Since agriculture was advertently or inadvertently sidelined by successive Nigerian governments, most especially when the commercial production of crude oil started in the 1950s, the petroleum sector has been the mainstay of the nation’s economy till today.
In spite of the claims of diversification of the economy by various governments at one time or the other, crude oil remains the main generator of the country’s revenue.
Regrettably, this all-important sector has been dominated and hijacked by some inglorious cabals who have been feeding large on the weak institutional regulation from time immemorial.
From available information, successive governments have tried to checkmate the nefarious activities of these cabals but it appears each time the government tries, they always map out new strategies to beat the government. In summary, they are always ahead of the government.
The cabals in the downstream sub-sector could be likened to the proverbial cat with nine lives. The sub-sector has always been in coma even though government continually strives to “inject life into a sector that is being dragged back”, an independent marketer, who pleaded anonymity for fear of being attacked, confided in me in the course of gathering information for this piece.
He said: “the efforts of the current government of President Muhammadu Buhari must be applauded but there is an urgent need to intimate the government on the new way the cabals are thwarting and frustrating the genuine efforts of government in restoring sanity to the hitherto derelict downstream sector that is notoriously known for its corruption, and less popular for playing its expected role of making quality petroleum products available to all Nigerians.”
Still, he asserted: “although, whenever there is fuel scarcity in Nigeria, members of the public tend to blame the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN). It is true that we control about 85 percent of petroleum outlets across the country; it is always our desire to make petroleum products available because that is the only time we make profit. We do not make profit when the products are not available.”
He said that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), in collaboration with cabals in the industry always seeks to create artificial scarcity because “the more the product is scarce, the more the kickback accruable to them.”
Another independent oil marketer, who has been a key player in the downstream sector for decades, said that inasmuch as members of IPMAN are ready to cooperate and support the anti-corruption efforts of the Federal Government, the government should not be oblivious of certain realities in the sector.
He decried the spate of corruption in the sector and predicted the scarcity of petroleum products by December this year, if government does not take adequate measures on time. According to him, “we have to be fair to the government of President Buhari; he has brought relative sanity to the sector. However, the government needs to know that there are some ‘big boys’ in the sector that are still working tirelessly to sabotage the efforts of the government.”
Continuing, he said: “sometime in March, 2016, the NNPC unilaterally, and for unfathomable reasons, abruptly withdrew the status of some independent oil marketers through an internal circular but, however, reserved the status for only major marketers and few independent credit oil marketers.”
Based on my findings, in the past, the government used to provide credit facilities to independent petroleum marketers with stringent conditions, but the NNPC, through its internal memorandum, has abolished these arrangements and replaced it with a draconian arrangement which favours only the few but powerful oil cabals.
The independent marketer said the decision by the management of NNPC was such that the major marketers and the other few independent marketers, who are beneficiaries of the new draconian policy of the NNPC, are given monopolistic right over petroleum products marketing in the country,
saying “the cabals are re-strategising, in flagrant connivance with some bad eggs in the NNPC.”
“There is imminent scarcity of petroleum products. Christmas is around the corner and the cabals are working hard to create artificial scarcity in order to give this government a bad name. The sufferings and the pains of the masses are their gains. The cabals in the downstream sector are used to free lunch and the day subsidy was removed was the day this free lunch was taken away from them.”
“Ironically, the NNPC claims that it wants to open-up the market but this market is only open to a few cabals. How can the NNPC open up the market by according credit right to a few major marketers? I have over 40 distribution outlets across the country and about 1000 Nigerians make their livelihood from my chain of distribution. For over 20 years, we have never defaulted our credit status. One of my distribution outlets in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, requires a full tank on a daily basis to service our customers. A tank is over 30,000 litres. In all, we require seven tanks to meet up with the weekly demands of our customers. And for weeks, we have not had supply and this is what the cabals really want. They want queues to return to our filling station”, the independent marketer said.
“For weeks, my distribution outlets that service thousands of Nigerians have not had petroleum products. The era of scarcity is gradually returning. Christmas season is fast approaching. The government must act fast,” another independent marketer warned, in a phone exchange with me.
“Although the NNPC claims that it has withdrawn credit sales to all oil marketers across the country, there are strong indications that the corporation has hand-picked major marketers and few independent oil marketers and accorded them the right to access credits from the government. By according credit right to a few oil marketers, the NNPC is perpetrating the monopoly it claims to have curtailed,” he said resignedly.
Considering the fundamental roles fuel plays in the lives of Nigerians, it is imperative the Buhari-led administration takes a decisive stance against the ‘big boys’ in the oil industry who are already planning to create another artificial scarcity this yuletide with the satanic aim of hiking the price of the all-important commodity. If there is a fuel price hike this yuletide, coupled with the biting recession, no one can foresee what the end will be. To be forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
Dayo Williams, a public affairs analyst and writer, lives in Abuja.