Nigerians across regions, yesterday, lamented scarcity of petrol and the attendant price hike.
Motorists and commuters have resorted to panicky measures to secure the product.
Uncertainties, intrigues and the face-off between Federal Government and labour unions may have created an avenue for some marketers of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) or petrol to return to smuggling or hoarding as Nigeria’s daily consumption witnessed over 25 million litre surge.
With petrol selling for an average of N400 per litre in neigbouring countries, there are indications marketers have returned to smuggling or hoarding products in anticipation of price increase, which would enable them make arbitrary gain.
That singular act has returned petrol queues and upsurge in the activities of black marketers across the country as well as over N62 billion monthly subsidy.
The current crisis followed a supposed exit from payment of subsidy, which was announced in March last year and the eventual deregulation of the downstream sector. Under the arrangement, the control of pump price is expected to be determined by market forces, especially crude oil price and exchange.
Labour unions, especially the Nigerian Labour Union and the Trade Union Congress, which couldn’t stand the speed at which the pump price was heading as crude oil price rebalances at the international market had held government by the throat after succeeding in reducing the price from N167 to N162 per litre.
The current crisis is despite assurance by the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr. Kennie Obateru,that the Corporation was not contemplating any raise in the price of petrol in March in order not to jeopardis e ongoing engagements with organised labour and other stakeholders on an acceptable framework that would not expose the ordinary Nigerian to any hardship.
He equally cautioned petroleum products marketers not to engage in arbitrary price increase or hoarding of petrol so as not to create artificial scarcity and unnecessary hardship for Nigerians.
The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), which has closed down a lot of their stations had told The Guardian that the queues may linger as there is already scarcity of petrol in most private depots while the ex-depot price, which was last week at N158 has gone up to N167.
Vice President of IPMAN, Abubakar Shettima said the marketers who paid for products at the depot could not even take delivery over the situation.
Professor of Petroleum Economics and Policy Research, Omowumi Iledare, insisted that prices of petroleum products at the pump must remain a commercial decision not a policy decisions.
“NNPC is a commercial institution with the public as its stakeholder. On the other hand, price deregulation or control is a public policy decision with implications for market efficiency and equity. So let there be public education on the inevitability for a sustainable Nigeria oil and gas sector,” Iledare said.
An energy expert with FOSTER, Micheal Faniran, linked the long queues to hoarding by marketers given the speculation on possible pump price increase as well as panic buying by consumers.
“With the declaration by NNPC, who happens to be the sole importer currently, I expect the queues to disappear in the coming days until when speculation arises again,” he noted.
Faniran disclosed that communication would manage the current issues, adding that since government announced recently that price would go up as the crude price rises, backpedaling that there won’t an increase creates speculation.
“These inconsistencies are the cause of what we are witnessing currently. We do not have an option but to deregulate the downstream sector once and for all. Delay is just postponing the evil day. The more we delay total deregulation, the more money the economy is losing to subsidy payments,” he noted.
Former President of Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) and a lecturer of economics at Babcock University Professor Segun Ajibola said there was need for the government to make local refineries work to meet local demand for refined products.