In­ves­ti­ga­tion: How de­layed im­ple­men­ta­tion of dirty fuel ban costs Nige­ri­ans bil­lions

Sunday Trust - - SUNDAY MAGAZINE - By Daniel Adugbo

It is the sec­ond time in two years that Mr. Adewumi Alabi, a fed­eral civil ser­vant in Abuja, would cough out over N200,000 to re­place the dam­aged en­gine of his Acura MDX 2008 model car. The Acura is his sec­ond car in the last four years that has de­vel­oped en­gine prob­lem less than two years af­ter he bought it as ‘Tokunbo’ (a ver­nac­u­lar for ‘used’ goods) from the United States. An av­er­age of 5,706 used cars are im­ported monthly into Nige­ria from the US, ac­cord­ing to Au­gust 2018 stats from the US Depart­ment of Com­merce, Of­fice of Trans­porta­tion and Ma­chin­ery.

Though his dam­aged car en­gine is sched­uled to be re­placed with the new one in Abuja, Alabi trav­elled over 700km to the Ladipo Auto Spare Parts Mar­ket in La­gos, one of the big­gest onto parts mar­kets in Africa, to buy the en­gine on the ad­vice of his new me­chanic. Al­though it would take at least one week for it to be de­liv­ered to Abuja, Alabi did not mind.

Ladipo is one of the places to buy va­ri­ety of orig­i­nal auto parts and im­ported ma­chin­ery, in­clud­ing au­to­mo­tive engines upon ar­rival in La­gos be­fore they are trans­ported coun­try­wide, ac­cord­ing the Nige­rian Port data.

The les­son learnt from the way his for­mer me­chanic han­dled the spoilt Mit­subishi car en­gine made him dump the me­chanic. The man lit­er­ally re­placed the faulty en­gine with a ‘dead en­gine’. This time, he opted to buy the en­gine him­self from La­gos.

“Be­fore my Acura MDX en­gine com­pletely broke down, I saw signs al­though I didn’t know the con­se­quence. Signs of false gauge read­ings, high fuel con­sump­tion and emis­sion from the car,” Alabi told Daily Trust on Sun­day.

At Apo Me­chanic Vil­lage, a bustling au­to­mo­bile spare parts mar­ket in Abuja where his Acura MDX en­gine would be fixed, he was told by Bisi, his new mehanic, that a thor­ough di­ag­no­sis of the car showed that the en­gine had sus­tained a se­ri­ous dam­age.

The me­chanic said the dam­age was caused by a pro­longed use of con­tam­i­nated fuel. He added that sev­eral taxi driv­ers who were his clients had also com­plained about sim­i­lar prob­lem linked to poor qual­ity of fuel.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bu­reau of Statis­tics (NBS), in 2018, Nige­ri­ans spent N135­bil­lion in 10 months to import parts and ac­ces­sories, in­clud­ing car engines. When com­pared to 2017, the stats show that ex­penses on im­ported au­to­mo­bile spare parts have sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased.

This amount could be small when com­pared to what Nige­rian car own­ers spend yearly on un­planned car main­te­nance or the cost to fix faulty engines caused by pro­longed use of dirty fuel.

A cross sec­tion of car own­ers in­ter­viewed said the cost of fix­ing dam­aged en­gine ranged from N50, 000 to N500, 000, de­pend­ing on the car model, the en­gine type and the na­ture of re­pair, among other fac­tors.

Only a few Nige­rian car own­ers know that fuel that is high in sul­phur (dirty fuel) could be re­spon­si­ble for dam­aged car engines. It starts with fre­quent en­gine fail­ures. The devil is in the fuel Our re­porter, there­fore, spent sev­eral months in­ves­ti­gat­ing sul­phur lev­els in the fuel im­ported into the coun­try and found that the gaso­line or pre­mium mo­tor spirit, (PMS), com­monly called petrol, shipped into Nige­ria from abroad con­tains sul­phur lev­els that is 86 times higher than the Euro­pean limit and far above the limit set by Nige­rian reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Man­u­fac­tur­ers (OICA), the chem­i­cal called sul­phur is a com­mon im­pu­rity in both gaso­line and diesel, which causes un­de­sir­able emis­sions of sul­phur diox­ide and tri­ox­ide (a poi­sonous gas with a char­ac­ter­is­tic rot­ten egg smell).

The OICA, which is the world’s au­thor­i­ta­tive fo­rum on au­to­mo­tive is­sues, stated on its web­site that sul­phur could lead to higher emis­sions and fuel con­sump­tion, and could per­ma­nently dam­age the de­vice.

Sul­phur, ac­cord­ing to the U.S En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA), is a nat­u­ral com­po­nent in crude oil that is present in gaso­line and diesel, un­less removed.

The Asian Clean Fu­els As­so­ci­a­tion (ACFA), in one of its monthly pub­li­ca­tions, stated that high sul­phur in gaso­line dam­ages cars’ emis­sion con­trol sys­tems and con­trib­utes to air pol­lu­tion.

Al­though no pub­licly known re­search in Nige­ria has es­tab­lished that high sul­phur fuel us­age causes dam­age to car engines, else­where, it has been proven to harm car engines.

For in­stance, in April this year, a few cars be­long­ing to the po­lice of West Palm Beach in South Flor­ida, United States, re­port­edly broke down with en­gine fail­ure. Six months later, 87 po­lice cars had to have their engines re­placed, cost­ing the city $1.1 mil­lion.

City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jeff Green said an out­side group came in to in­ves­ti­gate the cause and found that the gaso­line was bad, caus­ing the engines to fail.

Four years ago, thou­sands of driv­ers in north­west In­di­ana and south­ern Illi­nois, US were hit by hefty car re­pair bills af­ter a na­tional chain sold con­tam­i­nated gaso­line. Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal news re­ports, scores of driv­ers be­gan com­ing to re­pair shops re­port­ing hard-start­ing and stalling engines, “check en­gine” lights, odd noises and other signs of en­gine trou­ble.

One of the af­fected mo­torists said in her law­suit against fuel sup­plier, BP, that she bought more than $50 worth of gaso­line for her 2008 Nis­san SUV and that the next day, her ve­hi­cle started shak­ing, with the en­gine vi­brat­ing. Two days later, her SUV wouldn’t start in the morn­ing. Days fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent, BP re­called the bad fuel and said it would pay for re­pairs.

Lab anal­y­sis con­firms high sul­phur in PMS im­ported into Nige­ria.

Our re­porter took petrol sam­ple from a Nige­rian Na­tional Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion (NNPC) fill­ing sta­tion in Apapa, La­gos, for lab­o­ra­tory anal­y­sis to de­ter­mine the level of sul­phur, which is the most im­por­tant con­tam­i­nant in fuel and found to have the most di­rect im­pli­ca­tions for health and the en­vi­ron­ment. The fuel sam­ple was cho­sen from an NNPC out­let some kilo­me­tres away from the Apapa and Tin Can Is­land ports in La­gos be­cause more than 80 per cent of petroleum prod­uct im­ports come through the two ports. The Apapa and Tin Can ports, ac­cord­ing to NBS lat­est data, are Nige­ria’s lead­ing ports, with Apapa ac­count­ing for 51.2 per cent and Tin-Can Is­land 21.9 per cent of prod­ucts im­ported into the coun­try as at Q2 of 2018.

The fuel sam­ple was col­lected from an NNPC out­let be­cause in Nige­ria’s cur­rent fuel sup­ply chain, the NNPC is the coun­try’s sole sup­plier of petroleum prod­ucts, ac­cord­ing to the ju­nior oil minister, Ibe Kachikwu and NNPC Group Manag­ing Direc­tor, Maikanti Baru. The NNPC im­ports the fuel through its down­stream arm, then sup­plies sub­stan­tial vol­umes to pri­vate mar­keters, known col­lec­tively as Ma­jor Mar­keters As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria (MOMAN) and the In­de­pen­dent Petroleum Mar­keters As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria (IPMAN), who al­to­gether own hun­dreds of re­tail out­lets in the coun­try.

On the in­struc­tion of the chemist, 100ml of fuel sam­ple was col­lected in two clean and trans­par­ent 50ml glass bot­tles. Be­cause the bot­tles had open­ings, which al­lowed easy fill­ing and then im­me­di­ately closed, the petrol sta­tion at­ten­dant filled the bot­tles to 100 per cent ca­pac­ity. The fuel sam­ple was im­me­di­ately taken to In­tertek Nige­ria Lab­o­ra­tory, lo­cated on Marine Road, GRA, Apapa, a few kilo­me­tres from the NNPC fill­ing sta­tion.

In­tertek is in­de­pen­dent and in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cred­ited, and one of the worlds’ lead­ing petroleum test­ing ser­vices provider.

Our re­porter had pre­vi­ously ap­proached Nige­ria’s stan­dards reg­u­la­tor, the Stan­dards Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Nige­ria (SON), Chem­i­cal Tech­nol­ogy Lab­o­ra­tory in Lekki, La­gos, to con­duct the sul­phur test, but an of­fi­cial of the or­gan­i­sa­tion said the agency, as at that time, did not have a sul­phur anal­yser, the machine nor­mally used to con­duct the test.

The head of Chem­i­cal Tech­nol­ogy Group of the agency asked our re­porter by mail to di­rect fur­ther in­quiries to the direc­tor, Lab­o­ra­tory Ser­vices, M.B Ke­hinde, who did not re­ply mails and mes­sages. But In­tertek, which prides it­self as an in­dus­try leader with over 130 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in petroleum prod­uct test­ing and “with more than 43,000 employees in 1,000 lo­ca­tions in over 100 coun­tries,” said its ex­perts and global re­sources were equipped to meet test­ing, time­line and prod­uct needs.

“The petroleum test­ing labs fol­low ASTM, ISO, IP and other recog­nised petroleum test meth­ods and reg­u­la­tory pro­to­cols,” the com­pany states on its web­site.

The fuel sam­ple was then

an­a­lysed for sul­phur, us­ing the ASTM method. The ASTM In­ter­na­tional, known as Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for Test­ing and Ma­te­ri­als, is an in­ter­na­tional stan­dards or­gan­i­sa­tion that develops and pub­lishes vol­un­tary con­sen­sus tech­ni­cal stan­dards. Test meth­ods for sul­phur are spec­i­fied by ISO and ASTM in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

When com­pleted, the test re­sult showed sul­phur lev­els in the petrol sam­ple to be up to 860 parts per mil­lion (ppm),which is 86 times above Europe’s 10ppm limit. The sul­phur con­tent in the gaso­line, ac­cord­ing to the test re­sult, is be­yond the 150ppm limit set by the SON last year.

Plans to end dirty fuel import suf­fers

On De­cem­ber 1, 2016, Nige­ria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire agreed to ban Europe’s dirty fu­els, lim­it­ing sul­phur in fu­els from 3,000ppm to 50ppm. The then Minister of En­vi­ron­ment for Nige­ria, Mrs. Amina Mo­hammed, said Nige­ria and other African na­tions had de­cided that the sul­phur in fu­els im­ported should be re­duced from 3000ppm to 50ppm, start­ing from July 1, 2017.

“Every­body knows that this is go­ing to take some ef­forts, which is why we gave the six-month no­tice,” she said.

In April 2017, the SON, the body re­spon­si­ble for set­ting stan­dards for im­ported goods, re­leased new spec­i­fi­ca­tion for petroleum prod­ucts im­ports in Nige­ria. Af­ter con­sul­ta­tions with stake­hold­ers, the agency an­nounced that it had re­duced the max­i­mum al­lowed lev­els of sul­phur in petroleum fu­els im­ported into Nige­ria, in line with the world trend. It said that from July 1, 2017, diesel fuel should have max­i­mum sul­phur lev­els of 50 ppm while gaso­line should have max­i­mum sul­phur lev­els of 150 ppm.

But that was not to be be­cause the gov­ern­ment failed to en­force the ban on im­por­ta­tion of high sul­phur fu­els af­ter the July dead­line.

Later, the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment, through the NNPC, an­nounced again that it would cut the sul­phur al­lowed in diesel by July 1 and petrol by Oc­to­ber 2018 re­spec­tively. NNPC’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, Re­finer­ies and Petrol­chem­i­cals, Mr. Ani­bor Kragha, was quoted by Reuters in March 2018 to have said in a pre­sen­ta­tion to the African Re­fin­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (ARA), that the coun­try would lower sul­phur in diesel to 50ppm from 3000ppm by the 1st of July while petrol sul­phur level cuts would start in Oc­to­ber, mov­ing to 300ppm from 1, 000 ppm. He said Nige­ria was tar­get­ing a cut to 150ppm by Oc­to­ber 1, 2019.

But the re­sult of the test con­ducted by Daily Trust on Sun­day showed that this has not hap­pened. It is in­deed busi­ness as usual as high sul­phur fu­els con­tinue to flood Nige­ria, to the detri­ment of its con­sumers and the Nige­rian en­vi­ron­ment. Sul­phur in gaso­line is cur­rently above 300ppm tar­get set by NNPC. World’s cap­i­tal for dirty fuel The re­sult of the test com­par­a­tively showed that gaso­line im­ported into Nige­ria has one of the high­est sul­phur con­tents among those shipped to other African coun­tries. Not a sin­gle drop of the gaso­line sold in Nige­ria could legally be sold in some parts of Africa, let alone in Europe, from where most of the gaso­line is im­ported.

In Septem­ber 2016, the Pub­lic


NNPC mega sta­tion, few kilo­me­tres from Tin Can Is­land port, Apapa, where fuel sam­ple was taken Daniel Adugbo & Ikechukwu Ibe

An Acura MDX 3.7L en­gine for 2007, 2008, 2009 mod­els

Gaso­line im­ported into the coun­try is stored in tank farms

Trucks, in­clud­ing petrol tankers queue for days to en­ter Apapa port

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