For several years Nigeria has found it impossible to equalize its demand for fuel (PMS, AGO & PMK) with the available supply. The economy has suffered in diverse ways as a result of this shortcoming. The ills are numerous. One of the reasons advanced for this shortage is that our domestic refining capacity is far below average because we do not have enough refineries in Nigeria to produce the quantity of fuel we require on a daily basis.
The scarcity of petroleum products bits harder by the day especially in our big cities; in places where you find them the prices are beyond the reach or pocket of the common man. To augment the shortage in the system, the country depends on foreign refineries, thereby necessitating the importation of these products at great cost to the economy.
However, there is another source where fuel is obtained to augment the shortage in the system – the “illegal” refineries. This source has constantly met our general demands for the resource for several decades now and still continues to do so at its attendant “great cost”. If these folks are not patronized by us, they should have been out of business a long time ago. But unfortunately, these guys are still thriving and we are benefiting from their “illegal” efforts. In my mind, the only issue that makes them illegal is because they are not LICENSED by law to operate as refineries.
The converse is true to the extent that if they are LICENSED, then they will become legal. So why withhold LICENSES from them when they are helping to solve the shortage in supply? Why deny them license when they are meeting the demands of the people for fuel? At the time of writing, I do not have all the facts as to why they are not granted licenses, but to my mind, it is because they do not operate in a standardized environment.
They do not conform to International Best Practices in their operations. These are locals who use native intelligence to operate, polluting the environment and causing chaos in the ecosystem. If you ask me, the only difference between the Legal and the Illegal refineries, beyond the “IL” prefix is standard, regulation, training and capacity. Instead of arresting, jailing and condemning the operators, what if we standardize and regulate their operations? What if we train and build their capacity to operate without the dangers associated with their current technique? What if we provide them with resources to do it right?
From my secondary schools days, great men and people have spoken in favour of the right of women to choose abortion. Abortion is criminal because the law books say so, once it is removed from the books, then it is no longer criminal. If people can be championing abortion rights, I think it is of more importance to the economy, especially due to the precariousness of our current state to decriminalize the operations of these local refineries to increase our local capacity legally.
Precious Nwadimuya is legal practitioner based in Asaba, Delta State.
He can be reached on 080-38139-104.