Mr. Joseph Akinlaja, representing Ondo East/West Federal Constituency, is a Peoples Democratic Party lawmaker and the Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum (Downstream). In this interview with SOLA SHITTU in Abuja, Akinlaja warns President Muhammadu Buhari to watch people around him closely if he wants to realise the change he has promised Nigerians. Excerpts:
What is responsible for the persistent fuel crisis in the last one month?
Before now, we called the stakeholders in the petroleum sector to a meeting asking for a way forward to ensure that members of the public go to filling stations and within two minutes, buy fuel and go away. People are not interested in why there is no fuel; they are only interested in going to the filling stations, buying fuel and going about their normal businesses. So the committee left for the nearest depot to the federal capital, the Suleja depot, to find out issues affecting the supply of petroleum products. Then we were given assurances about a month ago that what happened would not occur again, but unfortunately, here we are, it has not completely abated.
So why has the problem not been solved?
One, lack of political will or economic will to positively address the problem of supply of petroleum products. I have not seen the angel that will be able to control the commodity that is scarce. You can jail people, send them to prison and do all sorts, yet it will not abate. If it abates temporarily, it will come up again, so the issue is supply. For example, anytime fuel is surplus, would you see black market traders on the roadside? No. If anyone does that, he will drink the fuel, when people can drive into any filling station and get fuel in the right quantity and quality. When there is surplus, there will be no hoarding. Anybody that hoards will be forced by market forces to bring out the commodity and sell because tying down your capital for a long time is uneconomic. It doesn’t make sense because we have crude oil in one of the best qualities in the world, the sweet Brent. We have the financial muscle to have refineries that will refine it but instead, we go for swaps, we go for barter and exploit ourselves.
I want to tell you something; between 1965 and 1981, a period of 16 years in Nigeria’s history, we built four refineries; one in Kaduna, Warri and two in Port Harcourt. From 1981 till now, a period of about 34 years, not one refinery has been added to that. Why? Refineries cannot be built if you can sit down in your office with your computer before you and you are awarded an import licence to import. You make your money in dollars, recycle and come here and take subsidy. Who will go into production when you can make cheap money from importation? Surprisingly, those who have the capacity to change the trend are beneficiaries of the importation. So you cannot make a law against yourself or work against yourself. The solution to supply is in the hands of the government. Some multinational companies operating in Nigeria own refineries in different parts of the world. The question is why not in Nigeria? Oil firms like Shell, Total, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Gulf Oil; they all have refineries all over the world. Has government asked them why they don’t have refineries in Nigeria? If only we can eliminate the cost of transporting the crude overseas, refining it and bringing it back, that will save us a lot of money. So the problem is supply.
Would you say that government policy in that regard is faulty?
It is faulty and they are not willing to do anything about it. There used to be a clergyman who would say; ‘do as I say, don’t do as I do.’ In other words, what is in the mouth is different from what is in the mind. Nigerians say good things, they set up committees and write the most beautiful reports in the world but it ends there. Without a determined effort by government to ensure that the supply problem is resolved, there can be no solution to this intermittent fuel shortage. That is the truth.
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