Last week the Federal Government is reported to have agreed to pay outstanding subsidy claims to oil marketers, who import refined petroleum products into the country, even though a large amount of the debt is reported to have no basis in reality.
“They (government) agreed to pay the remaining balance last week. Nothing has come yet but maybe this or next week. It is N159bn,” the spokesperson for the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Yakubu Suleiman, told Reuters. Some marketers are even claiming that it is N200bn. Buhari don suffer.
The way some of these subsidy claims are made reminds one of the saying that “a beggar has no choice.” We Nigerians (and the Buhari administration) are the beggars that have no choice in this matter of subsidy payments if we want this country to move forward.
It is so sad that although Nigeria is one of Africa’s top producers of crude oil, it subsidises the importation of petrol and other fuels for its local market. The country must import most of the 40 million litres a day it consumes because we have allowed our refineries to rot.
Remember that an acute fuel shortage more or less crippled the country in April and May this year, as importers shut their spigots to press their case for subsidy payment, because they were worried that the then incoming government of Buhari would not honour the debt.
They knew that the man Buhari would not be too willing to pay them, considering the massive cases of fraud in the whole subsidy business. But things are getting critical and the doctrine of principle should temporarily give way to the doctrine of necessity. Buhari should pay these subsidy people the money they are asking for, not because they all earned it, but just to turn the page and move to other, more important things. Yes, this suggestion requires the former military strongman to swallow his pride and bow to the wishes of a group of people among who may be businesspeople that should actually have all their fraudulently acquired assets seized and forfeited to the state, but let him hold his peace for now.
I say this because as of now, with our refineries nothing to write home about, these marketers hold the key to our petrol supply. Last week, the country saw a return of long vehicle and human queues in filling stations and a hike in the price of Premium Motor Spirit in many stations, stoking up activity in the black market. The marketers say they have no more money to import petrol. If the Buhari administration doesn’t pay them soon, things may get worse.
The banks that hitherto used to loan these marketers money have categorically refused to lend them more. They said they want the marketers to clear the previous loans first.
Meanwhile, the Department of Petroleum Resources has accused the marketers of messing with the fuel supply market, thereby causing the fresh scarcity of petroleum products, especially petrol.
The regulator has also issued a fresh threat of withdrawal of the operating licences of marketers found to be engaged in sharp practices as the current petrol scarcity shows no sign of abating.
According to the thinking of the DPR if the marketers had played by the rules of the market, there would not have been fuel scarcity across the country. The marketers have not behaved according to the rules, and that is why even though they are benefiting from the Support Fund, many of them are selling petrol above the recommended retail price of N87 per litre.
But it the job of DPR, if they are serious to hunt down and punish the offending marketers, or are they waiting for Nigerians to administer citizen’s arrest on the marketers? They should do their job jare, even if it means employing mystery shoppers to help fish out the stations engaging in the abuse. But then, plentiful reports of such on social media without commensurate action from DPR leaves much to be desired.
So, the bottom-line is: President Buhari, you recently decided to bail out incompetent state governments who mismanaged billions of naira, only to come cap in hand to beg for money to pay their workers’ salaries. You could just have folded your arms and watched, but because you didn’t want to see the state workers and their families go through much more suffering, you intervened. In the same way, you need to act fast to give the generality of Nigerians rest from this fuel scarcity of a thing. It is not that the irresponsible debt being owed the subsidy people was accumulated under your watch. It is not that you cannot just fold your arms and wait for subsidy people to get tired and stop playing any games they may have up there sleeve. It is just that by the time you win such a battle of attrition, we Nigerians may have gotten whole new problems as a result of the prolonged scarcity.
So, please, pay the marketers, and then set trap for any of them that would want to continue fraudulent practices in the subsidy scheme under your watch. Catch that person and make them a scape goat. Like the Italians would say, Punish one person and teach a hundred.
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