How the Petroleum Industry Reinforces Blackout in Nigeria.
By Ikechukwu A. Ogu
The following are incontrovertible facts about the Nigerian electricity sector: there is either no or epileptic electricity supply in about 90% of Nigerian homes and offices which, thus, depend on generators and spend fortunes fuelling same; Nigerians pay through the nose for electricity never supplied; the problem is more of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN)'s penchant for denying Nigerians of electricity than the non-generation of adequate megawatts of electricity; Nigeria supplies reliable electricity to some neighbouring countries while her citizens have blackout; the touted recent improvement in electricity supply by PHCN is untrue; and the periodic hike in electricity tariff by the government is regardless of these ugly facts and the plight of Nigerians.
The foregoing ugly facts are acknowledged by all well-meaning Nigerians, including foreigners who either reside in or visit Nigeria. However, some Nigerians play the ostrich by making false claims about electricity supply in the country. They do this to either create the bogus impression among outsiders that Nigeria is "working" or be branded "patriotic". I refuse to live in such a fool's paradise. Let us face and present the facts as they are, as therein lies the first step to the solution.
Another group of Nigerians and their foreign allies, either knowingly or unwittingly, wish or work for the shameful, recurring state of affairs in our electricity sector and the attendant blackout to persist. Here, you find PHCN management and staff, generator sellers, government officials who pay lip service to the resolution of the electricity logjam, and the sham "private sector investors" whose interest in the power sector is only selfish and fraudulent.
Additionally, the despicable activities of the institutions and personae [in the downstream sector] of Nigeria's petroleum industry bring them under this second group. They include the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), filling stations, fuel tanker owners/drivers, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), National Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), importers of refined petroleum products, black marketers, etc.
Poor and unfortunate Nigerians, reeling under PHCN's incessant blackout or epileptic electricity supply, queue up daily at filling stations for petrol, diesel and kerosene to fuel their generators and lanterns, in order to have light in the night. Sadly, however, the regulators and operators in the petroleum industry are indifferent to their plight, and rub salt in their wounds.
I have observed four ways in which the petroleum industry reinforces darkness in Nigeria. First is the failure of the Ministry and its parastatals to ensure the steady supply of adequate gas to the gas turbines which are supposed to generate electricity at the power stations. This, vandalism and (until now) Niger Delta militancy are always blamed for the non-performance of the power stations, although vandalism does not seem to affect Nigeria's exportation of liquefied natural gas.
Second is the recurring artificial scarcity of petroleum products in Nigeria. This ugly incidence is caused by corrupt and greedy filling station owners, fuel tanker owners/drivers, PENGASSAN, NUPENG, importers of refined petroleum products, and officials of the Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC. Unfortunately, the NNPC mega/leased filling stations, supposedly established to "rescue" Nigerians from the malady of artificial fuel scarcity, are now part of the game. Related to the above is their failure to make cooking gas affordably available to Nigerians.
Except in the NNPC mega station at Wuse Zone 1, one hardly finds kerosene sold at any of the filling stations operated by NNPC, Agip, Texaco, Total, Mobil, Conoil and Oando within Abuja. For a commodity that is very essential to more than 90% of Nigerians, this failure cannot be justified. And it is amusing that NNPC filling stations which are prided as "mega" each have only a single pump to dispense kerosene! Yet, NNPC is the sole importer of kerosene in Nigeria!
Thirdly, officials of the Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC are guilty of dereliction of their duty to monitor and regulate filling stations. Even when they do so, it is rather perfunctory. Allegations are rife that they are easily compromised and turn a blind eye as greedy filling station proprietors rip poor Nigerians off through fraudulently adjusted meter readings and other underhand practices. Again, acting under the assumption that the NNPC mega/leased filling stations play by the rules, the said officials do not monitor them. Unfortunately, however, so much underhand practices go on there.
A visit to the NNPC mega station in Wuse Zone 1, Abuja reveals the inhuman treatment that is meted out to Nigerians by soldiers, mobile policemen and the station's personnel. Men and women who go there to buy kerosene are often flogged, beaten, dehumanized and even driven away. Many of them sleep there overnight to buy kerosene, only to be so heartlessly treated by the operators and security men. Yet, it is alleged that in the night vehicles with drums are driven in and filled to the brim with petroleum products.
The fourth way is the agonizing refusal by most filling stations, especially the ones owned by NNPC, Texaco, Total, Agip, Mobil, Oando and Conoil to dispense petrol and diesel in jericans and generators to Nigerians. They claim that there is a directive to that effect by NNPC and DPR, and that defaulters are heavily penalized. What an unjust and anti-people directive! It is lame to argue that it is meant to check black marketers, mindful that filling stations usually arrange with black marketers to come in the night to make their illicit purchases. How does one who comes to buy 10 litres of petrol/diesel become a black marketer? Why should a man who comes to a filling station with his generator or its tank be refused fuel/diesel?
Furthermore, some filling stations dispense petrol/diesel to persons with generators but refuse same for persons with jericans. Is it reasonable to expect every body to move his generator from the house/office to the filling station? How does one move heavy-duty generators to filling stations to buy petrol/diesel? For instance, how do I move my 12-litre generator to a filling station when my car's boot cannot take it? How does a poor Nigerian who owns a 4-litre generator ("I Pass My Neighbour") move it, say from Nyanya to Mpape, in order to buy fuel, mindful of the great inconvenience and cost? Often, Nigerians cover long distances in search of petroleum products, owing to their recurring artificial scarcity.
The result has been that the filling stations which sell fuel in jericans charge consumers extra money for doing so, depending on the size of the jerican. Should this be the case? Are NNPC, DPR officials and filling station proprietors unaware of the seemingly intractable electricity problem in Nigeria? Faced with this problem, how else will common Nigerians fuel their lanterns and generators to light their houses/offices if filling stations refuse to sell kerosene, petrol and diesel to them? What is wrong with us? Why do some Nigerians derive pleasure from making life difficult for their compatriots?
The Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC should urgently rescind the wicked directive against the sale by filling stations of petrol and diesel in jericans and generators. Again, the inhuman treatment meted out to Nigerians at NNPC mega/leased filling stations across the country should stop. The NNPC mega/leased filling stations should have adequate supply of all petroleum products (including kerosene) at all times, and provide more pumps to dispense kerosene to poor Nigerians.
The monitoring and regulation of filling stations should be taken seriously by the Ministry, DPR and NNPC, while close attention should be paid to the NNPC mega/leased filling stations. Routine visits should be made to filling stations at nighttimes and weekends, in order to check illicit sale of petroleum products to black marketers. Efforts must be doubled to ensure that all filling stations, at all times, have and dispense all petroleum products to all Nigerians at approved prices. Moreover, the Ministry and its parastatals should sit up and check policies and practices in the petroleum industry which are against the welfare of poor Nigerians.
Finally, I cautiously commend the recent NNPC/Capital Oil Kero-Direct initiative whereof kerosene is sold directly to consumers at N50 per litre. The scheme must not be a flash in the pan, but should be honestly sustained, intensified and spread to all nooks and crannies in Nigeria. It confirms the failure of NNPC and its mega/leased stations in this regard. Why has the NNPC – the sole importer of kerosene in Nigeria - which supplies adequate kerosene to Capital Oil for the Kero-Direct scheme been unable to do the same to its mega/leased filling stations?
Ikechukwu A. Ogu, a legal practitioner, writes from Central Business District, Abuja (firstname.lastname@example.org).