Nigerians have a bad habit of not identifying the source of their problems before they begin screaming bloody murder about who has to go down for it. We did with Yar’Adua, did it with Jonathan, now we’re on the same track with Buhari and fuel queues. Come on. The government has changed several times since the first time we ever experienced scarcity of petrol; do the bloody maths, there is only one common factor.
First, if we would take their word for it, the NNPC is working to the best of their ability to make sure this crisis at such a sensitive period is being put to bed but remember that NNPC itself imports and supplies normally. Under these kinds of crises, the best they can do is to try as best they can, to increase their output but the majority of petrol, diesel, etc. that is sold, is dealt through independent marketers: your uncles, aunties, fathers and mothers. Heck, even you.
Independent marketers have been clamouring since around the middle of the year when the price of crude began another round on its trajectory upwards. They claim and studies also show that the price of refined petroleum goes up with the price of crude oil (chart below) and the government as far as we know in this case, as a regulatory body (the DPR) that protects the citizens from being exploited, has acted to keep the pump price of petrol etc. at the price we know it be. There is a scarcity today not because Buhari doesn’t know what to do with handling petrol and what not as the “oil minister”; we can’t give him thumbs up on the economy but for whatever mismanagement he has wrought, this is probably unrelated and along with the groans of the public, the government is one of the victims in this case. We have a scarcity today because the oil marketers, fellow Nigerians like you and I, have held the country to ransom because they simply want to make more money (or perhaps protect their profit margins) and the government, fighting for the interests of the people, has decide to remain firm in its resolution not to give in to the demands of these people by authorising another round of increments to the pump price of petrol.
The above chart shows the close relationship between the pump price of petrol and the price of crude oil and quite obviously, the trend is conspicuous and this data was resourced from the US that has a refining capacity of almost 20 million barrels of crude daily. In other words, the periodic increments to pump prices are not unusual and perhaps, Nigeria is the only country that chooses to make such a big deal out of it. However, having presidential representatives come out to utter statements like “Buhari has managed the economy so well that Nigerians bought so many vehicles that it caused fuel scarcity”, or blaming winter hence, “it is usual”, or making statements that insinuate that the government is actively involved in this mess to reduce to vehicular traffic accidents, is just foolishness; an insulting type of amusing that does not help the situation at the slightest. I just wish someone would tell people like Lai Mohammed that at the end of their appointment, they would have to look their family and friends in the eye and demand respect from them. If you are wondering how the previous governments were able to live with this, the short answer is fuel subsidy but we have been told that the scheme was a cesspit for corruption and graft and how it is frankly impractical. This is most amusing because the most reasonable thing that the government could do now would be to reinstate the subsidy scheme at least temporarily until a worthwhile solution is instituted (I can think of at least a dirty trick the marketers wouldn’t like to go with it). Plus, come on, its Christmas.
Issues with petrol scarcity usually in vivid accuracy generalise a great many facets of the Nigerian condition from almost every side of the discourse. On one end you have the people, who are [perpetually] mad at the government over [ineffective governance] the scarcity of petrol. Then there are the independent marketers who are in contention [the unending struggle between the private sector and govt. regulation] with governmental regulation as this limits their ability to form cartels and set petrol prices in models that defy the laws of supply and demand for their personal profit. The government of “oil rich” Nigeria is left, stuttering in embarrassment to the international community why despite the country’s oil reserves, it is unable to independently meet its own local demand, while also trying to explain to a citizenry too frustrated to even begin to attempt any patience and maintaining a deadlock with independent petrol marketers who like every business entity, wants more profit. When everyone talks, no one listens.
Well, what is the way forward? Indeed, there is, there always is. The first and most reasonable is to be able to grow the capacities and the efficiencies of the local refineries. Second, screw the marketers entirely and let the NNPC solely import refined petrol, this way situations of scarcity are entirely between the government and the people. The third, as a sustainable short to medium term solution which involves reduced regulation as well as brutal competition within oil marketers, well, call or mail me and verify your identity – for the greater good, of course.
But this is a sad turnout of events. That the yuletides, for the third year running have been turned into a political canvas where the elephants that are the government and the oil marketers fight to the unimaginable suffering of the common folk. If spending Christmas fighting for petrol does not denote just how far forsaken God hath this land, then forsooth, my life knows no verisimilitude. For now however, have you noticed how mysteriously almost every station opens up as soon as a new price regime is announced? Your fight isn’t with Buhari anyway; he is trying to make sure you can get keep getting it cheap; it’s the oil marketers that should bear the brunt of your fury.