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Fuel supply, marketers and pipelines vandals

Published by Guardian on Fri, 21 Sep 2012

THE full import of the senseless attack two weeks ago by armed fuel thieves on a team of engineers and technicians of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC) deployed to fix vandalized System B2 in Arepo village, Ogun State, may have finally dawned on motorists in Lagos and environs as queues returned to filling stations, amid reports of another round of shortage in Abuja. Bearing in mind however that the seeming shortage in fuel supply has been lingering in many states even before the Arepo incident, there is an obvious need to address the crux of the matter, which is not unrelated to grumbling by marketers over alleged unpaid subsidy to their authentic members. Clearly, the Minister of Finance, who is responsible for the payment, has a duty to specify what exactly the problem is.The barbaric killing of three of the personnel in an ambush is a strong indication of the loss of values, and criminal tendencies of the vandals. The oil thieves certainly have no regard for public infrastructure maintenance. Understandably, the company refused to return to site for repairs until an assurance of full security cover is given. The relevant security agencies should ensure the apprehension and prosecution of the vandals and their collaborators, who have consistently sabotaged the economy of the country.In a horrendous manner, the vandals, who obviously had been operating at the site in the Obafemi/Owode local council, opened fire and fatally wounded three of the unsuspecting workers (others are under medical watch) as they tried to gain access to the damaged points, after the flames were put out and product supply successfully cut off. The NNPC subsequently admitted that it faced challenges of distribution over the issue, although it assured of improved supply by tankers.The implication of the bridging of products to Ibadan, Ilorin and other parts of the southwest by trucks, as against pipeline transportation from the Atlas Cove, Satellite and Apapa depots, is restricted sales in many stations, which has translated to agony for consumers because, 'it would be a little difficult to bridge as much as 11 million litres of fuel per day through trucks'.The explanation that the shortage regime would continue until the hacked pipes are fixed is discomforting news. In reality, the citizens must share the blame collectively for the laxity in reporting suspicious elements in the society to the appropriate authorities for action. Certainly there is need for attitudinal change to issues of public good in the country.Present efforts of the NNPC to stabilise supply by raising the number of distribution tankers to about 920 is commendable. It has raised daily supply at Folawiyo Tank Farm from 150 to 250 tankers per day; MRS (100-200); Capital Oil up to 300 tankers; NIPCO (70 tankers) and AITEO Farm (100 tankers). But the effectiveness of this measure is limited.The question, however, is whether there is more to the fuel scarcity than what the public is being fed. This poser becomes relevant in the light of claims by the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) that the marketers are also unable to import from international markets because their subsidy dues were not being paid. That raises the recurring sore point of the paralytic services at the country's refineries, and the unfortunate dependence on importation of petroleum products.Early this month, the Federal Ministry of Finance stated that it had paid N259 billion as outstanding subsidy for 2011 and another N78.8 billion for this year. Yet, marketers keep lamenting alleged outstanding payment of up to N100 billion. Question must be asked as to whether the claims and counter-claims are not part of the fuel subsidy scam in which the entire nation has been defrauded. Government, of course, must avoid falling into any trap, either by marketers or any other group seeking to take dubious advantage of the situation. In particular, those indicted over the subsidy scam should be prosecuted appropriately. Nevertheless, to avoid undue crisis of short supply, the government, through the finance ministry, should promptly settle claims from genuine importers who have been verified to import and deliver petroleum products.One obvious gap in the Arepo village incident is the seeming compromise of security ostensibly by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Were the Civil Defence personnel engaged by the PPMC in the operations' What could be the excuse of the unit in charge of that area for the loose monitoring before the disaster' Has the Corps ever reported activities of illegal bunkerers along the supply route to arouse NNPC interests'What the nation is currently experiencing is beyond distribution hiccups. For one, the pipeline network is compromised, forcing the government to outsource security of facilities in the Niger Delta for more than six billion naira, for a given period. A lack of capacity for back-up in distribution is also evident.Citizens do however have a collective responsibility to report saboteurs of oil facilities because they are not spirits. Security operations should be fine-tuned, while intelligence gathering about vandals and oil thieves should be stepped up too.Government should continually scrutinise claims by oil stakeholders, to separate the genuine from fraudulent ones, while treating honest claims with all fairness. Ultimately, the solution to the recurring instability in the fuel sector is good governance that ensures employment and equitable distribution of resources. This must include raising the country's capacity to refine its crude oil to satisfy local consumption.
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