The lingering fuel scarcity which crept into major Nigerian cities since late February 2016 seems to have reached unbelievable and unbearable heights in April. Even the Minister of state for petroleum resources and group managing director of the NNPC, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu displayed his frustration and exasperation on the issue with his infamous retort that he did not receive training as a magician and thus could not resolve the fuel scandal before May 2016. He implied that only a magician could bring immediate relief to the millions of suffering Nigerians who daily throng filling stations to try and buy the precious commodity to power their vehicles and generators. The need to access fuel is further compounded by the near total collapse of public power supply from the distribution companies.

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Speaking to journalists at the presidential villa in March, Dr. Kachikwu had said he had no “magic wand” to make fuel available overnight. Insisting that the scarcity may persist for two more months as oil produced in the refineries would not be sold but kept in a “strategic reserve”. According to Kachikwu: “One of the training​s I did not receive is that of a magician, but I am working very hard to ensure some of these issues go away,” He noted the government was already ‘working magic’ to make limited quantity of fuel available in the country given the foreign exchange crisis concluding that “it is quite frankly, sheer magic that we even have the amount of product at the stations…We are looking to see how to get foreign exchange input.” Though the minister has since apologised for his ‘non-ministerial’ comments the point must not be lost on Nigerians that we should expect to continue this suffering (of fuel scarcity) until May.

This, to say the least, is very disappointing for a government that came into power with so much hope for Nigerians. The citizens did not expect that they would still be grappling with the most basic of problems such as adequate supply of fuel to keep the economy and social life moving seamlessly. Dr. Kachikwu has no excuse for failing in this regard at this time since he has been group managing director of the NNPC since August 2015. As a celebrated technocrat in the oil industry, he ought to have foreseen the present challenges and taken steps (even if it means causing the declaration of a national emergency) to forestall this problem. The challenge of FOREX started since the middle of last year and pipeline vandalism has been a recurring decimal in our recent history. So these problems did not just spring up. They have always been with us. The essence of being in government is to find creative solutions to problems and not to bemoan those problems daily to the citizenry. If it is beyond any official’s capacity to deliver, the honourable thing to do is to resign and give someone else an opportunity to provide answers.

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BRANDPOWER agrees with The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba who was recently quoted as saying that the recurring fuel scarcity in the country has affected workers’ productivity adversely nationwide. According to Wabba “The inability of the Federal Government to consistently handle the fuel scarcity has affected the economic development of the country”.

It is a national embarrassment that Nigerians have had to grapple with fuel scarcity for over 2 decades through successive governments. It beggars belief that after innumerable debates Nigeria still relies on imported petroleum products even as it remains the largest crude oil producer in Africa. Clearly any policy that does not encourage full local production of petroleum products including petrol, diesel, lubricants and so on will never resolve the problem.

President Muhammadu Buhari must therefore begin the process for full deregulation and complete abolition of subsidies in downstream petroleum sector while creating the enabling policies to encourage private sector participation in the building and operation of refineries. For one, Nigeria has all it takes to be self-sufficient and even be a net exporter of refined petroleum products while the subsidies are only being ferreted by marketers and their cohort in relevant government MDAs. Apart from a few cities including Lagos and Abuja fuel is hardly sold at the recommended pump price across Nigeria.  Until, these issues are addressed, the rent-seeking and corruption that has led to the present state of affairs will continue and expensive, ineffective stop-gap measures will continue to create mere palliatives for Nigerians that will be too little and too short.