Apprehension of desperate plots by the Federal Government to increase the pump price of petrol (Premium Motor Spirit, PMS) is still smouldering. It was exacerbated a couple of days back by a wave of panic in Abuja, the nation’s capital, occasioned by reports that major petrol stations, including the retail outlets of the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC) had jerked up their pump prices from the official N145 to N149 per litre.
The Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, promptly dismissed the claim, insisting that the FG never announced any change in pump prices. He was quoted as saying later that the government would undertake a review of the pricing template for PMS to forestall a further increase in its price.
Group General Manager, Public Affairs Division of NNPC, Mr. Garba Deen Muhammad, also issued a statement in Abuja in which he denied the report of pump price increase.
“The price adjustment is still within the price band of N135 and N145 per litre approved on May 11 (2016) by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), the statutory body in charge of petroleum products pricing. The Corporation assures marketers and motorists of its readiness to continue to play its statutory role of being the supplier of last resort and ensuring energy security for the nation. The NNPC further confirms the availability of over 1.6 billion litres of PMS in-country that would last 45 days consumption. There was no time the NNPC management met the President to push for a hike in the pump price of petrol to N150 per litre”, Muhammad stated.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in response to the scare, last Monday, warned the government against any further increases in the pump prices of petroleum products, especially PMS. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) reacted likewise; threatening it would resist any such increase. The vigilance of organised labour and the entire citizenry in monitoring fuel price hikes since the speculation started roughly three months ago is ostensibly borne out of past experience, when such ‘rumours’ are in no time matched by actual increase. It is usually during festive periods like the Yuletide that artificial fuel scarcity is contrived and Nigerians are literally clubbed into buying fuel at outrageous costs after wasting several hours or all night at filling stations. There is every reason for Nigerians to remain eternally vigilant and resist further increases in the pump price of fuel. The price was adjusted to N145 from N86.50 just last May (2016).
Between late August and early September, the fuel price increase scare rented the air. The authorities denied any such move. Quite recently, however, were reports credited to the NNPC which said the sale of petrol at N145 per litre was unsustainable due to the prevailing exchange rate.
The corporation’s Group General Manager, Crude Oil Marketing Division, Mr. Mele Kyari, reportedly said in Lagos there was no way petrol would continue to be sold at the current pump price of N145; though he quickly added that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration would not announce another increase in petrol pump price because Nigerians would not accept it. He also said selling petrol above N145 per litre would require legislation by the National Assembly.
It is on record that former NNPC Group Managing Directors (GMDs) recently called for a further hike in pump price despite the grinding economic hardship non-privileged Nigerians are subjected to. All the rhetoric about the liberalisation/ deregulation of the country’s downstream oil sector has never shifted from incessant fuel price fixing and pump price hikes, right from the military era till today. Quite obvious has been the fact that incessant fuel price increases are orchestrated by poor local refining capacity, as the nation’s four refineries are virtually on recess; and the FG woefully failed in several decades to make them work or encourage the building of new ones to boost local refining capacity and conserve foreign exchange.
Presently, nothing concrete seems to be in the offing to accelerate local refining capacity other than loud talks. In spite of the high cost of dollar to the naira and the country’s economic quagmire, the FG still lavishes about 30 percent of the nation’s foreign exchange on petroleum products’ import. There comes a time governments are compelled to face up to the reality and take bold steps to alleviate the pains of their citizens. The time Nigerians should compel the government to lead the nation out of crisis emanating from fuel price hikes is now.