Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has stated that Nigerians are being denied the benefits of the governmentâ€™s insistence on keeping the pump price of petrol at N145 per litres across service stations in country by the unwholesome activities of cross border smugglers of petroleum products.
NNPCâ€™s Group Managing Director, Dr. Maikanti Baru disclosed this to the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Mr. Hameed Ali, when he recently visited him in Abuja to initiate a partnership that could arrest the increasing incidences of petroleum products smuggling.
Baru explained that because of the low price of petrol in Nigeria as compared to prices per litre within West African countries around her, smugglers are taking advantage of this to divert loaded tankers of products from their destinations in-country to service stations at border towns to supply to countries like Niger, Ghana, and Benin Republic, amongst others.
He specifically laid the blame of smuggling on independent petroleum marketers, adding that such diversion and cross-border smuggling impacted efficient supply and distribution of products in Nigeria.
According to him, increasing fuel price in the international market and the corresponding increase in petrol imports have brought about a big price differential between Nigeriaâ€™s regulated market and the deregulated market in neighbouring countries.
He noted that while Nigeria sold petrol at N145 per litre, Ghana sold at N311, Togo â€“ N308, Benin Republic â€“ N292.8, Niger â€“ 367, Chad â€“ 326.35, and Cameroon at N400 per litre.
â€œThere has been a heightened consumption growth from less than 30 million litres per day in August 2017 to an average of over N50 million litres per day with a peak of 84.2 million litres on Dec. 8, 2017. The high consumption volume indicates hoarding, diversion and possible smuggling to neighbouring countries. During the recent petrol supply and distribution challenge, it was observed that unpatriotic marketers were exploiting both land and coastal borders to smuggle out petroleum meant for the Nigerian market due to sheer greed. This unwholesome act is supported by price differential between Nigeriaâ€™s petrol official cap of N145 per litre and that of neighbouring countries,â€ Baru, told Ali.
He said the activities of the smugglers were helped by, â€œtheir ability to move petroleum products in trucks, cars motorcycles, drums, jerry cans and other means of evacuation.â€
â€œTheir movement is especially from filling stations along land borders as well as ships, barges, vessels into neighbouring countries for sale at higher unregulated prices is quite worrisome.
â€œNNPC is worried that continued cross-border smuggling of petroleum products will deny Nigerians the benefits of federal governmentâ€™s benevolence of keeping a fixed retail price of N145 per litre,â€ he added.
Indicating areas he would want the Customs to look deeply into, Baru, said: â€œThere are 235 registered filling stations in Lagos but there are also 150 illegal filling stations there. We have close to 2201 filling stations across the borders but there must be close to that amount that operates illegally.
â€œThere is need for your marine patrol to be very active. We have a lot of problem with Akwa Ibom and Cross River. These are two states where we have utmost difficulties in clearing queues. We sent a lot of trucks there but the trucks virtually vanish. We liaised with civil defence to monitor each truck but the trucks still donâ€™t get to their destinations.
â€œThe high consumption can only continue if there is continuous smuggling and that is why we need your support to save the country over N300 billion by ensuring that smuggling does not continue.â€
Ali, in his response, stated that the price differential was a big concern, and that a change in policy could help curb the activities of the smugglers.
He noted that the countryâ€™s borders were porous especially in the northern axis during the dry season.
â€œA town of less than 200,000 people has over 35 filling stations from your charts. Iâ€™m sure 20 per cent of people in that town do not own vehicles so what are the filling stations doing around the border? Our intelligence unit can work with your intelligence to interject the smugglers if we have enough information. We need to collaborate on getting the information as at when due,â€ said Ali.