Hope that fuel queues instigated by the scarcity of petroleum products in most parts of the country will soon disappear was dashed on Wednesday as Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, said Nigerians would have to endure till May this year.
Kachikwu, who doubles as Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), made this disclosure at a meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and officials of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) at the State House.
The meeting was summoned by the Presidency to intimate President Buhari on the actual cause of grievances of the unions within the oil and gas industry.
The minister said government was still grappling with logistics associated with massive fuel importation to the country, which has climbed progressively from 50 percent to 100 percent at the moment.
“I do not want to put a time frame, but I will expect that over the next two months we should see quite frankly a complete elimination of these queues,” Kachikwu stated.
He said anytime scarcity persists, fuel products kept in reserves are usually depleted, hence government was seriously considering how to change its strategy, such that whatever is produced in the local refineries will not go for sale but kept in the strategic reserves.
He said, “One of the trainings I did not receive is that of a magician, but I am working very hard to ensure that some of these issues go away. Let’s be honest, for the five to six months we have been here, NNPC has moved from a 50 percent importer of fuel products to basically a 100 percent importer.
“The 445 barrels crude swaps that were allocated were to cover between 50 and 55 percent importation. So is quite frankly, its shear magic that we even have the amount of products at the stations.
“We are looking to see how to get foreign exchange input, the president and I discussed extensively on how to get more crude directed at importation.
“Our strategy is that whatever is produced in the refineries will not go for sale, we would keep them in strategic reserve. Because the key problem we have is that our reserve gets depleted anytime there is gap in supply.
“So we are going to dedicate the next couple of months to moving all the products that we produce to strategic reserve so that we can pile up reserves in the nation and that will push up the reserves. Believe me this is giving me and my team sleepless nights and we are working on it and we are committed to making this go away, Nigerians should please bear with us”.
Kachikwu explained that part of the grievances of the unions had to do with speedy passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which has been with the National Assembly for a couple of years.
He said NUPENG and PENGASSAN have variously expressed their reservations for the poor state of the nation’s refineries and are thankful that the refineries were not sold out as being speculated in some quarters.
“The unions are worried about the utilization of depots including logistics issues that plague the oil industry.
“They are also worried about job loss in the sector arising from the position of majors who feel that the economy is giving rough end of the sticks and then try to whittle down staff. So we are going to be working with the oil majors to ensure that we do not experience the kind of job loss that we are hearing has the potential to occur in the sector”, he noted.
Meanwhile, the disposition of NUPENG and PENGASSAN over moves by the NNPC GMD to unbundle the corporation may have changed as they clearly showed support for restructuring of the oil sector.
NUPENG President, Igwe Achese, said they would continue to be part of the restructuring in the industry to make sure that scarcity is reversed at the filling stations.
Olabode Johnson, PENGASSAN President, who corroborated Achese, said they support everything that is going to happen in NNPC provided it follows due process and consultation.
“As leaders, we are very satisfied with what he said, the commitment and the passion he has shown for the industry.
“PIB is an executive bill, all the legal framework will be addressed so that it will be of benefit to Nigerians.
“He also showed concern for pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft and we know that we will support and collaborate to make him achieve results,” Olabode said.