Unsustainable Supply of Premium Motor Spirit/

As Nigerians lined up, yet again, to miles-long queue for premium motor spirit (PMS), my mind loomed to incredible thoughts of Nigeria ever able to sustain the supply of this key commodities. Many people I talked to, even ardent sympathizers of the new government, believed that the prolonged shortage of this key commodity was making it difficult to defend the regime, but it had not put a dent in their affection to the present administration. Many Nigerians and I, know that this government is not responsible for the fuel crisis; it is clearly a situation of corruption fighting back against a government that has the courage to face corruption heads on. One thing, however, was different this time around - the visible orderliness of motorists queuing up for their turn to buy PMS, popularly known as petrol. In most places, the queues were long and stretched out miles unending, but not chaotic as they were on previous occasions during the other past administrations. The petrol lines were longer than ever before, because this time they were in a single file. As somebody put it, this could be part of the change they voted for; the body language of those in power had started to sip on our consciousness even in the face of extreme hardship.The reasons put out by those in the business for this shortage vary, but there must be a way for a permanent solution. It appears we are not doing the right thing. The arguments have been about deregulation or not, and no side seemed to be winning the debate, but one thing was clear - everybody was suffering and it was impacting on the Nigerian economy.

The theme today, however, is not about the adequate supply of PMS to meet our aspirations, but rather how to wean the populace away from the use of petrol; the supply of which is now evidently unsustainable in reality. The basic needs of mankind have advanced beyond the civics knowledge of food, clothing and shelter. Man now wants in addition, freedom in mobility, wireless communications, electricity to power business and provide comfort at work and at home, and etc. The automobiles have given mankind the greatest freedom of mobility; the smartphones have taken man to space even as his feet are planted here on earth, and electricity has provided ease of doing business as well as powering the comfort at home. A situation where the life of every citizen within an economy depends on a commodity like petrol, alone, to power all of the above is unsustainable. I lived in the UK for about 10 years and witnessed the impact of no-petrol on the ordinary people's life there, I suppose it is the same with other advanced economies apart from maybe the United States of America. In the USA, there is hardly a mass transit system; the citizens, however, do not have to generate their own electricity. In the UK, there is a high component of tax on the price of petrol. This means the ordinary citizen within the economy is taxed out, shielded or even discouraged from the use of petrol; he rides on diesel driven buses, or on diesel/electric driven trains, and does not have to generate his own electrical power also. Even in remote settlements, one does not have to generate electricity using petrol, maybe diesel which is about 40% more efficient than petrol driven devises.

Over 100,000 petrol-driven minibuses (danfo) move commuters in Lagos as a crude form of mass transit, consuming petrol inefficiently, and making the supply of PMS unsustainable. This is the story across the country, and it is compounded by the very many petrol driven okadas, keke NAAPE, and of course millions of "how to kill a wife petrol driven generators". All in all, we are not efficient in the use of energy. Ideally, ordinary Nigerians should not have a whiff of petrol or come in contact directly with PMS. Electricity for everybody's use ought to be generated at remote generating stations and transmitted to the cities, towns and villages for economies of scale. Mass transits, ideally, ought to be by most people riding on diesel driven buses, and electric or diesel driven trains. The argument before the removal of subsidy in 2012 was that the consumption of PMS in Nigeria was made worse by the rich and their spoilt children in Lagos. I think that panel was ill informed. The rich in Lagos and everywhere else in Nigeria drive their cars over a short distance and park them for most part of the day; for example, they mostly live in Ikoyi and work on Victoria Island - a distance of less than 4 kilometers - with a return short distance back home after work. Whereas the minibuses commuting passengers on the streets of Lagos are on the road throughout the day commuting ordinary people for what to do throughout the day. They are the ones consuming PMS in huge volume. On a scale, this is an inefficient way of use of energy. Now it is easier to calculate, than all the yardsticks of economics' jargon the cost of this madness on our collective wealth - a subsidy or no subsidy.

Whilst it is chic to set up car assembly plants, it will always remain elitist and a wrong option now at this stage in our development. Firstly, modern car-designs and technology change so rapidly we will hardly match such developments for now, but investments in trucks, buses and vans manufacturing are apt as they hardly change that fast. With ancillary industries to support the trucks and bus plants, we would grow the automobile industry from the bottom up and create massive jobs and automobile expertise. Since these vehicles are mostly diesel driven, we would be reducing our dependency on the PMS. As mass transit migrates away from petrol-driven to either diesel or electricity, and electricity generation no longer on petrol powered, there will be a substantive reduction in demand for PMS. If and when PMS becomes classified as commodities only for the affluent, only then can the government put a heavy tax on petrol for equity. As I said earlier, the automobile has unleashed freedom in mobility for mankind, and nothing beats the freedom of a motor car. My arguments above could then be interpreted as curtailing that freedom, and such attack may not be 100% misplaced. Firstly, we cannot sustain the lifestyle of everybody behind the wheels, burning away, inefficiently, our collective wealth. Do not forget that the wealth of every nation is the sum total of everybody in that nation. Should that be wasted, as we observed by the huge sum spent on subsidy with little value added to our national wealth, we would end as a nation with no vision. 

Nigeria, arguably, has the highest ratio per persons for the use of PMS to meet basic energy needs against other forms of energy sources in the world. The general thinking in Nigeria has always been to build more refineries to meet these needs, which on its own is a brilliant idea. If we succeed in these endeavors, we will be positioned to supply most of Africa with their refined petroleum products requirements. However, our long time goal should be to reduce our dependency on PMS, notwithstanding our abundant reserves of oil. As stated earlier, ordinary Nigerians should be shielded from the regular use of petrol, either by pricing us out with deregulation and, or with high tax components on the retail price of petrol. This will discourage most of us from the exuberance in the consumption of petrol, but palliatives must be put in place as alternatives. The good news is that the strangulation in the supply of PMS has started easing. Our memories are usually very short and most of us will soon forget or conveniently forget what we just went through. Nonetheless, a long time solution is what should be on the drawing board. My suggestion is to immediately migrate all our mass transit vehicles to diesel power. Our preference should be to approach prospective investors to set up bus and truck assembly plants with their ancillary businesses, instead of luxury vehicles; they may, however, need to be protected by a business protection policy. We could freeze their exchange rate at the time of initial investment for the first 10 years as guarantee security of their invested funds.

Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick,