By Bassey Udo
As the current nationwide fuel supply crisis enters its 13th week, President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be sitting on the report of a committee he constituted to proffer lasting solutions.
Despite efforts by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to ensure resolution of the crisis, the scarcity of petroleum products at filling stations across the country appears intractable.
Apart from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Lagos which appear to receive extra allocations of petrol by the NNPC, other parts of the country are largely without adequate supplies.
Anxious motorists spend several man-hours every day in long queues in various filling stations across the country for the commodity that has remained in short supply.
NNPC spokesperson, Ndu Ughamadu, told PREMIUM TIMES the corporation was surprised that despite the increment of allocation to Abuja from the usual 100 trucks of petrol to about 140, the scarcity has remained.
Apart from the NNPC mega filling station in the Central Business District and a few others in the outskirts of the city, filling stations hardly have products.
A month after the fuel supply crisis resurfaced December 1 last year, the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, inaugurated a committee on behalf of the President on January 2.
Headed by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, the committee was mandated to review the immediate and remote causes of the scarcity and proffer lasting solutions.
Members of committee were the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Maikanti Baru, key players in the downstream sector of the country’s oil and gas industry and representatives of labour organizations.
Others were Chairman, Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPMAN) Dapo Abiodun; President, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) Chinedo Okonkwo, and representative of Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) Obafemi Olawore.
The Director-General of the State Security Service, Lawal Daura, was also included.
Apart from the initial meeting at the Presidential Villa, subsequent meetings of the committee were held at Mr. Kachikwu’s office at the NNPC Towers in Abuja.
At the end of the series of meetings, a Presidency source familiar with the matter told PREMIUM TIMES the committee submitted its report to the President last month.
“The committee met,” the source said. “At the end it came up with a report, which made several proposals on the way out of the crisis. But, the understanding was for the President to see the report first, before the public. That report has since been submitted to the President. We are waiting for the Presidency to issue a directive.”
Our source requested that his name should not be published as he had no permission to speak on the matter.
“Some of the key proposals include immediate and holistic deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry; involvement of marketers in the fuel importation programme and plans to construct a refinery to end importation of petroleum products. There were other proposals.”
He said those that required legal processes were to go to the National Assembly for necessary legislation, while the ones that need political solutions and labour issues that needed to be addressed were to be handed over to the Presidency for implementation.
“But, it is the President that would issue instructions on what should be done. It is only the President that can direct on all of these,” the source added.
In the short term, the source said a proposal for independent marketers to be granted access to foreign exchange at a rate that would allow them import products and still sell at N145 per litre was discussed. He said there was opposition by the Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Godwin Emefiele.
He said the proposal was a way to break NNPC’s monopoly as the sole supplier of petrol in the country.
When contacted on why the report was being delayed by the President, Presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, asked the reporter to reach out to Mr. Kachikwu for comments.
“He’s in a better position to comment,” Mr. Adesina said.
Another presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, also said he had not been briefed on the matter.
Mr. Kachikwu did not respond to calls to his telephone on Wednesday and also did not respond to a text message sent to him.
But, his spokesperson, Idang Alibi, said the issue was beyond his boss.
“The committee was mandated to look into the fuel crisis and find a permanent solution to the frequent fuel crisis,” Mr. Alibi said.
“The committee met and came up with a report, which was submitted to the President. We are waiting for the President to issue the directive. It is the President that would issue instructions on what should be done,” he added.
But an independent marketer close to the committee said the delay in implementing the recommendation of the panel might be because the President is weighing his options to avoid a backlash on his 2019 political ambitions.
The marketer said the President appears reluctant to approve any measure that would hike fuel price above the current N145 per litre.
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