By Sopuruchi Onwuka
Fuel scarcity which slowly crept into Lagos at the opening of the week went acute yesterday despite assurances from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that it has adequate stock of petroleum products to address immediate and short term market demand.
Survey of filling stations and storage depots in Lagos showed disturbing low tank levels as pressure from highly starved market continue to deplete available stock at all tank farms operated mainly by major and independent marketing companies.
In the market, over 70 percent all service stations surveyed by our reporters were shut against motorists while those that opened to customers contended with large long queues that caused severe traffic congestion on the roads.
Among the filling stations that closed to motorists are NNPC mega stations, a development that posts signals of deep supply deficit in the market. Stock level in Lagos is a key indicator of larger short to medium term crisis.
The Oracle Today reports that price manipulation and other sharp market practices thrive unchecked at the times of acute scarcity in the market.
There were no cases of price hike during our survey but motorists complained of under-dispensing at some of the rusty filling stations notorious for their fraudulent meters. Whereas most of the standard service stations belonging to popular marketing companies closed down after running out of stock, some old and unkempt retail stations previously thought to be out of use suddenly opened and hosted large crowds of customers.
While they displayed the official price of N145 at the meters, customers that came with plastic containers as well as motorcyclists told our reporters that they bought quantities believed to be less than what was displayed as dispensed at the pumps.
Also, customers that came with containers other than vehicles were charged additional money, and the service pumps dedicated to them were more that those attending to motorists. The profit arrangements at some of the filling stations worsened the fuel queues and caused rowdy scrambling inside the stations, a situation described by regulators as unsafe and vulnerable to tragic outcomes in the event of fire incidents.
Our investigations showed that contrary to claims by NNPC that the scarcity was artificial and worsened by panic buying, there are deep shortfalls in market supply while stocks at storage terminals are at critical levels.
At Apapa storage hub, industry sources told our reporters that only MRS, NIPCO, NNPC and another marketer have significant volumes that sum up to the total available stock of 21 million liters. NNPC puts total national average demand for premium motor spirit also called petrol at 32.5 million liters per day.
Worse still, contacts at the jetties said there were no vessels with fuel cargoes either discharging, waiting to discharge or expected to arrive within days.
It would be recalled that acute shortage of foreign exchange, cost template disputes and approval difficulties imposed glitches on private fuel imports since 2015 when government began phased deregulation of the market. Since then, NNPC has grappled with the role of key market supplier.
The corporation has consistently claimed that it has adequate supply of products, assured that there were no plans to increase the price of petroleum products and declared increased load out petroleum products from its storage reserves across the country in order to address fears of scarcity.
Spokesman of the corporation, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, stated that ex-depot price of the product from government’s storage facilities remains unchanged.
Mr Ughamadu admitted that there were fuel supply and distribution challenges witnessed in some parts of the country. He dismissed the fears of scarcity as a product of panic buying.
“Group Managing Director of the corporation, Dr. Maikanti Kacalla Baru, had directed that more truckload of petroleum products be dispatched to various parts of the country to cushion the effects of excessive demand caused by panic buying,” Mr Ughamadu had said.