As the 2021 deadline to end the importation of dirty fuel is fast approaching, the Federal Government must step up measures to halt the menace. Apart from environmental pollution, and damage to vehicle engines, dirty fuels can be harmful to the health of the citizens. Recent statistics from international research agencies have shown that millions of Nigerians risk health and economic consequences if the government fails to meet the deadline for importation of high sulphur fuels. Current standard in the country allows the importation of 150ppm for petrol. This is 15 times higher than the European Union (EU) standard. It has also been established that fuels with high sulphur content are harmful to human health. Sometimes, they can trigger respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and lung disease.
In this period of ravaging Coronavirus pandemic, government should muster the political will to end the importation of unwholesome petroleum products before the 2021 deadline. This has become imperative because the sulphur dioxide from such fuels has been proven to be a major contributor to environmental hazards such as acid rain, as well as other health risks. Without doubt, the government can stop the importation of dirty fuels if it puts certain pragmatic measures in place. A recent report by international research watchdog, Stakeholders Democracy Network (SND), claimed that samples of petrol from illegal refineries in the Niger Delta region were of higher quality than imported ones in the key parameters set by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
Therefore, we urge these agencies to stop the importation of high sulphur fuels. Doing so will help minimise greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Similarly, the warning by African Refiners and Distributors Association (ARA) that Africa is faced with incalculable danger with the import of fuels with high sulphur content. The way forward, according to the organisation, is to reduce sulphur in fuel to 50ppm by 2025 and 10ppm by 2030. Arising from this, the Federal Government needs no further prodding to ban fuels declared illegal in Europe and United States. Not quite long ago, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the African Refiners and Distributors Association (ARA) enjoined the Federal Government to ban fuels with high sulphur dioxide.
Government must insist on the importation of cleaner fuels. Also, the ECOWAS Council of Ministers on Hydrocarbons had in February this year recommended the importation of fuel with reduced sulphur content into the sub-region. Nigeria should no longer be the dumping ground for poor quality fuels from Europe. The government should be mindful of the health implications of dirty fuels, which are enormous and frightening. It is high time Nigeria began to switch to low-sulphur diesel and use of cleaner vehicles. It is estimated that this will save about $6 billion in health cost in sub-Saharan Africa, and help Nigeria conserve huge foreign reserves.
Besides, the replacement costs for damaged engines and lost production is incalculable. Good enough, Ghana has banned petroleum with high sulphur and other bad elements. Nigeria should do the same in line with the 1979 Geneva Convention on long-range Trans-boundary Air Pollution and the 1985 Protocol on the reduction of high sulphur content. Moreover, dirty fuels can, according to medical experts, weaken human resistance to certain illnesses related to COVID-19 pandemic. The government will henceforth subject all imported fuels to forensic analysis before they are sold.
Beyond this, government must step up efforts to revamp the moribund refineries as well as the building of the modular refineries that will be strategically designed to produce low-sulphur fuels. This is why investment in downstream sector of the economy should be intensified. Since the continued importation of dirty fuels creates room for fraudulent oil marketers to make huge claims on subsidy, the Federal Government must stop it. There will be no meaningful investment in the refineries until the sector is deregulated and the challenges addressed. For now, government must ensure the importation of quality fuel while facilitating investment in the downstream sub-sector to ensure refining of petroleum products for domestic consumption and export.