Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

Bye-bye to fuel scarcity?

Bye-bye to fuel scarcity?

A friend, who is presently spending the Christmas and New Year holidays in the East, kept calling to update me on the progress of his trip, as he journeyed home last week.

He fed me with tales of unmotorable roads, and how they periodically had to detour into bush paths, either for a more bearable drive or to wait (sometimes for an hour) to allow bandits and robbers and kidnappers finish their business with other not-so-lucky travellers on the highway.

He regaled me with cheeky tales of how all the APC people from the South-East should be charged for ‘Anti-Party’, for stubbornly refusing to use their party’s ‘ready-to-be-commissioned Second Niger Bridge’, preferring instead, to inconvenience him on the old bridge.

It would be the third year in a row that my friend would be making that trip eastward, without dangerously trucking an extra jerry can of petrol in his car.

But, till he got to his Abia State village, there was no case of fuel queues, even though he topped his tank in Lagos, Benin and on the outskirts of Owerri.

Yes, the fuel queues that used to herald, and hallmark, our Christmas have become a thing of the past.

So, in case some of you are not aware, it’s Christmas!!

It is probably at times like this that I remember we, at least, have one thing to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for. That residents of our major cities have long forgotten those long queues that frustratingly snaked into every filling station during similar seasons in times past. Gone too is the pandemonium that was the lot of every gas pump, the exchange – of hot words, saliva and sometimes, fisticuffs. How could we have coped, in this season of Covid-19 and social distancing? How could we have avoided the super-spreader that getting gasoline would have brought upon us?

Of course, we did not get to this point by chance.

Only last week in Abuja, I listened as Minister of Petroleum Resources,  Chief Timipre Sylva and his tag-team partner and NNPC GMD, Malam Mele Kyari, for the first time that I can remember, broke down the otherwise pedantic technicalities of fuel supply to my layman’s language.

And for the first time, I think, I have just understood what they’ve been talking about all this while.

Yes, sometimes they forget that we were not all in their post-graduate Soil Sciences class, and that, like Kyari jocularly put it, some of us understand it only when whatever they are doing with crude oil and gas under the ground is brought to the surface. Any other thing amounts to winking in the dark.

So, throwing some light on the otherwise crude darkness of Nigeria’s Crude business was what the duo of Sylva and Kyari did last Tuesday.

The team of oilmen had flown in straight from Benin, Edo state, where President Buhari had (albeit virtually) commissioned Oredo Integrated Gas Handling Facility (IGHF) and LPG Units built by the NPDC, a subsidiary of the NNPC. The project is another leg of the about $15 billion worth of gas projects planned in the Niger Delta region to tackle gas flaring, create jobs, boost government revenue and address sundry environmental issues.

And, even though one left the NAF Centre still convinced that a lot needed to be done, one was still able to put one or two things in clearer perspective, and properly gauge the efforts made so far.

Now, we know that the determination to end the yearly ritual of perennial fuel scarcity is a cardinal objective of the PMB administration. And it would be outright dishonest to say it hasn’t succeeded with this. That is if we, for once, listen to the classic motor park admonition to “ignore whatever is written on the bus and just board”.

Of course, there will always be the question of, “at what cost?” But the fact remains that it’s Christmas and there’re no fuel queues.

According to Sylva, whose senior minister is the President himself, the other cardinal goal of the administration is to end smuggling of petroleum products out of our borders, revamp and increase local refining capacity, take the gas aspect of the business more seriously, boost local content in the industry, amongst others.

How much of these has been achieved is a story for another day, possibly requiring further dredging of the thick corruption silt that dogs the crude oil business in Nigeria.

For Kyari, it might not be for anything that any mention of NNPC only brings images of monumental corruption to the subconscious of most Nigerians.

But he insists the curve has taken a different detour in the last few years.

He recalls how the present administration has been able to, after several decades, finally publish an audited account of the corporation – the 2018 and 2019 audited accounts.

According to him, it was even in that report that NNPC was able to discover it was pumping money into businesses that were yielding absolutely nothing. Remember the refineries?

It was also as a result of working with that audited report that he said NNPC was able to cut losses from over N800b to about N2b.

At the moment,  he said, the target is to achieve a unit technical cost per barrel of $10. Of course, he’s aware this target is even a wild shot away from the $2 per barrel cost that are posted in some other climes. But then, the Nigerian environment is particularly challenging for foreign investors and other contractors, who are compelled to charge a premium to work in the country.

There are talks of modular refineries (one having been commissioned in Imo State recently) and massive projects and pipeline infrastructure currently going on. But there are also the murmurs over the desperation to support a new refinery in the neighbouring Niger Republic, while abandoning our own much larger refineries in Nigeria. And even bigger murmurs as to regional lopsided appointments into the commanding heights of the corporation and the supervising ministry.

But, as Kyari said, it’s one step at a time – beginning with getting the old refineries back on stream within the lifetime of the PMB government, encouraging private refineries, like Dangote, to come aboard, and bullishly pursuing investments in a gas reserve that even makes crude oil a child’s play. For Nigeria stands to make from gas, thrice what was ever made, or can ever be made, from crude oil.

Kyari, who argued that crude oil would not be going out of relevance for at least another decade, insists oil and gas should remain the engine “and foundation of our national growth”.

The NNPC GMD would go on to draw the convergence between declining global oil prices and Nigeria’s earnings from taxes and other revenue sources. According to him, even Customs duties from other imports, company taxes and other government earnings have a direct correlation with low crude oil prices. He, however, noted that gas demand travels a different curve – and indeed provides a respite for the economy whenever crude oil earnings go south. That was probably the only silver lining for Nigeria’s revenue earnings in the heat of the Covid-19 oil glut.

Incidentally, the modest achievement in the petroleum sector under Buhari is actually being replicated in the Transport Ministry, where Rotimi Amaechi is scoring points with the rails – even as we remain apprehensive of the loan obligations that come with it. It is also a similar story with the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, discounting the milky veil over its finances. Ministries of Power, Works, Housing, Labour and Employment and even Agriculture all have impressive blueprints, but everything seems entwined in an avoidable mesh of partisanship and misplaced priorities.

Ultimately, this bad politics – of cronyism, impunity, unfettered nepotism and lopsided patronage, appears to be pushing out the wrong narratives all the time. A situation that made Sylva confess that Nigerians sometimes find it difficult to believe government, and prefer to flow with the media, even when the information is not totally correct.

That is why, even though we now have fuel, there is still cynicism as to who might be fleecing us off this time, by way of dubious subsidy and scarce forex.

Added to that, many of us are still not bold enough to put our vehicles on the road? For there’s more to being on the road than having fuel in a roadworthy car. If you’re not undone by the bad roads, then the bandits and kidnappers (who now see every interstate commuter and motorist as mobile ATM) would likely have you for supper.

But, for once in a very long while, it is refreshing to point to one thing we can unreservedly give kudos to PMB for.

And another thumbs-up to the Sylva/Kyari team, for sparing us the embarrassment of ministerial in-fighting. It is a refreshing relief from Ibe Kachikwu/Makanti Baru undercurrents. And definitely better than what we’re periodically served from the ministries of Health, Power, Labour & Employment etc, where ego wars between ministers and heads of parastatals under them regularly derail progress.

Finally, there’s something less sleazy dripping out from Nigeria’s crude oil.