Kerosene is easily the most handy source of energy for the Nigerian masses. So, whenever the commodity is scarce, that is, out of reach of the poorer segment of the society, on account of its high price, the impact on our lean resources is enormous. This is so as the commodity is currently sold at over 300 per cent of the government approved price of N50 per litre.
As a result, scare resources would be shifted from other areas of need to purchase kerosene, which currently sells at N150.00 a litre. On the other hand, some citizens who patronize firewood are not finding it cheaper either, as sellers have hiked the price with the increased demand. To get up one morning only to purchase kerosene which majority of the households use on daily basis at thrice its price could be quite destabilising. Besides, the government should endeavour to prioritise the supply of kerosene to forestall a situation whereby adulterated kerosene would find its way into the market.
Experience had shown that with scarcity, desperate users readily patronize sellers of adulterated but cheaper kerosene which often times causes explosions with devastating results. As a result, providing kerosene at affordable price for use by the lower and middle echeleon of society should be of cardinal concern to all stakeholders. Surely, it would not be in anyone’s interest for the authorities to wait until people are killed in the course of using “brown” kerosene which has flooded the market, before action is taken to salvage the situation. It is in this connection that the discordant tunes exuding from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and other stakeholders becomes important as it seems the latter is not quite on top of the situation as it wants the public to believe.
In the wake of this current kerosene scarcity last week, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mr. Austen Oniwon, had given assurances that kerosene scarcity would end in ten days. He made the promise after meeting with the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, (MOMAN). MOMAN comprises, Mobil, Conoil, Total, AP, Mrs Oil and Oando Plc. Reports indicate that it was resolved at the meeting that NNPC would discharge imported kerosene into depots of MOMAN members for distribution nationwide. But this position has been stiffly countered by the Jetty and Tank Farm Owners Association of Nigeria (JEPTFON) and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA, both groups of which comprise the independent petroleum marketers.
Their contention is clear. If they are excluded from the distribution of the product, which NNPC plans to restrict to MOMAN members, there would be a disaster. According to them, the excluded stakeholders control about 80 per cent of infrastructure for efficient reception storage and distribution of Petroleum Products across the country.
If this were so, what does the NNPC expect that the MOMAN would do? The magic, moreover, now that JEPTFON and DAPPMA are accusing NNPC of bias in favour of the major oil marketers. Aside from this however, is the truth NNPC has so far failed to tell kerosene users. The problem appears to be in the name of the product which is technically christened, Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK), which is being diverted to other sales outlets by marketers, preferably the airports, where it is sold as aviation fuel (JETAI) at N150 per litre. So, this is the mischief NNPC intends to checkmate by restricting distribution to only MOMAN members? Obviously, with the capitalist motive of profit maximisation, marketers would naturally be attracted to wherever they would make maximum profit, hence their preference for the airports. However, if the product had been available in sufficient quantity, there would be enough for aircrafts and so for other consumers.
All put together, it appears that the current kerosene shortage would not abate soon since the product is in high demand by aircraft operators, who use it as aviation fuel. Given this scenario, the NNPC should device more ingenious way of distributing kerosene to ensure it gets to the low income group and middle class citizens who depend so much on it. The restriction of the 30,000 metric tones of kerosene recently imported into the country to only major marketers would not serve the interest of the masses. If NNPC goes ahead with its plan of not carrying other stakeholders along, the latter could devise other means of getting back at the NNPC.
At the end of the day, while the groups flex muscles, the suffering of the majority of Nigerians who use kerosene for cooking would be deepening. Besides, with the new administration of hope in place, time has come for us to break whatever jinx that makes our refineries either non-functional, or only functioning at minimal level. If our refineries are made to meet their social responsibilities, I believe Nigeria is too big to be talking of kerosene scarcity. Now is the time for the government to act in the peoples’ favour.