in the Niger Delta produced higher quality fuels than the imported ones traced to Europe.
It is argued that for the prevention of adulteration, monitoring of fuel quality at the distribution point, therefore, is highly essential. The damage these fuels cause is colossal. Before the SDN survey, Nigeria’s pollution indices had already reached a crisis level. The report said the levels of particulate matter in Port Harcourt and Lagos are 20 percent worse than in Delhi, India, labelled as the most polluted capital city in the world.
Earlier in 2016, the World Health Organisation said Onitsha, Anambra State, was the world’s most polluted city, with the concentration of soot particles recorded at 594 micrograms per cubic metre in comparison with the WHO safe limit of 66. The pollution is unforgiving on humans: the researchers cited mounting evidence of rising asthma, lung, heart and respiratory diseases because of the noxious products. With Aba, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Lagos and Kaduna the hardest hit, the report says that Nigeria ranks fourth in the world for deaths caused by air pollution, estimating that 114,000 people die prematurely from air pollution each year in the country. Apart from endangering human health, these lethal products cause profound damage to vehicles on the gridlocked city roads. Generators, which many people and firms use because of poor electricity supply, are not spared. Bad fuel degrades engine performance, too.
In all this, the response from the authorities has been anything but responsible since then. In spite of the lethal nature of the products, the Department of Petroleum Resources only issued a terse statement, arguing, “All products coming into the country are tested” before approval for consumption. That sounds far-fetched because a United Nations Environment Programme initiative identified Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Benin and Ivory Coast as the destinations for these unwholesome products. Unlike Nigeria, the SDN researchers said that Ghana has acted, reducing sulphur from 3,000 to 50 parts per million in the petrol in use there. Nigeria should follow suit swiftly by setting its own targets.
It will be dangerous for the Federal Government to dismiss the SDN report casually. To restore sanity into the system, the NNPC and the DPR have a major role to play. In conjunction with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, the NNPC, the sole importer of petrol in the past couple of years and its subsidiaries should adopt innovative technologies on the quality of the imported fuels. The NNPC should not limit itself to a few countries; after all, there is a wide market out there that exports good quality products. Undoubtedly, Nigeria should implement a mandatory sulphur standard, just as Ghana has done.
The more used vehicles enter the country, the more difficult it becomes to achieve reduction in emissions. Therefore, the Ministry of Transportation should establish a framework for the year of manufacture for used vehicles eligible to enter the Nigerian market. To achieve the reduction in emission targets, a European Union (Regulation (EC) 443/2009) set a January 2020 mandatory target of 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre, which it has already achieved, according to EU regulators.
It is not ideal for the DPR to be a judge in its own cause. Ultimately, the Federal Government should instil confidence in the Nigerian market by commissioning reputable independent evaluators, who will scientifically investigate the fuels being imported into Nigeria. The outcome of such panels will determine the true quality of these fuels.