Nigerians woke up last week to witness another incident of long queues at petrol filling stations across the country, but particularly in major cities of Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Asaba.
The situation brought with it untold hardship on the citizens, triggering increase in the price of food commodities, transport fare and general cost of living. This comes shortly after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, told the nation the Federal government had paid the sum of N413billion outstanding claims to petroleum marketers. But the marketers refuted the statement. According to them, they were given cheques without cash backing.
As a result, marketers have fuel in their depots have refused to let the products be lifted by tankers. Several filing stations monitored by our correspondents had closed their gates for business, and those that were opened had long queues building up outside.
Many workers who could not get transportation to their places of work either stayed home, paid exorbitant transport fares or trekked long distances to their various places of work.
In all these, transportation cost has skyrocketed across the country and trekking had become vogue. Motorists and those who do their daily business with petrol complain of spending their fortunes to get the product. The scarcity of the essential product has become useful business for black marketers who hawk the product in the open space at prices, three hundred times higher than the actual pump price. For instance 10litres of fuel which pump price is N870 goes for N2, 500 in the black market; that is where it is seen at all. The effect of these on business and commerce are unimaginable.
It is a paradox that Nigeria, a country that produces the largest quantity of crude in the entire African region, cannot have enough to give her citizens, but rather depends on imported gasoline and diesel, subsidized by the government, to keep the lights on and cars running across the country.
Nigeria produces vast amounts of oil. But the country has few functioning refineries, leaving Nigeria dependent on imports to fill up gas tanks.
President Muhammadu Buhari has said his administration will get the four refineries back up and running. But while this is being awaited, petroleum marketers still drive hundreds of kilometers to find gasoline to sell to motorists.
Nigeria’s reliance on imported fuel leaves it vulnerable to supply disruptions, such as the one that happened last year when a dispute between fuel importers and the government led to a nationwide shortage of fuel.
Even the federal government’s subsidy program, which keeps the price at the pump stable, has long been seen as riddled with graft.
Despite various attempts to get the refineries work optimally, issues of maintenance and insecurity, have remained the bane of the sector. Suffice it to say that the refineries can only work when concerted efforts are made to run them as commercial enterprises, not as charity organizations.
And when made functional, the refineries should be deregulated and privatized as is the practice in other parts of the world. This should form President Buhari’s reform programme for the oil and gas sector.

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