Is this fuel scarcity a goodbye gift?

For the past few weeks a familiar sight has become as prevalent as the morning sun in our filling stations in this country. The sight I’m talking about? Empty filling stations, as in filling stations without even a single idleattendant in sight, as in nadda, zilch.

Before, we used to have attendants that will patiently allow you to drive in, pretending that they are selling fuel, only to announce in a gruff but gloating  voice, “no fuel” when you attempt to open your fuel tank. Now, even these intriguing attendants are nowhere to be found and their filling stations are empty and locked up like the vaults of a Swiss bank.

Now that’s scary. At this rate, very soon we may not find petrolto power our generators. So, how we go take charge phone?

Last Sunday it was a fruitless battle for me to get petrol to fuel my car to work on Monday. I trekked from the back gate of the estate I live in hoping to buy some car food and before Icould say ‘nawa o’, I found myself in the front gate of my estate; the distance I trekked inthis ‘healthy exercise’ was not unlike the distance between Under-bridge Ikeja and Guinness Bus-stop.

I heard one of my fellow sojourners in search of the scarce commodity remark that this fuel scarcity was a farewell gift from the outgoing government. When the people begin to see the government as capable of revenge against the body polity then something is definitely wrong.

Looking at such persons like outgoing President Jonathan and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, NgoziOkonjoIweala, I don’t think they are capable of such a sinister and cynical thing. Really. But with the way the issue of fuel scarcity has been approached in the past few years, you cannot blame some of our people who reason otherwise.  The onus is on them to prove these people wrong.

But how did we get here? What happened to our 4 government-owned refineries? What has happened to the several approved private refineries that filled us with hope several years ago? And yes, what has been happening to the hundreds of unapproved but – dare I say so – entrepreneurial mini-refineries in the creeks of the Niger Delta that are closed down by government officials frequently?

If one or all of these categories of refineries were given ample encouragement by government to function and flourish we wouldn’t be having the issues we are facing today, where fuel is scarcer than bottles of ngene drink in a country that counts itself as one of the 10 largest exporters of fuel in the world. Shior!

The sad truth which we all know is that our 4 government-owned refineries have been left to rot by government, aided by some of the people who are making a killing importing fuel for us at grossly inflated prices.

As for the government approved private refineries, government should give them more incentives so that they would be able to grow and provide us with ready fuel.

And as for the unapproved refineries, regulations should be loosened so that a large number of them would be able to get operating licences to operate openly as mini-refineries. I know we all know these solutions, but let them be repeated one more time in case someone who can do something about it sees it and decides to take action.

Need I remind us of the massive amount of otherwise productive time wasted by Nigerians queuing up for hours in filling stations in a bid to get petrol. The stress of it all could even induce some stress-oriented disease and maybe that contributes significantly to the low life expectancy Nigerians have been attributed with. Socially and economically, this issue is very serious.

And now we are told it may not end after the baton of power is handed over by the outgoing administration of Goodluck Jonathan.

The Executive Secretary of Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, ObafemiOlawore, at a media briefing with the newsmen in Lagos last week said the outstanding payments on subsidy and interest remained unpaid by government and this had led to its members’ ‘inability’ to import petroleum products in the last few days.

According to him, the scarcity may also go beyond the hand over date that will usher in the new administration of President Elect MuhammaduBuhari.

He said, “Because of the huge outstanding that we have; because we have not been able to pay back the loans we have taken, because our suppliers are not too confident, we are unable to bring fresh imports.

“Whatever we have now is what we have received from NNPC and it is the small quantity that we have from NNPC – that is why you see all the trucks in Lagos scrambling for them.”

President Jonathan should commit himself to solving this problem as soon as possible. He is now seen as a world statesman for peace and is on his way to building a strong legacy in that area. He should add to that aura of peace by immediately seeing to it that our filling stations are reopened and selling fuel at the normal rates. Let the attendants return to their stations.