It is no secret that Nigeria has been shut down due to an acute shortage of petroleum products. That is now extreme public knowledge. What is a secret is that almost all pundits who have entered the fray by commenting on the matter are pointing fingers in blame instead of pointing fingers to the solution.
To the All Progressive Congress, APC, it is a plot by former President Goodluck Jonathan to ground the country to a halt as payback for his losing the election.
To the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the current imbroglio is an attempt by the APC to blackmail the Jonathan administration by instigating marketers into not cooperating with the outgoing government.
To some others, the situation is caused by President Muhammadu Buhari’s comments which tend to suggest that he would probe the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, which comments have made marketers nervous and unwilling to invest their money in a system that might be dismantled in a few weeks’ time.
But no one is talking about solutions and Nigerians are suffering.
Hospitals cannot tend to emergencies, telecommunications companies are warning of a system-wide shutdown, international flights from Nigeria are diverting to Ghana to refill, because they cannot be fueled from Nigeria; hotels are warning that they will shut down. I imagine that war-torn Syria may not have it this bad!
This situation is not about Goodluck and Buhari or PDP and APC. It is about saving Nigeria. Thus, we must come up with solutions.
As I see it, the problem is that we do not have an efficient system of getting a product that has become vital to our every day life-Premium Motors Spirits and its allied products.
Now, as any successful businessman knows, if you want goods and services to be cheaper and abundant, all you have to do is simplify the process of producing, distributing and marketing them.
You do this by avoiding complexities. Any person, material or process that is not necessary to the production, distribution and marketing of the product should be eliminated if you want to simplify the process and reduce cost.
This is precisely the reason why fertilizer became both plentiful and cheaper during the tenure of Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina as Minister of Agriculture.
He introduced the e-wallet system of fertilizer and seed distribution which eliminated the middle man, causing the price of fertilizer to drop. His actions also made the product become readily available, unlike the case before he came on board. Not just that, the quality of the product increased, because middle men no longer had the opportunity to adulterate the product.
What Adesina did in the agricultural sector is what we must do with the upstream sector of the petroleum industry.
The vital question to be asked is that in the matter of importing oil and even refining crude, what particular set of skills do marketers have that the NNPC does not have or cannot acquire?
NNPC has been in business for almost forty years. Some of these marketers are not even up to 40 years of age. What do they know, have or can get that NNPC cannot?
I did some investigations into these ‘so called’ marketers, and many of them are just traders; they add no value and, in some cases, even deplete value from the system.
Their most significant asset is connections. And I am not talking about connections in Western capitals or with commodity traders, I am referring to connections with high public officials which they trade off for licenses, contracts and Local Purchase Orders to provide products.
Other than their connections, their capacity is not as developed as that of the NNPC.
It is an easy and corrupt-prone way to make money that is destroying the system as we have seen it today.
If I had my way, no one in NNPC would stay in their air-conditioned offices until my people of Nigeria have fuel on demand!
All the talk of marketers blackmailing the government is an excuse. The government put itself in exactly this situation by allowing NNPC get away with passing off what should be their core responsibility to incompetent and unpatriotic marketers.
Our refineries should be working but even if they are not and we do not have the capacity to refine what we need, NNPC has better options than marketers.
One of those options is to find a consortium anywhere in the world that is into refining and enter into an agreement with them to give them a steady supply of crude; if they will give Nigeria a steady supply of refined product in exchange. Our crude, the Bonny Light Sweet, is called ‘sweet’ because it is in high demand by refiners due to its low sulfur content, meaning that it is very easy and less costly to refine. It would not take much prospecting to find a consortium willing to partner with Nigeria in this regard.
There is also another way.
What many people outside the Niger Delta do not know is that quite a number of villagers and barely literate people have figured out ways to refine crude oil into Premium Motor Spirits. They refine crude oil into PMS and sell or even give it out for free in their communities and neighboring towns.
Their major draw back is that because they are illegal, they have to keep moving about, and when the navy or the military men of the Joint Task Force gets them, they destroy their local refineries.
But why should that be the case?
What could be done is to immediately license these illegal refineries that dot the landscape of the Niger Delta and even go ahead to provide them with assistance in the form of a regular supply of crude oil, which is sourced from their communities, and provide them with low interest loans to buy petrol tankers to supply products to distant locations.
This would do three things. It will immediately increase Nigeria’s capacity to refine petroleum products thus increasing the amount of product in the market, and reduce our dependence on foreign refiners. It will provide jobs to literally tens of thousands of Nigerians and finally it would benefit the treasury as the government can tax these refineries.
Another solution is the option to go fully electric by way of solar energy. I drive a Kia Soul. It is a fully electric car.
In case you say ask what wisdom there is in buying an electric car when power supply is almost as bad as, if not worse than fuel supply, let me respond by saying I charge my electric car with solar energy.
I will always have energy for my car because the sun is my energy. Except we run out of sun, I will never run out of energy. I can never be blackmailed by marketers.
I urge all Nigerians who can afford to buy a new car to consider going electric.
To put things in perspective, I recently unveiled my electric car during the Silverbird Man of the Year award 2015 at the Eko Hotels on Sunday the 3rd of May, 2015.
After this display, a prominent Nigerian group of companies realised how much money they could save by going electric and have ordered (wait for it) 300 electric cars!
This group of companies did not order these cars because they are nice or because they love novelty. No. They did it because it makes sense, it will save them money and it will stop them being vulnerable to the periodic fuel scarcities that plague Nigeria in cycles.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Nigeria is facing desperate times which call for desperate remedies.
These remedies are not going to come from civil servants in their air conditioned offices who are just watching the clock waiting for closing time so they can go home and do what they like.
The ideas that will fix Nigeria must be generated by those of us whom Nigerians have trusted with their votes. We cannot continue to point to each other in blame. We must coalesce, cooperate and collaborate or we collapse as a nation. Which ever co- we want is up to us.