By Tessy Igomu

The scarcity is crippling. Across the country, cooking gas and kerosene, two of the major necessities needed to survive daily in Nigeria, are very scarce and pathetically expensive.
Indeed, for years, these commodities have been plagued by two evils – scarcity and ridiculous price fixing. But now, the prices of the two commodities, where they could be found, have skyrocketed to an incredible high.
With a litre of kerosene sold at N600, the pains of over tens of millions of households, who depend on the product daily can better be imagined. The inability to lay hold on kerosene, which is especially relied on by the common man, has created an atmosphere of despondency and exasperation.
And to compound the hopeless situation is the shocking revelation by the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) that there is no kerosene in any depot in Lagos, including that of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The body also disclosed that the commodity was last brought to depots on December 27, 2016, and that the two functional refineries in the country have not been pumping kerosene.
“This has forced the marketers that have the product in their stations to increase it by over 60 per cent.
“This is not the right time for our refineries to stop kerosene production, as everybody cannot depend on gas. The common man cannot afford the price of a cylinder and cooking gas. Our mothers in the village depend on kerosene, an essential household commodity, to cook,” the body stated.

Scarce and expensive
In times past, the two commodities were usually scarce in some places and readily available in some other areas, with their prices rising astronomically by over 140 per cent.
Kerosene presently sells for between N500 and N600 a litre, while Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), popularly called cooking gas, has hit an all time high, with the 12.5kg cylinder size selling for between N5000 and N6000 from the initial price of N3, 500.
From the east, west, north and south, the endless search for kerosene relied on by virtually all homes in Nigeria has brought untold anguish and sadness to the people. The long queue of consumers waiting endlessly at filling stations has made the situation more distressing.
At the moment, most retail stations in the country have run out of stock while it can only be bought from local retailers at N500 and N800, for the small and big pet bottles, respectively.

Painful deregulation
For several years, officially, kerosene sold for N50 per litre, until the Federal Government officially increased the price to N83 per litre. For a people that had for long contended with scarcity of kerosene, queuing for long hours and in most cases, sleeping at the few retail stations that had the commodity, the new price of N83 a litre was simply killing.
Despite complaining bitterly about the development, consumers were left with no choice than to gradually adapt to the situation. Even then, many still had to pay as much as N200 for a litre in filling stations that had the commodity.
However, with the country undergoing serious economic depression and the masses being at the receiving end, the current development is as good as passing a death sentence on them.
As it stands, kerosene has become a luxury in Nigeria. Most homes that can’t afford the commodity are now forced to make do with firewood and charcoal, despite the inconveniences and hazards associated with their use. Unfortunately, prices of gas and kerosene have skyrocketed just some days into the year 2017.
More distressing is the fear that black marketers might cash in on the situation to sell adulterated kerosene to unsuspecting consumers in order to make brisk cash. The consequences of such acts could only be imagined.

Factors responsible
Even though the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited has denied allegations of increasing the price of LPG, it, however, admitted the acute scarcity, explaining that domestic LPG price is based on an international price index plus 50 per cent of the shipping cost of delivering the product to receiving facilities in Apapa, Lagos. At the moment, the price of cooking gas has increased by 53.3 per cent.
However, the foreign exchange scarcity as well as the devaluation of the naira, among other issues affecting LPG pricing, has adversely affected the price of the product, as it is denominated in foreign currency.
Other factors like inadequate storage facilities at the jetties, hiccoughs in supply chain, diversion of Dual Purposes Kerosene (DPK) for conversion to Aviation Turbine Kerosene (ATK), and the adulteration of kerosene with diesel (to be sold as pure diesel) have also been blamed for the scarcity of kerosene.
According to reports, the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC), remains the only importer of kerosene and at the moment, the supply of kerosene by the NNPC, through its subsidiary, Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC), which marketers largely depend on for the product, had stopped.
Critics have maintained that the NNPC had either not been importing enough or that it lacked the capacity to import sufficiently to meet the nation’s demand.

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Kerosene diversion for aviation use
The diversion of kerosene for aviation use remains one factor said to be responsible for the constant scarcity. Incidentally, there’s little difference between the kerosene used to satisfy household needs and the JET A1 fuel used for aircraft.
According to investigations, the readiness of those in the aviation industry to pay much higher than household consumers made it a perfect diversion zone due to the huge turnover.

An oil giant plagued by scarcity
As a country, Nigeria has been plagued by years of kerosene scarcity despite being one of the world’s major oil producing countries. And in all of these years, the masses have been made to believe that the skyrocketing price of the scarce commodity was as a result of the global economic meltdown.
As the effects of kerosene scarcity bite harder on the masses, reprieve seems to be a forlorn dream, as it is generally believed that the Federal Government has not shown any commitment to combating the problem.
With perennial kerosene scarcity continually posing a nightmare, Nigerians are miffed that despite being blessed with crude from which the Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK) is produced, they still suffer amid plenty.
According to reports, the national daily demand of kerosene is estimated to be between eight and 10 million litres. This quantity, according to economists, can’t be made available by the only two dysfunctional refineries in the county.
The abysmally functioning refineries have been said to be meeting only 35 per cent local consumption, while the remaining 65 per cent is sourced abroad. This, to a great extent, explains the country’s reliance on importation to meet high demand.

Alleged diversion of cooking gas
Nigeria, according to statistics from the Nigeria Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (LPGA), currently consumes 385,000 metric tonnes of cooking gas per annum, up from the 2013 consumption of 250,000, which was considered too low when compared with Ghana, Senegal, Cameroun and Kenya’s utilisation.
Critics have expressed dismay over how Liquefied Natural Gas could become so elusive and expensive.
In 2016, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Association of LPG Marketers (NALPGAM), Mr. Bassey Essien, blamed it on alleged diversion.  He informed that officials of the Marine Transportation Department of the Pipelines Products Marketing Company (PPMC), in connivance with a private gas terminal were frustrating the efforts of gas marketers to access to cheap products.
Further warning against increase in the price of gas, Essien had told Daily Sun that the disruption in the LPG supply chain led to the gradual rise of 20 metric tonne of gas from N2.4 million to N4.3 million within a spate of one week.
He also explained that rather than vessels, berthing and discharging at the PPMC terminal, its officials deliberately create bottlenecks that make it extremely impossible for vessels to discharge. He said the vessels were forced to use the facilities of the private terminal, which in turn uses the opportunity to hike prices.

Way out of the debacle
Earlier speaking on the development, Executive Vice Chairman of Techno Oil Limited, Mrs. Nkechi Obi, lamented that it was disheartening that Nigeria ranks the lowest in the per capita usage of LP and urged the government to develop a local pricing template for gas, as against the current international pricing regime.
The Executive Director, Supply and Distribution, PPMC, Mr. Justin Ezeala, in a report, blamed the current scarcity of cooking gas on obsolete state of other jetties, noting that most of the jetties were over 40 years old and not in tune with modern day technologies.
Nigerians have, however, called for a more reactive step to be taken, like looking into the suggestion by the President of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association, Mr. Dayo Adesina, that more terminals for vessels to berth be built, instead of having a single terminal that cannot accommodate the quantum of gas coming in.
Mr. Michael Imudu, Chairman of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers (LPGAR) branch of NUPENG, also expressed similar concerns.
As it is, the crushing effects of the very expensive and scarce commodities are evident in the disgruntled and frustrated looks of millions of Nigerians.