Could Ifeanyi Ubah’s decision to release fuel put an end to crisis?

VENTURES AFRICA – On Sunday, Ifeanyi Ubah, the Chairman of Capital Oil, offered a late press conference that could change the dynamics of the fuel crisis that has crippled economic activities over the last month and threatened a national shutdown. In a Sunday evening press conference announcing his decision to offload petroleum products at the ports, Ifeanyi Ubah said, “We believe that a better solution can be pursued towards solving this problem in a way that does not adversely affect our dear citizens.”

Capital Oil’s facilities have a capacity to offload 13 million litres of petroleum products in six hours. The company claims it can offload enough product to take Nigeria through the May 29th transition in power.  If reports are true, then be Nigerian’s could see about 15 million litres of fuel, lifted by 400 tankers, making its way to areas hardest hit by the fuel crisis including Lagos and Abuja.

Ubah’s oil company is one of the many oil marketers locked in a stand-off with the Federal Government of Nigeria over disputed fuel subsidy claims. MOMAN, a coordinating body of petroleum product marketers in Nigeria, says the government owes it over N200 billion ($1 billion), and has refused, since Monday, 18 May, to offload petroleum products for distribution across the country. This has led to the closure of gas stations across Nigeria, with devastating social and economic effects.

The repercussions are clear. Motorists are paying almost N1000 for a litre of petrol and some people have even resorted to sleeping at fuel stations. Nigeria’s leading airlines–Arik and Aero Contractors–have both announced a downgrade in operations, cancelling numerous flights across the country. Additionally financial and telecommunications service provider have warned of reduced hours and service cuts due to their inability to purchase fuel. Nigeria’s epileptic power situation forces businesses to rely heavily on diesel and petrol-powered energy sources.

Ubah’s decision to reopen his facilities to commence distribution nationwide from Sunday midnight opens the possibility that other members of MOMAN might also follow suit, thus breaking the deadlock and alleviating the fuel scarcity.

While some have greeted Ubah’s actions with praise, others have generally condemned MOMAN and other striking parties for a lack of patriotism and indifference to the suffering of ordinary Nigerians.

Despite the possibility of a temporary easing of the crisis, the incoming government will have to come up with a sustainable solution to the recurring fuel subsidy dispute if Nigerian’s are to experience a return to normal life over the next few months.