...Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol, has attained cult status in Nigeria. As such, it is befuddling that the office responsible for its availability has remained relatively unperturbed by the product's continued scarcity nationwide.
Probably because this is Nigeria and it is a place where anything goes. Even when it is clear that he has lost grip of proceedings under his direct supervision, causing severe and avoidable hardship across the polity, the Minister’s body language is not reflective of his readiness to do the honourable thing.
He hasn’t resigned because stakeholders have not quite held him responsible for the current challenges being witnessed in the country’s petroleum industry, especially in relation the supply and availability of Nigeria’s most coveted product.
The Minister's tenure continues to run because his foot soldiers, personified in the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, have grown accustomed to taking most of the flak for the nation’s ailing downstream sector. Baru and Kachikwu's first-class brains have been constrained to the ignominious role of fuel supply management.
Unlike in 2012, when the opposition mustered thousands of Nigerians to occupy the streets to protest the removal of fuel subsidy by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Nigerians have become docile and unresponsive to issues deserving more urgency.
The Minister will not resign until Nigerians demand to know exactly how much is paid as subsidy for PMS and, get answers to why the expensive and corrupt regime is preferred to total deregulation that has been unanimously accepted as the first step in the solution to perennial fuel scarcity.
For an administration that rode to power on the promise of totally eliminating fuel subsidy, if the recent irksome revelation that subsidy is still being paid implicitly is not enough grounds to insist that the Minister of Petroleum resigns, then I wonder what will ever be.
Fuel marketers are in a worse situation now than they were in May 2015. When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015, the naira traded at NGN199 to a dollar at the inter-bank market. Today, it is NGN359 and at this rate, no marketer can buy and sell PMS at the official rate of NGN145 per litre. On the other hand, have the refineries started working? Against all advice to sell the refineries, the Petroleum Minister insisted on holding on to the ailing assets as national treasures. Two-and-half years after, what do we have? National treasures that giveno pleasure. None of the refineries operates at 60 percent capacity; and all, combined, only produce five percent of the country’s daily petrol need of 30 million litres according to NNPC projections, an increasingly contentious issue, which is a topic for another day.
“Personally, I would have chosen to sell the refineries, but President Buhari has instructed that they should be fixed,” Kachikwu said in 2015. “After they are fixed, if they still operate below 60 per cent, then we will know what to do,” he added. Three years later, none of the government refineries operates at near 50% of its capacity. In fact, in January 2018, Kaduna Refinery reported complete shutdown, citing lack of crude supply to the the facility. So, on the score of raising in-country refining capacity, there has been no progress. Why should't the Minister of Petroleum resign?
The inefficiencies of Nigeria’s Petroleum Minister will continue to haunt the nation and cost us hundreds of millions of dollars if right thinking people do not begin to question the rationality behind relegating such an intellectually gifted human resource like Kachikwu to an inconsequential position of Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. An office, which circumstances have proven, does not command the respect of a Chief Executive under his supervision.
Nigeria will remain saddled with an absentee and infective Minister of Petroleum as long as the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) and the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA) continue to play the ostrich, while trading blames for the scarcity of petroleum products around Nigeria.
At the weekend, IPMAN released a statement blaming DAPPMA for the lingering petrol scarcity in most parts of Nigeria, a claim that has been refuted by DAPPMA. Speaking to newsmen at the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC) depot in Suleja, the IPMAN Chairman, Alhaji Salihu Butu, said his members were paying higher for petroleum products. According to him, DAPPMA gets the product at N117 from the NNPC, the sole importer, and sells to marketers at N152 instead of the ex-depot price of N133.80.
Since December 2017, life in Nigeria has inched closer to the Hobbesian state of short, nasty and brutish as the shortage of PMS continues to breed a host of black marketers, illegal bunkering activities, smuggling and extortion by security agencies.
PMS occupies a special place in Nigeria’s socio-economic landscape as it is the most preferred petroleum product for powering vehicles, power generating equipment for homes and businesses among several other uses. In the days since December 2017, the economy has dipped further, more businesses have folded up, prices of essential goods are skyrocketing and families are, more than ever before, under the intense pressure of meeting economic demands.
With the benefit of hindsight, Mr. Minister of Petroleum didn’t quite understand the intricacies of the ministry he appointed himself to oversee. The issues that he encounters today are far more complex than those he was confronted with in the 1990's. The world has changed rapidly and it is not sure our man changed along with the times. The challenges we witness today indicate that much.