When the Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) an international non-governmental organisation broke the news last year, it re-exposed a racket that has been going on for many years. Nigeria has been for a while the choice destination for dumping the worst, most carcinogenic, toxic refined petroleum products on the planet. Indeed, such is the preponderance of overwhelming evidence, it has been impossible to refute these allegations. In the aftermath of the report the agencies responsible for protecting Nigerian consumers predictably engaged in a finger pointing blame game. The main culprit, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the regulator seeking to deflect culpability on to the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). Yet there can be no mistake, this racket could not have been perpetrated without the knowledge and participation of the DPR.
To be clear, the importation of this killer fuel is a wilful conspiracy that prioritises profits over the lives and health of the Nigerian people. It is an insidious conspiracy between foreign trading houses and Nigerian government agencies and could not have worked without their active connivance. That it has been going on for years and both the EU, the Swiss government and the Nigerian government are aware of it is unconscionable. In any normal country the senior management of NNPC, the national oil company, would have been arranged and charged with corporate manslaughter. The effect of this conspiracy has been the systematic poisoning and death of Nigerian consumers in their tens of thousands. It is unfathomable as to why they are still at large. It is high time for NNPC as well as the Petroleum ministry to answer to the Nigerian people.
NNPC full in the knowledge of the fatal consequences this imported fuel has had on the health of Nigerians, finally resolved after much arm wrestling, that by July 2017 imported diesel should have maximum sulphur levels of no more than 50 ppm (Reference NIS 948:2017);petrol (PMS)of 150 ppm (Reference NIS 116:2017); and Household Kerosene (HHK) 150 ppm (Reference NIS 949:2017).
At that time the Minister of the Environment Amina Mohammed stated “For 20 years, Nigeria has not been able to address the vehicle pollution crisis due to the poor fuels we have been importing. Today, we are taking a huge leap forward – limiting sulphur in fuels from 3,000 parts per million to 50 parts per million.” . This prompted the Head of UNEP, Erik Solheim, to comment, “West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe. They are placing the health of their people first”.
The DPR also made it clear that any company importing such fuel would be severely sanctioned. There can be no gainsay as to the DPR’s woeful failure to execute its agency responsibilities as the regulator.
The SDN findings discovered that samples of average imported diesels in Nigeria were a mindboggling 2,044ppm (parts per million) for sulphur about 204 times the limit the European Union (EU) allows as safe for use for its own consumers.
The imported fuel is so bad that it is even inferior in quality to the products being produced by illegal refineries in the Niger Delta. When ramshackle refineries utilising rudimentary tools are able to produce a higher quality fuel from stolen crude than the product being imported from global trading houses, there is undoubtedly a serious issue that warrants further scrutiny. But yet again the Nigerian people are deafened by their government’s silence.
Dirty fuel is a major contributor to Nigeria’s public health crisis, with the latest data suggesting up to 114,000 people annually die prematurely due to air pollution related causes such as asthma, lung failure, respiratory disease and heart attacks. It is made even more fatal when taking into consideration the deadly effects of the coronavirus. If any evidence of malign interests in government were needed it is here, plain for all to see.
The first charge of any government and the simplest and most enduring justification for its existence is to protect its citizens. Where Departments and Agencies of government collude with foreign interests to the detriment of its own citizens, such a government loses it legitimacy. The culpability does not just reside with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. A seemingly fast asleep acquiescent Ministry of Environment that simply fails to accept that there need to be limits on toxic emissions from high sulphur fuels have also colluded to the extent of its negligence and or incompetence and has such created an enabling environment for this fraudulent enterprise.`
The dirty fuels business has been perfected by international oil traders, they utilise a ploy they term ‘regulatory arbitrage’ to make huge profits by selling “African spec” petroleum products. They employ blending techniques to commingle different blend stocks to produce a far cheaper, nastier product. Contrary to urban myth, fuels such as diesel or gasoline generally do not come directly from refineries. Instead, refineries produce intermediate products, which are then mixed together by Traders with other products from the chemical industry. This process is called “blending”. The blend created for Nigeria is essentially a product of bootlegging; a special deadly soup.
The ostensible objective of blending is to produce a cargo using blend stocks of the cheapest possible price to meet the export destinations lower quality specification. But it gets even worse because the quality of the petroleum product being imported is substantially lower than even the dangerous Nigerian quality specification. In order for that to happen there must be institutional corruption on an industrial scale. Every petroleum cargo imported into Nigeria must have a quality certificate based on an ASTM International compliant test. In the event that the cargo fails to meet the prescribed quality threshold, it would ordinarily be immediately rejected as ‘Off-Spec’ and denied permission to discharge. The required specification would also be stipulated in any Letter of Credit, the instrument being used to pay the supplier. In any event the importer (NNPC) would be aware that the cargo did not meet the required specification.
In the past NNPC have used price as an excuse for not meeting safe fuel specifications, but that arguments makes no economic sense. There is no evidence to show that the low quality, high sulphur fuel is bought at a discount. Moreover the excessive damage it does to engines, health and the environment makes it far more expensive. If you further take into consideration that this fuel also produces less output per litre, the consumer must use much more of it to travel the same distance.
The reality is that this conspiracy is a cosy relationship which supports rent seeking and the sharing of illicit profits to a well connected cabal of political apparatchiks. Through opaque Offshore processing schemes such as Direct Sales Direct Purchase (DSDP) patronage is distributed to political insiders at the expense of the health and welfare of the Nigerian people. The sheer volumes involved has seen hundreds of millions of dollars stolen by stealth from an already struggling economy. All achieved by the cynical use of subsidies and ‘under-recovery’, a ploy to pilfer the coffers of the Nigerian treasury by NNPC and its accomplices. Ironically the Nigerian government has taken its finest asset, the only benefit most Nigerians derive from their collective resource endowment ,only to weaponise it into a toxic tool to maim the very people they are supposed to protect.