Sights and sounds of fuel scarcity.
In May 2015, during the last days of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, a major fuel scarcity rocked Nigerians. Banks and radio stations, particularly in Lagos, the commercial capital of the country couldn’t cope with the situation with some of them closing earlier than usual and transport fare soaring.
Fuel marketers held out for subsidy payment with many stopping imports, believing a new All Progressives Congress government would stop payments and possibly refuse to pay outstanding debts.
Many Nigerians couldn’t wait for the inauguration of a new government to solve the embarrassing fuel situation faced by one of the world’s largest producers of crude.
In December, seven months after his inauguration, President Muhammadu Buhari had an apology for Nigerians. Fuel scarcity had struck again with queues reappearing in October and lasting long enough to turn the Yuletide into a nightmare for many.
Black marketers ran the show, charging over N200 for a product meant to be sold at N87. Those who would not be exploited spent hours at fuel stations with some queuing through the night.
“The current fuel scarcity with long queues at petrol stations all over the country causing social dislocation is very unfortunate. Government profoundly apologises to Nigerians for this prolonged hardship and misery,” Buhari said days before Christmas.
“It (the scarcity) is as a result of market speculators and resistance to change by some stakeholders. Government is working very hard to end these shortages and bring fuel to the pumps all over the country.”
As was the case in May, the queues disappeared in January, temporary.
By March, an acute scarcity hit the nation hard and despite repeated assurances by government officials, it has refused to go away resulting in outrage, especially as the power situation in the country has worsened.
In Lagos, the commercial capital anguish and anger gave way to despair. As black marketers once again ran the show selling fuel at N300 and above per litre as the scarcity hit hard. Even filling stations sold way above the official price with many selling from N130 to N200.
As a result, parents in Lagos have demanded a new school resumption date and the University of Lagos was shut down following a protest by students over the issue, among others.
Comments by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, did not help matters.
The minister, who is also the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, had told journalists on March 22 after a meeting with the President at the State House that he could not make the fuel queues disappear by magic.
He also suggested that the fuel scarcity would last for two more months.
Kachikwu had said, “He said, “One of the trainings I did not receive is that of a magician but I am working very hard to ensure some of these issues go away.
“And let us be honest, for the five or six months we have been here, NNPC has moved from a 50 per cent importer of products to basically a 100 per cent importer and the 445 barrels that were allocated was to cover between 50 and 55 per cent importation.
“So it is quite frankly by sheer magic that we even have the amount of products at the stations.”
The comment sparked outrage with the Trade Union Congress asking the minister to resign instead of giving excuses.
A leader of the All Progressives Congress and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu also launched a scathing attack on Kachikwu as a result of the comment, which some say worsened the fuel scarcity by encouraging people to hoard the product.
The minister has since apologised and set a new deadline for fuel queues to disappear. That deadline, April 7 has come and gone with the fuel scarcity persisting to the chagrin of Nigerians.
While the fuel queues are easing, they have remained a feature of cities across the country, causing gridlock and serving as reminders of the anguish faced by Nigerians and the need for a lasting solution to the embarrassing fuel problem of the country.