NUPENG And The Lingering Fuel Scarcity
A painful scenario that has intermittently punctuated the joyful moments of Nigerians particularly at this period of Yuletide is the recurring decimal of scarcity of petroleum products.
Recent reports have it that the price of premium motor spirit (PMS) popularly called petrol has gone to an all-time high of N150.00 per litre in Lagos State. In Rivers State a litre of petrol is now sold at N85.00 by major oil marketers.
Regrettably, over 75 per cent of the petrol stations in most parts of the country have remained shut to consumers on the popular excuse of non – availability of the product, which are readily available at black market price of between N150.00 and N250 per litre.
Surprisingly, this acute scarcity is coming as the members of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) branch of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) have resumed lifting of product following the suspension of an earlier strike which began last Friday.
Prior to the action of the Tanker drivers, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had announced that it had about 29 cargoes of petroleum products to check the current fuel scarcity across the country. Yet motorists continued to queue for petrol at the filling stations.
Consequently, a statement by the Group General Manager, Public Affairs Division of the NNPC, Mr. Levi Ajuonuma called on all stakeholders on the petroleum product distribution chain to align with the efforts at ensuring effective and unimpeded distribution of products throughout the Yuletide season and beyond.
Ajuonuma blamed appearances of long queues at filling stations on some extraneous factors which include incessant strikes by workers in the industry and the illegal activities of product marketers who appear to have finally gone ahead of the Federal Government to commence a full blown deregulation of the downstream sector. This claim was also corroborated orated by the Minister of State for Petroleum Mr Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) in a chat with journalists in Abuja.
We are worried that among the glaring obstacles towards a successful celebration of the Yuletide season, is the presorting fuel scarcity which government insists is artificial but without ready solution. It is obvious that without adequate fuel supply, many Nigerians who love travelling at Yuletide would not find it easy to do so.
The situation will also be exploited by commercial motorists and even sellers of other goods and services to hike fares and prices of essential commodities to the detriment of the ordinary Nigerian.
The Tide urges the Federal Government to quickly wade into the situation with the view to restoring normalcy at the filling stations. If FG is bent on deregulating the sector, it must come up with a clear time table that must take into consideration the various palliative measures including the reactivation of the existing refineries. An acceptable time table of deregulation must not be abrupt, but should span through a considerable period of between 12 and 24 months during which the necessary preparations must have been made. A clear time table on deregulation will erase speculations and subsequently hoarding.
The Nigeria National Petroluem Corporation should also consider the immediate decentralisation of its distribution network. For example the mega stations sited at various state capitals could be replicated in other parts of the various states.
While this measures are being taken, we are equally of the opinion that the issue of improved minimum wage for the Nigerian Workers should be expressly considered so that the purchasing power of the average worker can be enhanced to meet the challenges of a deregulated petroleum sector.
Promoting Food Safety Practices
Safe food is very essential for maintaining good health. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals can heavily
contaminate food or water and cause foodborne illnesses. Therefore, the entire food chain must take necessary steps to prevent the spread of these illnesses. Proper handling, harvesting, processing, storage, distribution, preparation, and consumption of food are all crucial measures for promoting overall wellness and health.
More than 600 million people fall ill every year on account of unsafe food, jeopardizing public health and economies. Vulnerable populations, including women, children, conflict-affected individuals, and migrants, are most impacted. Contaminated food causes an estimated 420,000 annual deaths, and children under five are particularly at risk, with 125,000 dying each year, carrying 40 per cent of the foodborne disease burden.
World Food Safety Day (WFSD) is an annual occasion observed on the 7th of June with the key objective of creating awareness and promoting measures to avert, identify, and control foodborne threats. This undertaking has a substantive influence on numerous facets of our existence, encompassing sustenance, food security, human well-being, financial prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism, and sustainable growth.
WFSD observance is facilitated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in collaboration with member states and other relevant bodies. This international day serves as a shot to reinforce efforts to guarantee the safety of our food. It is also an opportunity to make food safety a priority in the public’s mind and to decrease the global burden of foodborne diseases.
Taking on the theme, “Food Standards Save Lives”, it is vital to recognise the crucial role that food standards play in ensuring food safety and saving lives. These standards offer guidance to farmers and processors on proper food handling practices, while simultaneously defining the maximum levels of additives and contaminants that can be considered safe for consumption. The standards have been established by governments, organisations, as well as regional and intergovernmental bodies.
Consumers rely on the information on food packaging to determine if their food is safe. This information is guided by food safety standards for farmers and food processors. Unfortunately, modern farming practices have resulted in increased use of pesticides, chemicals, and additives in food, which can be harmful if not regulated. Water contamination is also a significant concern. The WFSD works to ensure that food standards are followed to promote the best possible health outcomes for all consumers.
The first-ever World Food Safety Day was observed on June 7, 2019, signifying a critical step in addressing food safety challenges globally. The World Health Assembly passed resolution WHA73.5 on August 3, 2020, recognising the importance of WFSD in generating awareness about food safety, preventing foodborne illnesses worldwide, and strengthening global efforts to maintain food safety.
In Nigeria, the intricacies of food safety culture are heightened because of the country’s diverse nature, encompassing over 250 ethnic groups. Unfortunately, with the onset of urbanisation and fluctuating incomes, a large section of the populace remains unaware of the prevailing food safety issues. As such, the government’s regulatory body must enhance its oversight on food safety to ensure greater public protection. Sadly, there has been a discernible lack of progress in public engagement on this critical matter in recent years.
Foodborne illness is a serious problem in Nigeria, with over 200,000 deaths annually. Despite efforts to meet the WHO’s standards for safer food, the lack of basic amenities such as running water and sanitary units has made it difficult to achieve. As a result, food safety problems have become more pronounced throughout the entire food chain in the country. Unsafe foods are the cause of many diseases and contribute to other poor health conditions, such as impaired growth and development.
Poor food safety practices are attributable to multiple factors. These include the expanding population, income inequalities, elongated food distribution networks, constantly changing demographics, insufficient education quality, food consumption habits, and inadequate regulation. These issues are especially predominant in regions with limited economic development.
The increase in issues related to food preparation, safety, sale, and consumption of street foods in inappropriate places is posing a huge challenge to promoting food safety culture in Nigeria. The authorities need to closely monitor these hot-button matters, as well as the public’s lackadaisical attitude towards food safety measures, uncoordinated approach to food control, and poor enforcement of legislation and regulatory limits.
Policymakers and food regulators should ensure that public procurement of food, including food aid, school feeding, and other publicly owned food outlets, provides safe and healthy options for consumers. The government should establish policy measures and legal frameworks to strengthen the national food safety system, ensuring compliance with food safety standards and regulations. Multisectoral collaboration at the local, state, and national levels is imperative to achieve these goals.
Food handlers and vendors must maintain high standards of hygiene, conduct frequent health checks, improve environmental sanitation, and adequately prepare food. This helps reduce the risk of foodborne infections and diseases. Consumers must also be certain of the safety and quality of the foods they consume, as well as the environment in which they are prepared or sold.
This year’s World Food Safety Day serves as a crucial reminder for Nigerians to prioritise food safety as a public health concern. Safe and wholesome food is requisite in boosting immunity and improving the body’s natural defences against diseases. The international day also presents an opportunity for Nigerians to create awareness and generate discussions around food safety. Eating right eliminates the need for medication.
WED: Reducing Plastic Waste Generation
More than 150 nations took part in the commemoration of the 2023 World Environment Day (WED) on the 5th of June, a day that witnessed millions of individuals engaging in both physical or virtual events. Annually, on the 5th of June, countries and establishments globally observe the occasion with a theme that fosters awareness on environmental challenges and encourages recommendations aimed at safeguarding our ecosystems.
This year’s World Environment Day is centred around the potent theme of “Beat Plastic Pollution.” It serves as a reminder that individual actions towards plastic pollution hold immense significance and highlights the need for viable solutions through the #BeatPlasticPollution campaign. Celebrated since 1974, WED stands as a United Nations endorsed international day, aimed at promoting global awareness and initiatives towards environmental protection.
The world is currently experiencing a surfeit of plastic. According to reports, the annual production of plastic exceeds 400 million metric tons, with 50 per cent of it created to be utilised solely once. Moreover, less than 10 per cent of plastic is recycled. A projected 19-23 million metric tons wind up in bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and seas. At present, plastic disrupts landfills, seeps into water bodies, and transforms into dangerous smoke when incinerated. It is clear that plastic pollution poses a serious threat to the earth.
Microplastics have the capacity to permeate the food we consume, as well as the water and air we inhale. Plastic products contain dangerous additives that have the potential to endanger our well-being. The scientific community has developed remedies to tackle this problem. However, it is necessary that the public exerts pressure on governments, corporations, and other stakeholders to accelerate and hasten their efforts in eradicating this crisis. This highlights the transcendence of WED in driving action and engagement from all corners.
Plastic pollution poses a serious threat to human health, economic stability, and the environment and must not be disregarded. Immediate action must be taken. In addition, the world needs genuine, effective, and robust solutions. Within the framework of several plastic policies, countries must demonstrate unwavering dedication to reducing the production and usage of single-use plastic, which should be replaced with durable and sustainable alternatives.
In Nigeria, unregulated disposal of waste, inadequate oversight, and disproportionate employment of plastic are resulting in unprecedented levels of pollution. The deleterious effects of plastic are detrimental to the environment and public wellbeing in the nation. Given that plastic waste is non-decomposable, it endangers the aquatic and fauna ecosystems, water supplies, and cultivable lands. So, it can be inferred that plastic waste has an injurious impact on both the environment and its denizens.
The Federal Government has reportedly instituted a 10 per cent tax on single-use plastics, also known as disposable plastics, commonly used for packaging, in anticipation of the nation’s proposed ban on plastics set for 2028. These plastic products are used only once before being disposed of or recycled and include a range of items such as nylon carry bags, grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups, and cutlery.
As the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria bears the brunt of plastic waste generation, leading to it becoming a hotbed of waste pollution. A report by Voice of America in 2019 revealed a staggering 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste being generated per year. Furthermore, the World Economic Forum reported that approximately 200,000 tonnes of plastic waste is discharged into the ocean each year. Disturbingly, Nigeria’s annual plastic production was anticipated to rise to 530,000 tonnes by 2022.
Regrettably, Nigeria currently lacks a national policy on plastic waste management. Although a bill was passed by the House of Representatives in May 2019 to ban plastic use, it was not signed into law by former President Muhammadu Buhari. In January 2021, the country announced its decision to join the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership. However, despite these efforts, there has been little noticeable change in the situation.
To eliminate plastic waste, Nigeria must join the global movement. Actions need to be scaled up if the country hopes to combat the menace of plastic waste pollution. We must look at legal frameworks at the local and international levels. At the local level, a bill to ban plastic use should be passed into law. At the international level, a global plastics treaty that promotes a holistic approach to plastic waste is the way to go.
Targeted programmes could be encouraged to tackle plastic pollution, particularly those linked to the oceans. Specifically, this calls for programmes aimed at improving waste disposal behaviour. Stakeholders in the plastic recycling sector have stressed the importance of positive consumer behaviour towards waste disposal. This is if plastic pollution is to be resolved in the country.
All hands must be on deck. Both the public and private sectors must be involved in the process and must be willing to work together. Plastics may be an environmental challenge, but they are also a path to immense opportunities. They can be a source of many jobs, and they are reused as raw materials for the production of other goods. Collaboration is indispensable in the fight for sustainability.
Water sachets and bottles have proliferated in Nigeria following a lack of potable water in many homes. The government needs to educate the public about the dangers of discarding these sachets and bottles in the environment. And it must ensure access to clean water. People who visit beaches, riverbanks, parks, and waterfalls frequently dump their plastic bottles carelessly, despite the dangers such plastics pose to the environment.
The Nigerian government should impose a substantial fee on plastic bags distributed at malls and markets. This measure will dissuade individuals from disposing of them after a single use. It is the responsibility of citizens and leaders to ensure a sustainable environment for future generations. Several countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda, have already taken steps to combat plastic pollution. Nigeria must follow suit and take immediate action to protect our environment.
Disturbing Carnage On Nigeria’s Highways
A significant number of Nigerians are losing their lives in preventable road accidents. Recent statistics released by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) indicate that from January to March this year, 1,441 individuals have died in 2,733 automobile crashes across Nigeria. Dauda Biu, the FRSC Corps Marshal, explained these figures at a stakeholders meeting in Abuja, where policies on the pre-installation of speed limiting devices in both locally assembled and imported vehicles were discussed for implementation.
According to Biu, 8,339 individuals sustained injuries in the aforementioned crashes. The corps marshal emphasised the role of over-speeding in road fatalities worldwide. He further stated that vehicle design and manufacturing can improve mobility and reduce crashes on Nigerian roads. Biu stated that high road accident rates had led to global campaigns and actions aimed at mitigating the problem.
Traffic accidents on our roads are daily occurrences and result in alarming levels of lethality. This issue requires urgent attention from the federal and state authorities. To address this, all tiers of government must renew their efforts in road safety and traffic management. The FRSC must enforce existing traffic rules without partiality to effectively reduce traffic accident deaths, which pose a serious public safety issue.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) states that 41,709 people died in road crashes in Nigeria between 2013 and 2020, with 3,574 fatalities in 2020 alone. Despite the FRSC’s reported 54 per cent reduction from 1987 to 2021, road accidents remain a major concern, with 13,027 crashes recorded in 2021. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2015 report revealed that one in four car crash deaths in Africa occurred in Nigeria. Additionally, between 2009 and 2013, 18,353 road accidents were reported.
WHO estimates that Nigeria accounts for 2.82 per cent of global road accident deaths, resulting in 41,693 mortalities. The World Bank ranks Nigeria 54th in road accidents. Road accidents in the country drain approximately 3.0 per cent of GDP, as reported by WHO. A study conducted in 2010 estimated that road accidents cost Nigeria N80 billion annually in property lost or damaged, medical treatment costs, and lost productivity.
The FRSC has identified over-speeding, judgement errors when overtaking, violations like facing oncoming traffic (“one-way”), and untrained drivers as the major causes of crashes in Nigeria. Seat belt non-use has also been found to be costly. In the United States, 38 per cent of children who died in car crashes in 2013 did not use seat belts, the US Centre for Disease Control stated.
Distracted driving is a major issue on our dilapidated roads. This includes texting, answering phones, eating, drinking, and talking with passengers. According to a 2013 WHO report, lax regulations and weak enforcement are the main causes of accidents in developing countries, which is true for Nigeria. Untrained and inebriated drivers are prevalent on our roads, and the FRSC’s inability to enforce the law only exacerbates the problem.
Comparatively, Nigeria’s road traffic deaths and injuries are among the highest globally. The International Transport Union reports a global average of 17.4, with Africa’s average at 26.6 per 100,000 inhabitants. Norway has the safest roads with a 2.0 casualty rate per 100,000. Zimbabwe has the highest road death rate in the world at 74.5 per 100,000, according to the ITU.
The NBS attributes crashes in Nigeria to various factors, including speed violations, wrongful overtaking, use of mobile devices while driving, dangerous overtaking, and others. Speed violations account for 47 per cent of accidents, while wrongful overtaking contributes to 10 per cent. However, it is necessary to note that most highways in Nigeria are poor, with many filled with craters. This has led to a distracted, weak, understaffed, and underequipped FRSC.
A major problem that the FRSC has consistently failed to address is the issue of articulated trucks on the roads. These trucks often lack rear lights, making them difficult to spot when breaking down. Additionally, they emit black smoke and are often equipped with worn-out tyres, wobbling dangerously. Tanker drivers speed recklessly, while trucks carry unlatched containers. Unfortunately, these containers sometimes fall on smaller vehicles, resulting in fatalities and injuries.
Sadly, the FRSC’s focus on revenue generation has resulted in high road accident and casualty rates in Nigeria. Despite remitting billions to the government, the country recorded 5,400 catastrophes in 12,077 road accidents in 2015. It is crucial for the Corps to prioritise saving lives over self-adulation and revenue generation. Creative solutions and strict enforcement can significantly reduce accidents. Life is irreplaceable, and the FRSC must ensure Nigerian citizens’ safety on the roads.
Though the Road Safety agency has enforcing seatbelt use and sanctioning mobile phone utilisation by drivers, it has neglected the engineering aspect of road safety. This is a pressing issue that requires urgent attention. The FRSC status report on the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020) highlights a lack of coordination among road traffic management agencies, which must be addressed immediately. Collaboration between federal and state agencies is necessary to fill this critical gap.
It is imperative that the Presidency and state governments provide sufficient funding and resources to federal and state law enforcement and traffic agencies. These agencies should operate with a strong emphasis on professionalism and service. The incorporation of technology, such as CCTV on all highways and mobile courts, would greatly enhance their ability to quickly and effectively handle traffic offences.
The implementation of the Safe System Approach has led to a notable decrease in the occurrence of crashes, injuries, and fatalities in various countries, namely Canada, Singapore, Belgium, and Ghana. Nigeria would benefit from adopting this approach, provided that its underlying principles are strictly adhered to. Ensuring the consistent upkeep of existing roads, along with the construction of new ones, will undoubtedly result in safer highways. It is vital to enforce regulations that prohibit the use of non-roadworthy vehicles on the roads going forward.
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