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Fuel scarcity looms as tanker drivers threaten to strike over high costs

The fuel crisis deepens as Nigerian tanker drivers demand higher rates.

Nigeria faces a potential fuel crisis as the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) is poised to suspend operations nationwide starting Monday over soaring operating costs. The move could exacerbate the existing fuel scarcity issues plaguing the country.

NARTO, which transports petroleum products across Nigeria, has been locked in emergency negotiations with oil marketers and the Federal Government over the past two days. Despite holding nearly a half-dozen meetings, the talks have yet to yield a resolution acceptable to the tanker drivers.

NARTO president Yusuf Othman issued a stern warning last Thursday that members would halt operations on Monday if their demands were not met. “We spend more on operations than what we get in total, both locally and for bridging,” he stated, citing skyrocketing diesel costs as the primary driver.

Independent oil marketers have sounded the alarm over the naira’s rapid devaluation against the US dollar. With the dollar trading at over N1,500 recently, they estimate the unsubsidized pump price for Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) could soar to N1,500 per litre in the coming days if left unchecked. Nigeria relies on US dollars to import PMS through its state oil company, NNPC.

Oil marketers claim diesel prices have reached N1,250 to N1,400 per litre depending on location, a crippling expense for NARTO’s tanker fleet. This situation has made their operations unsustainable, according to Othman.

While NARTO had written to the Minister of Petroleum, the DSS, and other federal agencies seeking intervention, Othman clarified that the government is not directly involved in the negotiations. “It is purely for the marketers that we provide the services to,” he said.

Despite the looming threat, there is still hope that a deal can be struck. Othman revealed the government has ordered marketers to negotiate improved freight rates with NARTO due to the high operational costs. Talks were still ongoing as of Sunday evening.

“We’ve met almost six times… The government has directed them that they must negotiate with us because they have seen reasons why we have to get some improvement in our freight rates,” Othman stated.

If NARTO does withdraw services on Monday as threatened, Nigerians can expect worsening fuel queues and potential price hikes at pumping stations nationwide. A swift resolution is critical to avert further strain on Nigeria’s already fragile downstream petroleum sector.

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