Over the past three weeks, news reports and social media images have captured the torrid experience of Nigerians, beleaguered by the acute scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol. Official and unofficial reports have confirmed that the current petrol scarcity was as a result of the withdrawal from circulation of millions of litres of toxic PMS, allegedly imported into the country from Belgium, with the consequent disruption of the national supply chain.
Before the withdrawal of the batch of toxic fuel, which the regulatory agency, Nigeria Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), said contained an unusually high percentage of methanol, many Nigerians had already suffered untold damage to their vehicles, and possibly, to their health. The extraordinarily high methane level was more than the industry standard of less than 5%, as is obtainable in China, Russia, India, the United States of America, and most of Europe, and also above the standard prescribed by the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (NUPRC).
Initially when the news of this deleterious occurrence hit media outlets, there was a deafening silence from both the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) which is solely responsible for the importation of petrol via its Direct–Sales- Direct-Purchase (DSDP) scheme, and President Buhari, who doubles as the Minister of Petroleum. It took the persistence of the media and the strident outcry of the suffering general public for the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr Kolo Mele Kyari to belatedly lay bare the truth of the situation.
At his press conference, Mr Kyari indicted some fuel importers, namely Duke Oil, the trading arm of the NNPC, MRS, Oando, and a consortium comprising Emadeb/Hyde/AY Maikifi/Brittania, for bringing contaminated fuel into the country.
Curiously, and symptomatic of the perennial Nigerian tragedy of finger pointing, blame shifting and opaque accountability, one after the other, Duke Oil, MRS, Oando and the consortium Emadeb/ Hyde/ AY/Maikifi / Brittania distanced themselves from the saga during their appearance before the investigative panel of the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum Downstream.
Mr Kyari, at a similar appearance before the House of Representatives panel, expressed his regret to Nigerians, stating that “It is completely unavoidable; we didn’t see it coming”. Similarly the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr Timipre Sylva, in a statement through his media aide, Horatious Egwa, blamed the incident on “inspection failure”, reiterating the federal government’s regret, and sympathising with the citizenry “over the unforeseen hardship, occasioned by the inevitable scarcity”.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) hereby expresses deep displeasure and disappointment over the latest fuel imbroglio. It was completely avoidable, and represents an inexcusable example of gross dereliction of duty and official negligence. The apologies already offered are vacuous and insufficient, and the Federal Government, through its agencies – the NNPC and NMDPRA – should be held accountable for this unsavoury occurrence. The regulators, whose statutory responsibility it is to manage the fuel importation and distribution supply chain, simply failed to live up to the most basic expectations. It is quite befuddling that even if this blatant irresponsibility was not detected at the point of loading in Belgium, the vetting system put in place in Nigeria at taxpayers’ expense, should have discovered it.
Either through compromise, willful negligence, or sheer incompetence, the people entrusted to ensure adequate standards of imported petrol failed in their official duty and, in the process, imperilled our citizens. It is shameful that after being unable to revive the four refineries in the country, despite the humongous yearly Turn around Maintenance (TAM) budgets, the NNPC has continued to mismanage the oil sector with a persistent lack of transparency in its operations.
We hereby support calls for all those involved in the inspection chain that should have prevented the present embarrassing situation from happening be placed on suspension pending investigation.
Also a transparent, adequate and acceptable template must be designed to compensate those who have suffered material losses as a result of using the contaminated fuel.
Furthermore, Nigerians expect that the ongoing probe would be allowed to run its course, and its outcome made public. All officials found culpable should be made to face the full wrath of the law. Regulators who outsource their responsibilities and plunge the country into avoidable chaos need not be at their duty posts a day longer. All companies indicted should face punitive fines to ensure a strong deterrence to future misconduct.
Nigerians have had enough of poor leadership across political and economic strata, and the depressing scenes of citizens spending invaluable productive hours hunting for petrol should jolt any right thinking leadership into spontaneous action.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration must use the opportunity of the toxic fuel saga to correct the impression that his government is too weak to sanction erring officials who habitually display rankling impunity in the course of their duties. He does not need another public outcry after the next catastrophic event before wielding the big stick on behalf of his long-suffering citizens.