Scandalous statistics – The Nation

  • Dangote refinery, for now, remains the only hope in an era of waste

It was yet again time for the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to reel out Nigeria’s perennial but scandalous fuel-import statistics: Last year, the country spent N1.713 trillion on importation of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol).

PMS import, according to the NBS report, accounted for 66.9 per cent of the total of N2.56 trillion spent on fuels and lubricants just as fuel import alone took a 10.1 per cent chunk of Nigeria’s total import during the same period.

By way of comparison, the figure represents a 42 percent decline compared with the N2.95 trillion spent in the preceding year; 10.1 per cent of the total import for the year 2019 as against 22.4 per cent for the preceding year.

That trend, though positive, offers at best, cold comfort. In fact, the sharp decline between the 2018 and 2019 fuel import figures would ordinarily be expected.

On August 20, last year, the Federal Government had shut the country’s borders and with it a clampdown on the rampant illicit trans-border trade in Nigeria’s subsidised fuel that was one of its hallmarks.

One net result of that is the massive cutback on not just the amount of fuel imported for our domestic needs but also massive savings in the foreign exchange deployed for the trade.

For the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) sixth leading oil producer, the real scandal is however deeper than the figures released by the NBS would suggest. It starts with the whopping N2.56 trillion spent on fuels and lubricants – crude oil derivatives – that could have been saved were the country to have a fledgling petrochemical and refining complex.

Moreover, with N3.73 trillion as its own share of oil revenues for the fiscal year, the amount sums up to an equivalent of 45.9 per cent of that; it is some 80 percent of the Federal Government’s capital budget –all of that spent on petrol import alone.

And this says nothing of that year’s massive N1.8 trillion deficit which had to be financed by new borrowings, and the equally massive amounts spent annually on fuel subsidy, and, the open-ended access to our foreign reserves just to keep the fuel flowing at the pumps.

An element of that is what is now the tacit acceptance of the embarrassing statistics as norm; a situation which policy makers now inured to them, have little or no incentives to take action, as a result of which the country is left to rue the incalculable costs of the road not taken.

The other tragedy is that there is no immediate end in sight to this scandalous journey. If we imagined that the country had a good start in June 2002 when the Obasanjo administration granted licences to 18 private firms to construct and operate refineries, that would turn into a false one with none showing up to turn the sod some decades later. The same with efforts by successive administrations to breathe life into the four existing refineries via the Turn Around Maintenance (TAMs).

These were thwarted by vested interests and also by corrupt elements who saw the TAMs as something of a gravy and the fuel importation regime as the quickest access to stupendous wealth.

Even the much-touted Greenfield Refineries long planned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for Lagos, Bayelsa and Kogi states appear to have gone with the wind.

Now, the only silver lining is the scheduled coming of Dangote Refineries with its proposed 650,000 barrels crude refining capacity.

The refinery, whenever it does come on stream, will, hopefully, terminate the import dependency; more than that, it would save the country the embarrassing cycle under which crude is traded for imported fuel.

Sadly, that remains the nation’s only hope, for now.

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