The recent disclosure by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that Nigeria is losing N774 million daily on petrol sales which it attributed to cross-border smuggling to neighbouring countries, has left a sour taste in the mouths of the poverty stricken citizens of this nation.
The corporation’s Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, who made the shocking revelation in a statement issued in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, few days ago, was quoting the NNPC Managing Director, Dr. Maikanti Baru. Baru spoke when he led a team on a visit to the Nigerian Customs Service Comptroller-General, Col. Hameed Ali (retd).
The NNPC boss who used the occasion to raise the alarm over proliferation of fuel stations in border and coastal communities across the country, insisted that the development has made it difficult to sanitise fuel supply and distribution.
Baru presented a pictorial chart portraying Nigeria in the middle selling pump price of petrol at N145, its neighbours: Ghana at N311, Togo (N308), Benin Republic (N292.8), Niger (367), Chad (326.35) and Cameroon at N400 per litre.
“There has been a heightened consumption growth from less than 30 million litres per day in August 2017, to an average of over 500 million litres per day with a peak of 84.2 million litres on December 8, 2017,” he said.
The NNPC helmsman, according to Mr Ughamadu’s statement said “a detailed study conducted by the corporation indicated strong correlation between the presence of the frontier stations and the activities of fuel smuggling syndicates, insisting that the activities of the smugglers had led to observed abnormal surge in the evacuation of petrol from less than 35 million litres per day to more than 60 million litres per day, a development he described to be in sharp contrast with established national consumption pattern.
Providing a detailed presentation of the findings, the NNPC GMD said 16 states, having among them 61 Local Government Areas (LGAs) with border communities, account for 2,201 registered fuel stations, noting that they possess a combined capacity of 144,998,700 litres of petrol, while eight other states, with coastal border communities spreading across 24 LGAs among the states, account for 866 registered fuel outlets, with combined petrol tank capacity of 73,443, 086 litres.
For the NNPC to run to the Nigerian Customs Service for assistance to curb the malaise, shows the helplessness of the Corporation in the matter of resolving the lingering scarcity of petroleum products. But the irony is that the Customs Service is also handicapped in that it does not have the required quantity and quality of personnel to police the entire Nigerian land and sea borders. And so, unfortunately, there is no absolute guarantee that both the NNPC and the Customs have the combined capacity to halt the malaise. For one, it is believed that both agencies have long been infiltrated by the smuggling cabal and have so terribly compromised their staffers.
Again, there has not been any concrete deterrent measure taken against smugglers, apparently because of their connections and contact with powerful government officials, inspite of discovered diversion and arrests. While hungry and poverty-stricken Nigerians are being daily harassed, arrested, detained, prosecuted and jailed for inconsequential offences like wandering and stealing of minor items, no conclusive arrests have been made involving economic saboteurs like smugglers and fuel hoarders and adulterators. The best Nigerians have been fed with have been stories of smugglers escaping after “hot pursuit” by men of the Customs Service or a feable sealing of filling stations found to have been involved in some infraction, though at no point considered serious enough for serious sanction or punishment. Issue of follow-up on those supposedly sealed filling stations are never done; not long after, such filling stations are seen bustling with business and the game goes on.
Of course, Col. Ali had promised that the Customs would liaise with the NNPC to stem the tide of cross-border smuggling of petroleum products, and that all hands must be on the deck to ensure the country’s economic survival, but that remains a tokenism as such promises had no practical implementation even in the face of the large scale smuggling.
We at The AUTHORITY therefore urge the NNPC management to get more serious with finding practical solutions to the problems, it goes beyond rhetoric’s and photo-shows. It remains the primary duty of the NNPC to discover and plug all illegal channels for fleecing Nigeria’s majorly imported fuel. NNPC should pay more than a passing attention on fuel distribution and follow the product to its final destination and how it is eventually sold off. It has to have reliable record and deal with problem decisively as they arise, not just sitting back always and lamenting. For example, it is ironic that petroleum products are all the time smuggled to so called neighbouring countries and NNPC have all the time failed to do the needful, while all the time, blaming smugglers and undesirable elements, whereas they are saddled with statutory duty to handle such issues and bring them to a halt. Otherwise, is it not a shame that while NNPC is lamenting, these neighbouring countries perfect ways of either officially or illegally receiving petroleum products from Nigeria both during periods of adequate supply as well as during periods of scarcity.
We are of the considered opinion that petroleum products which are God’s blessings to Nigeria must stop constituting a curse to the nation and her people. Nigerians have indeed suffered enough from incessant scarcity of petroleum products and the combined effort of the NNPC and Nigerian Customs Service are properly suited to deal a lethal blow to this recurring malaise.