People & Money

Why is Nigeria Importing “Dirty Fuel”?

 “The 2016 report indicted Litasco as one of the European companies that “deliberately and systematically use toxic “blend stocks” in the mixing of fuels.”

 After several days of fuel scarcity in Abuja, the Federal Government came out on February 8 to explain that the recall of adulterated petrol is what is behind the scarcity. Apparently, the Nigerian National Petrol Company Limited (NNPC), the sole importer of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) or petrol, had imported contaminated petrol into the country. This is according to the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), the agency of government working with the NNPC to recall the affected batch of petrol from petrol stations and depots and possibly return them to the supplier. The supplier? A European company that has been indicted in the past for supplying poor-quality fuel to West Africa. I will get to them but first, let me explain what’s going on.

This is still a developing story and what we know come from the statement from the NMDPRA and MRS, one of the distributors/marketers that have been named in media reports. So far, we know that this batch of petrol has a methanol volume that is above Nigeria’s specifications. While methanol is normally added to petrol to improve its performance, it is added in small quantities as excessive methanol can have adverse effects on the engine, including corroding parts such as rubber hoses and gaskets. So, this is a pretty serious problem that could impact thousands of vehicles in Nigeria, costing the country billions of naira.

Also Read: Contaminated Fuel: Nigeria Losses N14.5 Billion, Faces Two Weeks Scarcity

The NMDPRA has assured us they have recalled the affected petrol batch but their statement fell short of indicating the volume of petrol affected by excessive blending of methanol. Some media reports have put the figure at 100 million litres which is roughly what Nigeria consumes in two days. As this fuel scarcity has lasted for more than a week in some places including Abuja, it is possible that the figure is a conservative estimate.

Now to the supplier responsible for this mess. We now know, thanks to the statement by MRS, that the supplier of this batch of petrol is Litasco, a Switzerland-based supplier of petrol products.

Statement by MRS, the Nigerian petrol marketing company.

A simple Google search of “Litasco scandal” yielded several hits including a report by Public Eye, a Swiss accountability group. The 2016 report indicted Litasco as one of the European companies that “deliberately and systematically use toxic “blend stocks” in the mixing of fuels.” Why are we still buying products from Litasco?

Excerpt from a report by Public Eye, available here

Nigeria has a long history of deliberately importing “dirty fuel” and despite repeated promise by the government, this dangerous practice has continued. For decades, adulterated kerosene sold to Nigerians led to several incidents of explosion that got people killed and injured. Last year, Premium Times reported that petrol sold in Nigeria still contain an excessive amount sulfur, up to twenty times that of fuels sold in European countries whose companies sell the dirty fuels to us. Other developing African countries such as Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda are said to have cleaner fuels. High content of sulfur, like methanol, is also corrosive to engine parts and is also terrible for the environment.

Both NNPC and NMDPRA will try to convince us that this new batch of contaminated petrol is a one-off mistake, but industry experts I have spoken to say it is near impossible for any consignment  of bad petrol to make it to the market without the knowledge of people at the helm of affairs in our petroleum sector. The National Assembly should wade in here and help us get to the root of why we keep importing these dirty fuels. All the agencies and companies involved in this current travesty should be made to explain themselves. We cannot continue to accept substandard products into our country without holding culprits accountable. Enough is enough.

Sodiq Alabi

Sodiq Alabi is a communications practitioner and analyst who has experience in leading and supporting communication processes. He has expertise in organising media events, preparing reports, creating content, and managing websites and social media platforms.

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