Nigeria’s Dirty Fuel Racket.
By George Eze Emeghara
Broken down cars and trucks are a very common sight on Nigerian roads.
Old, not so new and brand new cars are often seen parked by the roadside, their bonnets open and their owners standing by, looking embarrassed, perplexed and frightened.
They cast furtive glances around as they work their phones trying to call their mechanics or anyone who can come to their rescue.
Most of the time, these breakdowns are caused by bad fuel.
This development was attributed to the increased activities of illegal oil refiners, as a large amount of the fuel that is sold in parts of the country is sourced from illegal refineries through the unscrupulous fuel dealers who patronise them.
However, they are not the major culprits.
Adulterated or bad fuel has become an issue in every part of the country and not just in the “catchment area” of the illegal refineries. This indicates that there are other sources of bad fuel.
Recent events have exposed those who import fuel into the country as the main purveyors of bad fuel
Fuel importation is a huge business, minting billionaires, as Nigeria is now totally dependent on imported fuel with the complete collapse of its refineries.
Long before now, many international news sources had reported on how cheap, off specification, low grade fuel, often described as ” dirty fuel” was being bought by Nigerian fuel importers. This was fuel the European refineries could not sell in their countries because of higher and strictly enforced standards.
One of the newspapers which did stories on the Nigerian fuel import racket was The Guardian, a British newspaper. In its edition of Wednesday, July 1 2020, under the headline ” Petrol sold to Nigeria from Europe’ dirtier’ than bush fuel”, the newspaper disclosed among others things, that the fuel produced by makeshift illegal refineries operating in the creeks of the Niger Delta was of a better quality than what fuel importers were bringing into the country.
Sadly, the relevant authorities ignored these reports and Nigerians continued to suffer from such consequences of dirty fuel as higher repair bills due to the damages the fuel caused their vehicles.
More frequent visits to the filling stations as the fuel burns off, or gets used up, faster than usual.
Frequent visits to hospitals due to health issues brought on by the increased pollution from the bad fuel.
However as the saying goes, everyday for the thief, one day for the owner. Or rather every day for the dubious fuel importers, one day for the long suffering Nigerian public.
Some of the recent consignment they imported was more adulterated than usual. This has caused immense damage, disruption, and dislocation in some major cities in the country.
The ripple effects are too huge to be covered up or ignored and so it has become the issue of the moment.
Even the powerful boss of the state owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation( NNPC) which had on several occasions, told Nigerians that the NNPC was the sole importer of fuel into the country, has been desperately trying to distance himself and his company from the fiasco.
He has accused some companies of being responsible for bringing in the dirty fuel.
In his haste to shift the blame and exonerate himself he probably forgot that one of the companies he accused was a wholly owned subsidiary of his NNPC. If a subsidiary of the his organisation is involved, is his organisation not involved?
Is he not involved as the head of the organisation?
Meanwhile press releases and statements issued by the accused companies are flying left, right, and centre as the companies seek to distance themselves from the disaster . It is all so ridiculous.
It is bad enough that they bring in bad or ” dirty” fuel in order to maximize their profits, but having to adulterate the already inferior fuel with other substances to beef up the volume is unpardonable.
Obviously this has been going on for a while, but this time, the main substance with which they use to adulterate the fuel Methanol, was used in much higher proportions than usual.
People who know about such matters will tell you that it is not wise to add methanol to petrol at all for several reasons.
First, methanol is very toxic, especially in high concentrations, as it was the case with this particular consignment.
It is dangerous when it is inhaled or if it touches any part of the body. Even its fumes have been known to cause permanent blindness.
Fuel or petrol mixed with Methanol also eats heavily into the pockets of motorists by increasing maintenance costs and expenditure on fuel. Methanol is more corrosive than petrol. It doesn’t burn very efficiently when it is mixed with petrol so some liquid is always left in the cars system. This liquid corrodes some of the more delicate parts of a cars engine leading to engine issues.
Methanol is also a very powerful solvent, so it dissolves the rubber and plastic materials which make up the hoses and seals in a car’s fuel distribution system and with continued exposure to the mixed fuel, the system will fail leading to breakdowns.
Methanol has a lower energy content than petrol. Much more of it is needed to travel the same distance covered travel with petrol.
In short, it reduces your petrol mileage considerably.
This explains why the fuel Nigerians buy these days appears to evaporate so soon after they refill their tanks. Methanol is the reason why the fuel vanishes so quickly.
Those who import and adulterate fuel are aware of these issues raised here. But do they care?
All they care about is to increase their returns any how they can.
It is not their concern that Nigerians are dying from the pollution brought on by their dangerously adulterated fuel.
Cases of respiratory tract diseases, cancer, lung and internal organ failures are on the increase in the country.
It doesn’t concern them that people are having to spend more of money they don’t have on repairing their cars.
It doesn’t bother them that Nigerians are having to spend a lot more on fuel since the adulterated fuel does not last as long as it should or go the distance that it should. Actually, it is in their interest that the fuel burns off faster, so people can buy more and they can do more turnover and make more profit.
In Europe or America the people behind this fiasco would have resigned or been sacked.
In addition, they would have been prosecuted and jailed.
In Japan they would have committed suicide for bringing shame on themselves and their country and in China they would have been executed for corruption.
Everyone who had anything to do with it – the importers, those who were supposed to test the fuel to ascertain its quality, and those who received and distributed it – would have been held to account and punished.
However, this is Nigeria. Nothing will happen to them.
Before long, they will return to their usual business of importing inferior quality, contaminated or adulterated fuel to maximize their profits, while ordinary Nigerians continue to suffer and die.
George Eze Emeghara is a Nigerian journalist, writer and public affairs commentator based in the southeastern city of Owerri. Money Palaver is his column for Nairaweb.ng.