As Nigerians face a bleak Christmas characterised by fuels shortages, soaring transportation and food prices, and their inability to even travel to their country homes to spend the season with their loved ones, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday broke his silence on the crisis and expressed his regret over the harrowing situation. He also expressed sympathy with Nigerians.
Buhari in a statement that he personally signed and posted on his Twitter handle @MBuhari, said he sympathised with Nigerians on the “needless” queues they have had to contend with in recent times, adding that he had directed regulators in the oil and gas sector to increase their surveillance and end hoarding and price hikes by fuel marketers.
The president, who said he was being briefed regularly on the effort by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to ensure availability of fuel across the country, added that he had been assured by the NNPC that a significant improvement would be witnessed in the next few days.
According to him, the corporation had also disclosed that new shipments of fuel were being distributed nationwide, noting that the relevant agencies would continue to provide updates on the situation, even as he thanked Nigerians for their patience and understanding.
He said: “The fuel scarcity being experienced nationwide is regrettable. I sympathise with all Nigerians on having to endure needless fuel queues. I’m being regularly briefed, especially on NNPC’s interventions to ensure that there is enough petrol available during this period and beyond.
“I have the NNPC’s assurance that the situation will improve significantly over the next few days, as new shipments and supplies are distributed across the country.
“I have also directed the regulators to step up their surveillance and bring an end to hoarding and price inflation by marketers. Let me also assure that the relevant agencies will continue to provide updates on the situation. I thank you all for your patience and understanding.”
Xmas Travellers Stranded
But as the petrol shortages bit harder, passengers travelling for Christmas were stranded at the Mararaba bus park in Nasarawa State, among several others nationwide yesterday.
This was compounded by the few transporters who had fuel but cashed in on the development by increasing fares arbitrarily.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), many travellers were forced to cancel their trips and return home due to shortage of vehicles at the parks.
Ernest Obi, a businessman who was supposed to travel to Enugu State from Maraba, near the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, said he would not be able to embark on the journey.
He said had he spent four hours at the Mararaba park, but was unable to get a vehicle.
“I cannot imagine what people are going through. Our staying in this country is becoming unbearable.
“I came to the park as early as 7 a.m. and this is noon. I have not seen a vehicle to convey me to my village.
“You can see the crowd yourself. Why is it that this scarcity occurs around the Christmas season every year?”
Another intended traveller, Joy Andrew, said the Christmas period was a time and opportunity for most people to travel and meet loved ones and parents.
Ms. Andrew who was seen leaving the park, said she would try again last night.
“I think I will take a night bus after what I have experienced. May be it will be better,” she said.
She added that the situation had also caused a lot of exploitation of travellers by drivers and bus owners.
“This situation is making the drivers to exploit commuters as many of them have increased the price of transport fares.
“I used to pay N2,500 from this park in Mararaba to Benue. But today, the drivers are asking for between N4,500 and N5,000,” she said.
Another intended traveller, Jacinta Uche said: “The situation is so bad. I got here as early as 6 a.m. thinking that I will avoid the rush.
“But to my surprise, I met so many other passengers who said they got here before me. There are few cars at the park and those that are available, have doubled their fares.
“I will not be going back home. This year’s Christmas will be dull for me because I don’t think I will make it to the village,” she said.
Other than the lack of vehicles at the bus parks, the fuel crisis resulted in a traffic gridlock along the Abuja-Keffi expressway as commuters spent hours on the road; the same was replicated from Ore to Benin and several other expressways in the country.
NNPC: No Price Hike
Meanwhile, in the bid to throw more light on the efforts by government to end the fuel crisis, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru said yesterday that the president has ordered inland and border security agencies in Nigeria to improve their surveillance in order to checkmate the diversion of products to neighbouring countries and hoarding by marketers.
Baru who spoke at a briefing in Abuja, said this was the outcome of the meeting he had with Buhari on Saturday, during which they discussed the situation and its attendant pains on Nigerians.
The NNC boss said that he told the president that the situation has remained largely difficult to overcome despite the corporation’s efforts so far because of product diversion and hoarding by marketers.
He said based on this, Buhari issued a directive to the relevant security agencies in the country to checkmate the diversion of petrol, including tightening the movement of petrol tankers across the country’s borders.
He also said that on the back the presidential directives, the corporation was expecting the security agencies to complement its efforts to clear the situation within two days, especially with the 13 vessels containing up to 650 million litres of petrol at the ports that were being discharged for onward distribution across the country.
“It has become absolutely necessary for me to address this gathering and to show our concern and also sympathise with citizens for this uncomfortable situation experienced by citizens, especially in major cities of the country where Nigerians have to queue for hours with their vehicles to travel for Christmas and the New Year.
“What I can assure you is that Mr. President has already responded as part of the discussion we had yesterday. On his Twitter handle, Mr. President has indicated that part of our discussion was to get the regulatory and security agencies to beef up their surveillance and enforcement of distribution of products because part of my briefing to him was that there is still significant hoarding and diversion where trucks that are loaded to supply products to specific stations get diverted elsewhere and are smuggled out of the country.
“The immediate response of Mr. President was for him to direct the boarder agencies as well as the security and regulatory agencies to ensure that all trucks that are loading deliver to the stations they are meant to deliver,” Baru said.
He further stated: “Part of my briefing in the same light is the fact that a lot of stations outside the cities have products and they are selling at a much higher price than N145 per litre.
“If they had been directed to go to their correct locations and they delivered and sold at the control price of N145, then this should have been curtailed.”
He explained that based on the presidential directive, the corporation was confident of seeing out the situation within two days.
“With the drive and the load-out we are doing, if we get full compliance, we don’t see it going beyond the next two days.
“However, you know there is always a time-lag, but we will continue to put all the efforts to see that this does not go beyond the end of this week,” added Baru.
While buttressing his confidence in the corporation’s plan to address the situation, Baru stated: “As I am talking, NNPC has 13 vessels that are discharging products at the various ports.
“The 13 vessels will have about 650 million litres, so there are products. And we are also expecting three more vessels to come in before the end of the week.
“In terms of sufficiency, I can comfortably tell you that we have about 814 million litres of products that will be in the tank farms or distributed before the end of the month.”
On the capacity of the corporation to continue to shoulder the burden of being the sole importer of petrol in the country, considering the present supply gaps, Baru said: “NNPC is the supplier of last resort and will continue to carry that burden and that is why at the shortest possible time we deploy all the arsenal we have to satisfy the nation, but at the same time we want to see active private sector participation.”
He also talked about the cost of importing petrol into the country and the seeming pressure by marketers on the government to hike the price, in accordance with market forces.
Baru explained that as of Friday last week, the landing cost for a litre of petrol was N171.40, but the federal government has no plan of increasing the cost at the pumps.
Based on THISDAY’s calculations, with the addition of the N14.30 per litre distribution margin approved in the last pricing template for petrol by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), the current market price of petrol in the country should be N185.70, implying that the government is subsidising petrol consumption by as much as N40.70 per litre
In this regard, Baru said: “The landing cost comprising CIF (cost, insurance and freight) of petrol as of last Friday was in the neighborhood of $620 per metric tonne, so with the official exchange rate of N305 to the dollar, the landing cost should be N171.40 per litre.
“The government has consistently indicated that N145 per litre is the price and it has mandated the NNPC to keep the depot price at N133.28 per litre, so as to maintain a cap of N145 per liter.
“So, there is a lot of profit in between after taking the transportation cost of N7 off; there is sufficient margin for marketers in that PPPRA template at the price cap.
“The government is reassuring Nigerians that the price cap of N145 per litre, irrespective of the CIF landing cost is guaranteed, so marketers should play within that margin.
“We have been doing that, and last year, it was the same regime that we were selling to them and they were able to sell at low prices. But obviously, profiteering is setting in and I find it quite obnoxious at this time of the Christmas and New Year celebrations.”