Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
The spectacle of stranded passengers in their thousands at the nation’s airports has not only embarrassed Nigeria, it has re-ignited a sense of bewilderment at how and why one of the world’s largest oil producing countries can come to this sorry pass.
Against the backdrop of Nigeria’s inability to produce much-needed petroleum products locally, the airline industry has for weeks been plunged into crisis as a result of severe scarcity of Jet A1 or aviation fuel. The result is that flight operations have been curtailed with terrible consequences for passengers and businesses. Before now, road transport users or vehicle owners had suffered the same fate with the scarcity of premium motor spirit and road transportation became almost impossible until respite came. This constant scarcity of petroleum products is a recurring shame which government should redress immediately.
Just as Jet A1 is scarce, so is cooking gas and kerosene for domestic use which at present sells for about N300 per litre. This has compounded the woes of the nation’s poor who depend largely on kerosene for cooking. The scarcity of JET A1 and kerosene, similar products in composition, has interestingly united both the haves and the have-nots in agony.
For months, precisely since January, the industry has been plunged into chronic fuel scarcity with airlines finding it difficult to carry out their daily operations.
With irritating delays and cancellations of flights, scores of passengers are daily stranded at airports across Nigeria. Businesses are adversely affected and precious productive man hours are lost. The impact on the nation’s tottering economy is better imagined.
Arik Air the nation’s biggest airlines operates an average of 120 flights daily, which require about 500,000 litres of domestic and international flights.
Consequently, the airline is the most impacted by the inability of oil marketers to meet daily fuel requirements on a timely and consistent basis.
The aviation industry, it must be stressed, is one of the critical sectors of the economy, which no country can afford to toy with. In an age when rapid movement is the norm for economic development, the aviation industry is one of the most desirable vehicles towards fulfilling that need as air transport is the fastest way of ferrying persons and products.
It is lamentable that a country that prides itself as the largest economy in Africa cannot produce enough fuel because its refineries are not functional while over-dependence on imported fuel, fraught with corruption as it is, has practically grounded Nigeria.
Now that sourcing foreign exchange is almost an impossibility, the prospect of inability to import will sure compound the prevailing scarcity.
Also, there are logistic problems over dependence on imported fuel. There are distribution challenges as discharging of vessels bringing in Jet A1 and other petroleum products are done in the same Jetty. Thereafter, loading of trucks for distribution to northern cities like Kano or Abuja takes considerable effort and time over dilapidated roads. It is high time government did something to end the chronic aviation fuel scarcity. With the refineries, whatever efforts are being made to revive them should be intensified. Also, against the background of non-availability of needed foreign exchange, the government may wish to create a special forex window for the importation of aviation fuel to mitigate the problem at hand.
It is appropriate that the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu is taking the scarcity seriously based on his public show of concern and expressions. Although he said government has essentially liberalised the sector and in fact, the importation of Jet -A1 is largely in the hands of the private sector, given the situation and its gravity, he has promised that he and his officials would do everything possible to find a solution. It is also gratifying that he has pledged to look at countries where there is immediate availability of the product so as to solve the problem.
Building new modern refineries, of course, is the only solution to scarcity and the hope is that Dangote’s Lekki Refinery in Lagos, which is under construction, would come on stream soonest to ease Nigeria’s burden.
Oil marketers and others involved in the procurement and distribution of the products should also be engaged by the government with a view to jointly saving Nigerians constant agony and embarrassment.