By Umar Sa’ad Hassan
I haven’t forgotten that vandalism was initially given as the reason for the fuel scarcity. We were meant to believe vandals and saboteurs plunged us into this mess.
I haven’t forgotten that upon assumption of office, Mr President promised that our refineries would be fully up and running by the end of August 2015.
I have also not forgotten that in November last year, the sum of N413 billion was approved as payments for oil marketers and the then Group General Manager, Public Affairs division of the NNPC, Mr Ohi Alegbe told us it was in consonance with the zero tolerance policy of the government towards fuel queues nationwide. He also expressed hope at that time that the payment would ensure marketers joined hands with the NNPC to ensure the country stayed wet with petroleum products all year long.
I haven’t forgotten that the NNPC released a statement as recently as 29th February this year to the effect that it had secured the commitment of the MOMAN (Major oil Marketers of Nigeria) leadership to help end the fuel scarcity.
I haven’t forgotten that the government removed fuel subsidy in January 2016 and later reverted to subsidising fuel for N13 per litre barely three months later.
And last but not the least, I haven’t forgotten that Mr President’s ‘deputy’ Petroleum Minister, Ibe Kachikwu promised the scarcity would be over by May this year. These all add up to one thing – the President and his team are very confused.
The entire approach of the Federal Government to the fuel scarcity issue can at best be refered to as trial and error. There was no definite plan of action, rather what it kept doing was experimenting at the expense of innocent Nigerians who have more or less being turned into lab rats.
Now, the government has hiked fuel price to N145 and the junior petroleum minister is telling us the scarcity is due to the oil marketers’ inability to source foreign exchange and to also open letters of credit and I ask: which marketers? The ones who were allegedly paid their N413 billion debt as an incentive to further join hands with the NNPC to end the scarcity or the ones whose commitment the NNPC said it had secured?.
If the government was aware that the marketers had been unable to bring in fuel since October of 2015, what efforts then can it truly say was being made to end the scarcity knowing fully well that the refining capacity of our refineries is barely 50% of the quantity needed to service the nation? From Lai Mohammed’s three week promise in November to Kachikwu’s endless deadlines, it means we were being misled. Officially as regards cost, we had been told it was due to the vandalisation of oil installations and unofficially, it had been attributed to everything from the PPRA, PPMC to of course, the PDP. The government could have just sorted out the forex issue and not led us on a long voyage to nowhere. Technically, what this means is that the government had been working towards ending the scarcity of NNPC’s ‘50% fuel’ while it was promising to rid us of the entire problem.
Knowing fully well the challenges the oil marketers were facing, concrete steps should have been taken very much earlier instead of shadow boxing and bringing untold hardship on Nigerians. If the price increase was going to make things right, then it should have happened much sooner.
The Petroleum Minister, President Muhamadu Buhari removed fuel subsidy at the start of the year and while some were singing his praises and showing off impressive figures of monies saved amidst a most biting fuel scarcity, he went on reinstate the policy. This is confusion at its worst and that is certainly not the hallmark of a good leader. In dire times like these, it is imperative that the leader sits to view things rationally from every angle and be as decisive as possible after a thorough appraisal of the long and short run consequences of his actions.
No better way to illustrate our ‘lab rats’ status than with the removal/reversal/removal of fuel subsidy. We have been made to sit and watch as our government experiments with different policies on us. One unique thing about experimentation is the absence of certainty as there are only varying degrees of hope for a certain outcome.
Now after endless months of being forced to live with the drastic consequences of its ineptitude, we are being told the government has struck a winning formula; only fuel will now cost N145 a litre. We have gone through three ‘subsidy’ phases that have the potential to define the destiny of a nation in just under five months. Someone is definitely confused.
And No, the President can’t blame anyone other than himself because he walked us to this spot. The government has compounded the misery of Nigerians with the recent increase in fuel price and it must cushion the ill-effects as much as possible. I salute the strength and tenacity of the average Nigerian whenever I remember that the minimum wage is N18,000. I tell people only a Nigerian would pay all his bills with that and still live on. Buhari must yield to the demands of labour to increase the minimum wage if at least, he won’t reduce fuel price not only to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians but to placate our feelings for his role in this mess. While I sincerely hope he gets it right this time, I think it is in the best interest of the government to know when to concede to certain arguments because attempting to rationalise its pathetic handling of the fuel crisis thus far will amount to insulting the intelligence of Nigerians. It is May and I don’t remember Kachikwu withdrawing his promise to wipe out queues. That and every other road that led to where we are now, I haven’t forgotten.
*Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano. Twitter: @alaye26