Admittedly there is no time of the year when union strikes and the scarcity of petroleum products are convenient and welcome. But whenever it comes at Christmas/New Year season (the Yuletide), the experience is always nightmarish and excruciating to all and sundry.
This is one important reason that the government and all interest groups involved in the supply chain of petroleum products must join hands and ensure that the threat by independent petroleum marketers to withdraw their services if the N800 billion owed them is not paid before this coming Sunday is nipped in the bud.
On Sunday, December 2, 2018, the independent marketers comprising the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association, DAPPMA, Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, MOMAN and the Independent Petroleum Products Importers, IPPIs, issued the ultimatum, though some of the stakeholders dissociated themselves from the strike threat.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, had initially impulsively responded to the ultimatum with a typical government bluff, saying they had enough fuel to last through the season. But experience down the years has shown that even partial supply always leads to long queues, the sprouting of black markets and soaring costs due to hoarding and profiteering by fuel dealers.
This severely disrupts the end-of-year frenzy of activities both in the major urban centres and the rural areas which usually receive large numbers of homecoming indigenes. The suffering is shared by our hordes of countrymen and families arriving from the Diaspora. Everybody is forced to overshoot his/her seasonal budgets.
We are relieved to note that by Thursday, December 6, 2018 (yesterday) the Federal Government, through the Debt Management Office and the Federal Ministry of Finance, had scheduled a meeting with the aggrieved marketers to talk things over and prevent the strike. The government's earlier offer of N350 billion worth of promissory notes to the marketers was rejected because they need immediate cash to pay outstanding staff salaries and offset other pressing bills.
Though some of the outstanding payments due to the marketers date back to previous regimes, we urge the Buhari administration to stay constructively engaged with the suppliers of fuel, a vital energy resource, while we continue to grapple with the challenges of growing our own indigenous refineries and expanding the electricity supply system.
The Federal Government must improve on its unflattering record of failure to keep to agreements. This attitude is a perennial problem that has survived from one regime to the other, including supposedly "corrective" regimes such as the current Buhari government.
We must learn to keep to agreements and pacts voluntarily entered into. Without that, Nigeria will never be trusted, even by its own citizens let alone our foreign partners.