By G9ija

It is no longer news that President Muhammadu Buhari has signed the Petroleum Industry Bill into law, bringing to a close, the nearly 2-decade old clamour for a sound legal, fiscal, and regulatory framework to govern the business activities of the Nigerian petroleum industry.

Christened “Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021”, the enactment (apart from other salient provisions), also allotted host communities some 3 percent (from expenditures undertaken by oil and gas prospecting companies); a decision that has drawn the opprobrium of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and other stakeholders who hold that the provision is minuscule, given the direct economic hardship, poverty and neglect, oil activities over the years, have visited on their people.

It remains to be seen if President Buhari’s further appeal to the host communities to accept the 3 percent allocation will ring true, and gain traction with the stakeholders in the days and weeks ahead.

The PIA has been long in coming. According to the President, its non-passage over the years “…. stagnated the growth of the industry and prosperity of our economy. In the last ten years, Nigeria has lost the estimated US $50 billion worth of investments due to the uncertainty created by the non-passage of the PIB…” He also said the Act will attract the necessary investment in the petroleum sector, adding that employment, increased revenue and the development of other critical sectors of the economy now remain quite feasible.

As much as the PIA is largely welcomed by industry watchers and other stakeholders, the fate of the 3 Agencies involved in getting petrol to the final consumers is still shrouded somewhat. Perhaps this was the reason a national daily (not Thisday), reported the day after the President appended his signature to the PIA, that 2 of them and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) were to be “scrapped”.

Even though the Agencies namely, Petroleum Equalisation Fund (Management) Board, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency(PPPRA) would now be under the supervision of the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (referred to as “The Authority”) under the Act, there is nothing in the bill that suggested they would be scrapped. Only the NNPC was specifically indicated, would transmute into a new enterprise, to be named ” Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd”.

Be that as it may, the new superintendent of the 3 Agencies involved in fuel matters -The Authority- needs to ensure that the relative tranquillity being enjoyed in the petrol supply currently, nationwide is not jeopardised in any way.

We are very much aware that constant and hitch-free petrol supply makes the wheel of our economy go round, especially if we factor in, the daily activities of transporters, barbers/hairdressers, tailors/seamstresses, eateries, vulcanisers and a host of other small scale business owners, who all, but rely on petrol to power their generators due to inadequate or absence of electricity supply from the Power Companies.

To be sure, The Authority’s objectives include(but are not limited to the following)

*Regulation of midstream/downstream operations including technical, operational and commercial activities

*Promoting the supply and distribution of natural gas and petroleum products and the security of natural gas supply for the domestic market

*Ensuring safe, efficient, effective and seamless development of infrastructure for the sector

*Implementation of sound policies for the petroleum operations under its sphere of influence, in line with the provisions of the Act and as directed by the Minister of Petroleum Resources.

*Ensuring the supply of crude to refineries domiciled in Nigeria

*Make certain that the technical standards, practices and codes governing midstream/downstream operations are in line with international best practices

*Developing and ensuring compliance with tariff/pricing it deems fair for all stakeholders and other provisions as spelt out in the Act.

However, going forward, it behoves the Authority to leverage on the strengths of the individual agencies under its supervision for superior delivery/performance. DPR could step up its cooperation and work with the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, in keeping the activities of the smuggling rings of crude and petrol at bay. Nigeria is losing colossal amounts daily due to crude and petrol theft.

Also, PPPRA should concentrate on its expertise in working its templates to ensure that the prices at which petrol is being sourced and sold, are fair to all parties.

Two months ago, the Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr Mele Kyari, raised an alarm that the daily consumption of petrol has reached some 103 million litres! This took industry observers and other stakeholders by surprise.

Recently, the Minister tried to walk back that assertion by the MD. He described it as the 103 million litres/day recorded in May as “flash”. Hear him, as quoted by Thisday Newspaper of August 18th, 2021. “But of course, you know we have flashes. Sometimes, we have these flashes. The daily consumption was about 66 million litres per month when we came in, and we were able to bring it down to 52 million. That’s the average..

He went on “…but once in a while, you have that flash and it goes up, maybe because of the activities of smugglers. Well, these are not ideal situations, you cannot readily use that as the measure of average consumption… You can’t discount these flashes that you have, which you cannot really judge us on”.

If indeed, these flashes do occur now and then, it therefore means every effort should be made to nip this upsurge or “flashes” largely ascribed to the nefarious activities of smugglers. It is no doubt a huge drain on the Nigerian economy, tottering as it is.

Facts and real-time adequate data on the daily consumption of petrol should be a sine qua non of petrol supply and distribution processes, nationwide.

From the Minister’s postulation, The Authority has its job cut out. It must get all facts and information on petrol consumption patterns from the get-go and in real-time.

Of the 3 Agencies identified earlier (PEF (M)B), DPR and PPPRA, the ones with the most robust automation processes that cover every gamut of petrol supply and distribution are PEF(M)B, according to industry watchers. This is where The Authority should lean on for on the spot information on petrol movements all across the country.

In May 2016, PEF(M)B started developing, in collaboration with the National Information Technology Development Agency(NITDA), the “Downstream Automated Fuel Management Information System” (DAFMIS); primed to ensuring real-time monitoring and data processing of petrol movement(s) in Nigeria, to the last mile.

DAFMIS, a further improvement on ‘Aquila'(the first automation process embarked upon by the Agency), was endorsed by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and approved by the Federal Executive Council in May 2019 for a 3-year trial. Today, the system working perfectly for all operational processes for PEF(M) B, and is being acclaimed by industry experts, as the most all-encompassing, in delivering information on petrol distribution and its operational processes in Nigeria.

*Provision of an electronic eye (sensor network) that spawns real-time information in depots and fuel trucks (including their compartments). Massive retrofitting of petrol tankers were embarked upon nationwide to ensure the success of the scheme. For instance, a truck laden with 33,000 litres of petrol with 11,000 litres in each of its 3 compartments, is monitored by the electronic eye, and if in the course of the journey, the driver decided to offload part of the product somewhere before getting to it’s destination, he/she would be caught out. Besides that, the movements of trucks are also monitored effectively and it is easy to locate their positions at any given time.

Arrangements are on to extend the processes to cover vessels, pipelines and filling stations. It is an ingenious system that guarantees the tracking of products everywhere and on the go.

* Ability to cut waste, improve efficiency and identify loopholes in the petrol distribution chain.

*Business Improvement; poised to upgrade the work processes between departments as well as on-field operations for overall efficiency.

*Business Applications; designed to manage petrol marketers claims and reconciliations much more accurately

*Document Management System; billed for digitising and archiving documents in all departments and across all stations nationwide. It also makes for an enhanced offsite backup mechanism that guarantees document security.

PEF(M)B has also upgraded its Data Centre in Abuja, and also built a backup Centre in Lagos towards ensuring that information safety is guaranteed at all times.

In addition, its Operations and Command Centre (OCC) is up and running. This ensures that field operations are monitored 24 hours and round the clock; day in, day out. In effect, untoward incidents can be dealt with in real-time. OCC promotes enhanced visibility of operations within the system and its processes are modelled after that of Aramco, the highly regarded Saudi Arabian oil company.

The Authority will also find The Automation System useful when it appoints domestic Gas Aggregator” for the sole purpose of promoting the use of gas in relevant sectors within the polity. The Act empowers The Authority to “…implement a natural gas management model through which the demand and supply of natural gas for use in the strategic sectors shall be monitored”. This means an independent source of information on all the processes on gas production, supply and distribution are available and on-demand apart from data presented to The Authority by The Gas Aggregator. This is a win ultimately for Nigeria as incidence(s) of sharp practices can be minimised considerably.

DAFMIS which runs in line with global best practices supports the making of critical and on-time decisions in the downstream sub-sector of the petroleum industry and can furnish information to sister Agencies such as DPR and PPPRA, in working their templates.

Other bodies such as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), and some of the nation’s economic planners in the mould of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to mention a few, can also be supplied with requisite data on petrol movements.

DAFMIS will no doubt serve as a willing tool to PIA. The Authority, oil industry and the nation at large, will no doubt, reap bountifully from its full deployment, covering every sphere of petrol business supply, distribution, monitoring and operational processes, all in one fell swoop.