Shame of a nation: Those responsible for the importation of dirty fuel must be severely punished — The Nation Editorial

Posted by News Express | 14 February 2022 | 405 times

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•President Buhari


Nigerians once again saw the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), play the familiar card when implicated in a grievous scandal: deflect responsibility, rationalise, and when evidence becomes so damning, resort to a desperate, if unhelpful, damage control measures.

However, while Nigerians watched these play out in the past week since the media and the motoring public first reported the presence of sub-standard premium motor spirit (petrol) that have left scores of vehicles across the federation damaged, and whose cost to the treasury is already reckoned in multiples of billions of naira, what must alarm is not just grave questions left unanswered, or the depth of abdication by the so-called industry leaders, but the continuing fate of a nation in the hands of clueless players.

We start with last Wednesday press conference by NNPC Group Managing Director Mele Kyari. Other than the names of the merchants of the substandard fuel which he gave as MRS, Oando, Duke Oil and Emadeb/Hyde/AY Maikifi/Brittania-U Consortium, every single sentence rendered was striking for its incongruity. He might well have saved his breath to allow for an unfettered investigation promised by the government.

Take this line from the press conference: “cargoes quality certificates issued at load port (Antwerp-Belgium) by AmSpec Belgium indicate that the gasoline complied with Nigerian specification”.

Or this: “The NNPC quality inspectors, including GMO, SGS, GeoChem and G&G conducted tests before discharge and also showed that the gasoline met Nigerian specification”.

And this: “As a standard practice of all PMS import to Nigeria, the cargoes were also certified by inspection agent appointed by the Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA)”.

How does one reconcile with his other averment “that the usual quality inspection in load protocol employed in both load port in Belgium and our ports in Nigeria do not include the test for percentage of methanol content… and therefore, this tip was not detected by our quality detectors.”

In the eyes of Kyari and his NNPC, all of the agencies are not only blameless but acted above board!

So much for the sophistry; Nigerians must find it insulting that a grave dereliction that has eventuated in a systemic, industry-wide distress could be casually passed off by the NNPC helmsman. Even more curious is the suggestion that the industry regulator – NMDPRA – is also on this. Who then will protect the ordinary Nigerian?  Is failure to detect the methanol content not the reason for the crisis in the land? Why bother to apologise to the nation if the latter is not within the ambit of regulation? For how long has this regulatory lacuna – if it is truly the case – been treated as standard?

While the latest case must have come as an embarrassment, the truth however, is that the racket is not new. It is something that has been going on for quite some time. Only last year, the United Kingdom’s newspaper, The Guardian reported on how some international dealers export to Nigeria around 900,000 tonnes a year of low-grade, “dirty” fuel, produced in the Dutch, Belgian and other European refineries. The research, prepared by Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), quoted by the newspaper was as scathing as could be: “…Nigeria is having dirty fuel dumped on it that cannot be sold to other countries with higher and better implemented standards. The situation is so bad that the average diesels sampled are of an even lower quality than that produced by artisanal refining camps in the creeks of the Niger Delta”. A year after the findings were made public, the report has neither been denied by the government nor the NNPC, which can only mean its acceptance as being credible. So much for the latest rationalisatio by the NNPC; we can only hope that such treatment will not be extended to Jet Aviation before the government is prodded to act.

Far from accepting the apologies being offered by the NNPC, what Nigerians would rather have is restitution. It begins with the on-going withdrawal of the offending products. That process must be completed as swiftly as possible. Without prejudice to the right of those directly affected to take on class action suits to enforce their rights, there must be deliberate steps to identify and compensate where specific liabilities are established.

President Muhammadu Buhari certainly struck the right tone with his directive that producers and providers of the dirty fuel be held accountable for substandard services and products sold by them. That would appear the very minimum that the citizens will find tolerable at this time. This however should not be limited to the importers but also to the officials who aided and abetted the monumental corruption – which is what it is. If we may dare to repeat the well-worn cliché: impunity cannot but thrive when offenders are not punished for wrong-doing. Those whose judgment brought the nation to this sorry pass should be treated as deserving no protection under the law.

We also note the president’s admonition that relevant government agencies take every step in line with the laws of the country to ensure the respect and protection of consumers against market abuses and social injustices. While we do not pretend to know which specific agencies the president had in mind, suffice to say that it is unfortunate that the nation would need to endure such terrible embarrassment before the relevant agencies would be prodded to take their job seriously. In this particular case, the sector’s principal regulator – NMDPRA – would appear the culprit-in-chief. The agency obviously let down its guard and as a consequence, let the entire country down. That a product so clearly off-specs somehow managed to get through to the pumps is not only indefensible, it calls to question its understanding of its role as the watchman over the sensitive sector.

In all of these however, the greater focus must be on the stewardship of the oil corporation, particularly its management of the crude-for-fuel contracts – the so-called Direct Sale Direct Purchase (DSDP) programme. One lesson to take from this is that the corporation has remained not only impervious to the continuing calls for transparency, but a revelation of what a consumer-oriented and true business entity should not be. Aside the terrible image it has now carved for itself, it is hard to imagine a more irresponsible operator.

Think of the billions that will now be required in re-blending as well as other associated costs to make those shipments ready for the pump; and this because NNPC thinks it has the treasury to play with. Were that to happen to a private entity, it would, in all likelihood, have gone bankrupt.

The other lesson is that the country would not have found itself in the mess had the country not been corralled into the easy but ignoble path of fuel importation by some powerful forces in and out of government. As it is, the sooner the government gets out of the business of fuel trade while confining its role to that of regulation, the better it will be for the country in the long run. For this and many more, it is the government that should carry the larger part of the blame – and shame.

Source: News Express

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