By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
To begin with, the idea that the Nigerian government is subsidizing fuel for the masses is a willfully double-tongued twaddle. Only four kinds of people believe that: the hopelessly ignorant, the mentally subnormal, masochists with a perverse thirst for self-abasement, and beneficiaries of real government subsidies such as our indolent, unproductive, and ruthlessly acquisitive government officials and their equally debauched cronies in the private sector. Many informed commentators have conclusively proved that.
But there is an even more treacherous scandal in this “oil subsidy” scam that the Nigerian national media is either not aware of or has chosen to ignore.
Two weeks ago, when I compared fuel prices among oil-producing nations of the world and showed that Nigerians pay the highest price for petrol even though they receive the lowest minimum wage among their peers, I actually did a gross disservice to my argument. The situation is a lot worse than that. I will come back to this point shortly.
I pointed out that the petrol I use for my car in America burns A LOT SLOWER than the one I use when I visit Nigeria, meaning that, at the current rate, Nigerians (with a miserable minimum wage of N7,000 per month or about $45 per month— against America’s over N180,000 minimum wage per month) actually pay more than or about equal to Americans for petrol. It takes a remarkably heartless person to ignore this heartrending fact. But that’s an issue for another day.
A Nigerian online citizen investigator who goes by the handle “Viscount” revealed on a Nigerian Internet discussion forum recently that Nigerians not only pay the highest price for fuel in OPEC; they also consume the worst imaginable grade of petrol among oil-producing countries. That means comparing fuel prices between Nigeria and other oil-producing countries—or even countries in Europe and North America— is actually like comparing apples and oranges.
These countries not only pay considerably lower prices than us for high-quality petrol, Nigerians have been paying unconscionably high prices for toxic fuel for the past 12 years, as you will see shortly. And they will pay even more for it next year. If this is not sufficient reason to give up everything and “occupy” Nigeria until the oppressors are brought to a standstill, I don’t know what is.
At the center of the tragic importation of toxic petroleum products into Nigeria—and other West African nations— is an Amsterdam-based multinational company called Trafigura. Keep that name in mind as you read this.
Many Nigerians know that the fuel they consume domestically isn’t derived from the crude oil their country exports. They also know that they have one of the world’s best and finest quality of crude oil. What many of them don’t know is that the cabal of rapacious oil importers that the Jonathan administration—and the administrations that preceded him—mollycoddle with “subsidies” actually import toxic, low-quality oil that is not fit for consumption in Europe or North America—or in any society that cares for the welfare of its citizens.
In 2010, a group of journalists from the UK, Norway, and the Netherlands won a prestigious international journalism award for a series of investigative reports they did on Trafigura’s barbarous dumping of toxic petroleum waste on Cote d’Ivoire. The waste killed scores of people and sickened thousands more. In July 2010, an Amsterdam court found the company guilty and fined it 1 million euros. (The caustic petroleum residues were dumped on Cote d’Ivoire on July 2, 2006).
On June 24 this year, Afrol News, an Africa-centered news agency, reported that it had been “given documentation” that shows that the same Trafigura that was fined for dumping deleterious waste on Ivoirians had offloaded “dangerous and poor gasoline [i.e., petrol]” in the “Nigerian port of Lagos.” This toxic petrol, which Nigerians have been consuming for years and which our governments “subsidize,” according to the Afrol News report, “is highly unstable, not enduring sunlight exposure, and will cause damage to vehicles. It will also cause environmental damages due to high sulphur values, and can therefore cause human health damages. The product is strictly illegal in Europe and the US, but may in some cases be within legal quality and environment standards in some West African countries.”
But this wasn't a one-off occurrence. It's been happening for over a decade. So, ordinary Nigerians are being forced to use their hard-earned money to buy inordinately overpriced and demonstrably harmful petroleum products. Yet the Nigerian government says this isn’t bad enough; it wants to increase fuel prices again next year. And the government has no plans to repair our refineries so that we can refine our own crude domestically and bring down the cost of petrol.
But the bigger scandal is that in January this year, the Jonathan administration signed a multi-billion-dollar annual contract with the same Trafigura of toxic fuel dumping infamy. And there was no due process in the award of the contract. According to Business Day of January 4, 2011, “Under the agreement with the Nigerian government, Trafigura is expected to pick up Nigerian crude oil and in return, supply her with refined products; but it is unclear why the firm, which has supplied refined products to Nigeria in the last 12 years, was favoured for the deal.
“Trafigura agreed to an annual contract with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on the basis of taking 60,000 barrels of crude oil per day in exchange for refined products such as gasoline and gas oil of equivalent value estimated at around $3 billion a year.”
An oil industry expert who spoke to Business Day said just “$1 billion of the amount would have put the four refineries in proper shape.” When I wrote two weeks ago that Nigerians were faced with a choice between death and life, I didn’t even know about all these.
I am going to leave the reader with “Viscount”’s parting thoughts:
“Nigeria will give Trafigura (confirmed supplier of bad petrol), 60, 000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for their mega tonnes of DEADLY-sulphurous petrol! Yep, Jonathan's government is paying a foreign company to systematically KILL Nigerians. And poor Nigerians are being asked to be happy jare!
“So, Nigerians, when your brand new Tokunbo engine knocks - just like that, thank Trafigura! When your I-better-pass-my-neighbour generator's fume smells funny and leaves a film like Casper the Ghost - just like that, thank Trafigura! When you are walking in Lagos, or any other Nigerian [city], and you are experiencing a choking sensation from the mundane act of breathing in - just like that, thank Trafigura! Nigeria!”