Unknown data and uncertain future

NNPC MD Maikanti Baru
NNPC GMD, Dr Maikanti Baru

The world is surrounded my so much uncertainty. But humans have tried over the years to make meaning of the past, current realities in order to predict the future. Planning is arguably the safest way to predict the future. Individuals, organisations and nations dedicate time, energy and other resources to planning because of its capacity to provide direction for an uncertain future. An American athlete, Walter Payton captured this uncertainty in his famous quote “Remember, tomorrow is promised to no one.” Whilst tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone, planning helps us to make promises about tomorrow with some level of accuracy. The best plans are built on solid, tested and proven facts. A plan built on baseless assumptions is likely to produce an uncertain and disastrous future. One of the many benefits of plausible data is that they do not only help in planning for the future; they also facilitate our understanding of the past and the present. A key advantage the developed nations possess over the underdeveloped and developing nations like Nigeria is the availability of data. Accurate data on virtually everything is available. From the exact number of children delivered per hour, to the average energy consumption by each household in the country, are easily accessible. These countries are able to provide near accurate projections into the future that can aid planning and policy making.But in the case of Nigeria, the story is different. Until the recent re-energisation of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), it was really difficult to access data about Nigeria. For many years Nigerians relied on data provided by international bodies such as the World Bank and United Nations. However, whilst the NBS has become a national pride in the discharge of its responsibilities, other agencies of government that should play complementary roles for the national data bank have been wanting in their responsibilities.

Although the National Bureau of Statistics provides data on monthly and annual energy consumption in different states of the federation, it appears the nation still has a long way to go on data accuracy. The nation received some shocking news in the past week when the Chief Operating Officer (Downstream) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Henry Obih publicly announced that Nigeria does not have the accurate data of daily consumption of premium motor spirit (PMS) also known as petrol. He made the statement at the Nigeria Oil and Gas (NOG) conference in Abuja. It was a bombshell that has left many questioning the efficiency of the national oil company. However, Mr.Obihwas quick to add that the only accurate data the Corporation has is truck-out figure of PMS, which increased from 48 million litres daily in 2016 to 50 million litres in 2017.“Nigeria’s PMS consumption as at 2018 is 50 million litres per day, but that is not the actual consumption because of the security challenges at our borders, which allows smuggling of the products to other countries where they will be sold at higher prices,” he said. The NNPC COO further informed the gathering that the National Economic Council has now directed the corporation to work with the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank to determine the actual daily consumption of PMS in Nigeria.

Inasmuch as the statement merely confirms our latent fears, it reveals the challenges facing the energy sector in Nigeria. It is apparent that we have continued to play the role of “Big Brother” to our neighbours by subsidising the petroleum products that are smuggled out of the country on a daily basis. Yet it is difficult to ascertain how much is lost to this illicit trade that is now entrenched in our economy. It is amazing that whereas other nations are investing heavily on renewable energy, we are still battling with ascertaining our daily PMS consumption, which points to the fact that it is difficult for our nation to amplify the drive for clean energy regardless of our politically correct rhetorics. How do you reduce a figure that has not been ascertained?

This revelation is representative of the myriad of data challenges facing Nigeria. In 2012 the country experienced a major protest that nearly shut down the government over questions surrounding fuel subsidy in the country. In spite of various audits that were carried out no one has been able to ascertain the exact PMS consumption in the country, which explains the confusion that has surrounded the fuel subsidy regime in this country. A few people have taken advantage of this state of affairs to milk Nigerians, and the business is now an entrenched mystery that no one has been able to sufficiently unravel. The former Minister of Finance, NgoziOkonjo-Iwealadescribes the subsidy regime as one of the most notorious drain pipes for the country. The challenge that was inherited from previous administrations still persists today. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, IbeKachikwu had stated earlier in the year that the government now spends 1.4 trillion naira on subsidy described as “under recovery”. It is noteworthy that the figure provided by the Minister is 386 per cent higherwhat the NNPC had earlier provided. However, the revelation by Mr.Henry Obih answers some of the question. The unavailability of accurate data suggests that it may be really difficult to sanitise the subsidy regime in the current scenario because the 50 million litre daily consumption figure does not represent the true picture.

Even the figures presented by the Mr.Obih raise some pertinent questions. PMS is mainly deployed to power vehicles and generators in Nigeria. Some studies have shown that urban transportation is responsible for more than 70% of Nigeria’s fossil fuel consumption. Vehicle importation dropped by about 90% between 2016 and 2017 Q1 based on figures provided by the Managing Director, Toyota Nigeria Limited, Mr.Kunle Ade-Ojo. This begs the question of what necessitated the increase from 48 million litres in 2016 to 50 million litres in 2017. Could it be that more Nigerians are now using generators to power their houses? Perchance the revelation by the NNPC official could serve as a wake-up for policy makers and economic planners. Our nation needs to pay attention to data availability in the country. Our database on important and essential sectors needs to be updated.

The current situation raises question about our energy plans for the future and how such plans are incorporated into wider national plan. The United NationsDepartment for Economic and Social Affairs reported in 2017 that Nigeria will be the 3rdmost populous country by 2050 with a projected population of 444 million. This population clearly poses a great challenge in the current scenario. What energy plans do we have for this population? How are we going to meet their energy demands? These questions cannot be answered without proper data gathering and analysis. This can also be extended to our national food plan. What is the total consumption in the country? What is likely to be the average consumption 25 years from now and how are we preparing for that? What would be the required number of farmers that will sufficiently cater to the need of the Nigerian massive population by 2050? These questions demand answers lest we are compelled to accept unpalatable fate in the future we did not plan for. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, IbeKachikwu admonished that “It is time for Nigeria to harness alternative fuel sources like (LPG) as under-recovery from the importation and sale of petrol at the government-regulated price of N145 per litre has hit N1.4 trillion. “Clean energy is very essential and we need to move away from complete utilisation in our transport sector of only petrol.” This is a noble intention that is currently the focus in other countries. But for us as a nation, it will likely remain at the level of nobility for many years until we begin to embrace the culture of generating necessary data. The government needs to pay more attention to research funding in our research and academic institutions across the country. How do we generate data when our institutions of learning are decrepit state? Similarly, we need to re-evaluate our processes and systems of operations at the national level to aid data generation and analysis because it is now clear that our many problems are interwoven. The challenge with ascertaining fuel consumption in the country is deeply connected to the porosity of our borders. We cannot make attempts to deal with one issue while ignoring the others; overhauling our systems ofoperation across all sectors should be the focus. Our immigration service must embrace latest technology in the discharge of their responsibilities. This will provide the necessary support for other agencies such as NNPC and help in generating the necessary data and information required for adequate planning. The data we generate today can save lives tomorrow. Without data our planning will be shallow, and without adequate planning our future is left to fate.