Fuel scarcity in Nigeria has become a pressing issue that is causing significant economic hardships and violating the constitutional and international human rights obligations of Nigerian citizens. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) highlighted the alleged corruption and mismanagement in the oil sector, the importation and distribution of dirty fuel, and the prolonged fuel scarcity as fundamental breaches of Nigerians’ rights.
The first signs of fuel scarcity were observed in Abuja around January 24, 2022, coinciding with the planned nationwide protests by Nigerian labor unions against the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government in July 2022. However, the protests were called off after the government announced an 18-month suspension of the subsidy removal. Shortly after, reports emerged of the importation of “dirty fuel” from Belgium.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) conducted an investigation and discovered methanol in petrol cargoes imported by several companies, including MRS, Emadeb/Hyde/AY Maikifi/Brittania-U Consortium, Oando, and Duke Oil. As a result, the NNPC ordered the holding back of these products in transit. It was also revealed that the NNPC asked oil trading firms to urgently supply petrol to replace the rejected cargoes due to their poor quality.
In response, MRS, one of the companies implicated in importing adulterated fuel, denied the allegations and claimed that the NNPC was the sole supplier of petrol in Nigeria due to the subsidy regime. The company stated that the fuel was purchased from an international trader and delivered by a specific vessel. However, the NNPC maintained that the adulterated fuel was imported by the suppliers themselves through their Direct-Sales-Direct-Purchase arrangement.
The fuel scarcity has now persisted for six weeks, affecting the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos, and several other states. As a result, long queues have formed at fueling stations, and many Nigerians have resorted to buying fuel at exorbitant prices from the black market. Additionally, individuals have been forced to purchase petrol to power their generators due to the worsening electricity situation across the country. This situation has led to significant economic challenges for Nigerians, depriving them of economic opportunities and subjecting them to cruel and degrading treatment.
The implications of this prolonged fuel scarcity are numerous and severe. The cost of living has increased, transportation fares have risen by over 100 percent, and food prices have skyrocketed due to the rising cost of transportation. Furthermore, valuable working hours are lost due to long queues at fueling stations, and vehicles have been damaged by adulterated fuel. Malpractices and corruption have also become rampant, with fueling stations engaging in hoarding, bribery, and other unscrupulous practices. The hoarding of petrol in unsafe locations has led to devastating fires, causing significant economic losses for victims.
It is disheartening that despite allocating a substantial amount of N3 trillion for fuel subsidy in 2022, the Federal Government has failed to address the issue effectively. Nigeria, with its four petroleum refineries located in Port Harcourt, Warri, and Kaduna, continues to rely on fuel imports. The billions of dollars spent on the maintenance of these refineries have not yielded the desired results, indicating corruption as a major factor hindering the revival of the refineries.
The entire value chain of the Nigerian petroleum sector is plagued by opacity, fraud, and inefficiency. Although the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) was signed into law in August 2021, little has changed in the way the sector is operated. Full deregulation has not been achieved, and Nigeria continues to suffer from the existing guided deregulation, exacerbating the crisis. The prevailing culture of impunity further worsens the situation.
If the current situation persists, it would undoubtedly have severe consequences for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in any upcoming elections. The government, which came to power on a promise of change, is now governing in a manner similar to its predecessor. The lack of electricity, fuel scarcity, strikes at public universities, exodus of healthcare workers due to poor working conditions, and escalating insecurity are causing immense dissatisfaction among Nigerians.
It is crucial to end this prolonged fuel scarcity in Nigeria. While Nigerians have demonstrated resilience and tolerance amid the hardships caused by the fuel shortage, their patience should not be taken for granted. Continued neglect of this critical issue could lead to civil unrest. Urgent measures, including a comprehensive investigation of the NNPC and its subsidiaries, are necessary to address the corruption and mismanagement that perpetuate the fuel scarcity crisis.