A maritime expert and Managing Director of IAL Apapa, Lagos, Alhaji Ismail Adetola Lawal, spoke with DEBO OLADIMEJI on the lingering fuel scarcity and the way forward.
What is your take on the current fuel scarcity?
There is no fuel scarcity, some elements in the country are just trying to be smart. They don’t have the love of the country at heart. They are not patriotic. They are reacting because the government is trying to block the loopholes in the system. Government is just trying to put an end to leakages. Prof. Wole Soyinka said: ‘We are fighting corruption and corruption is fighting back.’
You can see how much we were spending on fuel subsidy before now. A lot of money has been saved from oil subsidy which would have gone into the hands of frivolous people who don’t work, only to take advantage of the situation.
Automatically when they don’t get such money they will react. That is the reaction that we are having. The government knows what to do. They know what measures to put in place to stop all these reactions.
What then is responsible for the scarcity?
If the suppliers don’t supply fuel, the filling stations cannot get oil. That is not scarcity as far as I am concerned. The government has sufficient petroleum in reserve to cater for the entire nation. Distribution is the problem.
It is the same problem we have been having with electricity, distribution. It is good that all these things are happening but it is giving the government the idea of how to surmount this type of problem, and how to put permanent solution in place. Unlike before when everybody just do whatever they like with impunity. Nobody has impunity now with Buhari handling the situation. It is either you behave yourself or you go to prison.
What do you think that the government should do to check the situation?
I am very happy President Muhammadu Buhari is working silently. He doesn’t want to talk because he is very focused. People can create artificial scarcity. It is because our distribution system is bad.
You can see United States, France, Britain, they don’t have this type of problem because they have an effective distribution system. It is here we have pipeline vandals, the irresponsible elements who will go and bomb oil pipelines.
If people have common sense and they are committed, patriotic, they will not be doing what they are doing. They will know that they are creating hardship for their fellow neigbours.
How have you been coping with the situation?
I bought fuel on Monday at N86.5. Last week I bought at N86.5. But some people are giving the impression that they bought fuel at N200 outside Lagos. Anybody can tell you he bought fuel at N400. But why do you need to buy? What is the cost of this queue now?
But what is the solution to the long queues at the filling stations?
The government wants to reduce the cost of pump price from N86.5 downward, that is why you find people trying to be funny. Is that scarcity? Not that we don’t have fuel. We have fuel. The government has removed the subsidy. It is better the government just removed the subsidy because some people have carted away million of money with that.
What is the way forward?
If these marketers are not properly controlled they will be a menace to this country in future. Because they will reduce the life of average Nigerian to nothing. Can you tell me the level of unemployment in the country now? Can you tell me the statistics of the inflation? Do you know how much it will cost a driver living in Ikorodu or Mowe to come to Lagos and go back everyday?
How much is the minimum wage? The minimum wage is N18,000, the governors say that they can’t pay? If you get your money in a legitimate way there is no problem, but stop looting the treasury. Go and work. We have the best opportunity for every Nigerian to make a living. If it is poultry or fishery you can do you cannot be poor. Like some graduates have left the university five years ago and they are still looking for work. These are the time bomb!
Do you think that government should peg the price of diesel?
The government cannot peg anything. There is no control. When we have stability in the supply, more foreign investors in refining, things will change. If we have about two modular refineries in Ibadan, two in Osun State and everybody is producing then there will be no laying of pipelines for people to vandalise. Once the distribution system is okay the price will adjust itself.