As many Nigerians were still savouring the historic victory of General Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential polls, oil marketers in the country began to grumble over alleged unpaid subsidy claims. Like a joke, it began but within few weeks their threats began to materialize.
On Saturday, May 16, 2015, the association of oil marketers issued a directive to its members, ordering the suspension of loading activities in all depots from Monday, May 18, 2015. According to the association, the directive was as a result of unpaid funds owed to transporters by oil marketers who in turn are being owed by the Federal Government.
As usual in such circumstances, there was immediate fuel scarcity. Initially, it only affected few states such as Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory but as the May 29 handover date drew closer the situation began to bite harder. Many Nigerians were made to pass through harrowing experiences as many had to spend nights and long hours at petrol stations in attempts to buy fuel. Those who could not go through that abandoned their cars at home and some even took to trekking. Others even avoided going out, preferring to suffer quietly at home.
The suffering and hardship that citizens have been subjected to as a result of the scarcity of petrol, diesel, aviation fuel and kerosene had been much. Hospitals had been unable to function properly, laboratories had been unable to carry out the much needed tests especially for emergency patients leaving such patients at the risk of dying.
Radio stations had been shut down, communication was also affected as telecommunications companies had announced an impending shut down while homes, offices and key facilities nationwide were experiencing blackouts. In some parts of the country, petrol was selling at an all-time high of N1,000 per litre. As many left their homes to be sleeping in fuel stations, they faced the possibility of robbery attacks and other attendant risks.
Ubah to the rescue
Amidst this crisis, the then Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was locked in a bitter war of words with the oil marketers. But seeing the continuous and untold hardship which Nigerians were going through, Managing Director and CEO of Capital Oil and Gas Limited, Dr. Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah, was moved with compassion and pulled out of the strike by the fuel tankers and marketers, saying it was not going to be part of the ploy to inflict pain on Nigerian masses.
In a statement issued by Dr. Ubah, the company announced that its tank farm facility with a combined storage capacity of 190 million litres with the capacity to load over 13 million litres of product per day be immediately opened to start loading before the dawn of the next day.
The company affirmed that it had storage of over 79 million litres of petrol as at the day of the strike. The company called on other petroleum marketers to follow suit and save the nation from an impending economic and social crisis. Dr. Ubah stressed the importance of sacrifice, especially as the nation was preparing to have a new government.
Ubah was rightly quoted to have said in the announcement: “This is a period that requires patriotism and service to fatherland. Let’s join hands to help our fellow citizens and save Nigeria. We also call on striking bodies to call off the strike action. Let us work together for the betterment of our people.”
This singular act doused the tension in the land and compelled the oil marketers association to immediately call off the strike.
Ubah’s patriotic action
Although the scarcity has not fully been abated, Ubah’s patriotic action created a better atmosphere for the new government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari to be sworn in. True to his promise, his company commenced distribution of over 13 million litres per day of petroleum products from its tank farm in Apapa, Lagos. This came to approximately 400 trucks of products per day.
In some places, Capital Oil reduced the pump price of petrol from N200 to N100 per litre in order to compel other marketers to follow suit. Nnewi and Onitsha in Anambra State as well as some other parts of the country were test cases for this patriotic intervention.
The national embarrassment that would have resulted from the visiting heads of state and delegation from across Africa and beyond noticing the fuel scarcity menace was well managed due to the patriotic intervention of a man who began with nothing but has been blessed by God through a dint of hard work and ingenuity to become one of the nation’s biggest oil and gas merchant.
In dissociating himself from the strike, he rescued millions of Nigerians from the untold hardship occasioned by the fuel crisis. The strike was understandably perceived by many as a plan to sabotage the outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and to stampede the incoming administration of President Buhari into a turbulent start.
Besides, as an association and not a labour union, the oil marketers body’s move to cripple the nation’s economy at that crucial time should be seen as a very unpatriotic act. It is, therefore, pertinent to investigate and ascertain those behind the strike as both Petroleum Tankers Drivers PTD and NUPENG have all denied being responsible for the action.
Deregulation of oil sector
One clear message which the situation has brought to the nation is the urgent need to totally deregulate the sector as this will curb corruption, increase investment create jobs, and force down the price of petrol to approximately below the current official N87 per litre. However, this critical and timely intervention of Dr. Ubah has shown what love for country and working for the greater good can achieve in a nation.
And the turn of events, which made the oil marketers to quickly call off the strike has also shown that Capital Oil and Gas Limited is a core investor in the nation’s oil and gas sector which should not only be cherished but encouraged to do more especially with the patriotic sprit of its CEO, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah.
The new administration should not take this gesture lightly. In progressive nations across the world, individuals and organisations that show such uncommon feat of placing public interest above other ones are identified and rewarded with national honours and motivational gestures. It will not be out of place in this regard.
Honouring such a feat would serve as an example to others that making personal sacrifice for national good is a worthwhile investment. Other oil marketers in the country should be encouraged to see Dr Ubah’s action as a blessing and not a curse and, therefore, find ways of partnering with him and other likeminded investors to move the sector forward.
Indeed as Martin Luther King Jnr. said; the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moment of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. Dr Ifeayin Ubahs has stood rightly on the side of the people and for the good of country at this critical time of national rebirth.
Prince Okpala is a political analyst.