I had made to avoid writing posts about events in Nigeria, if and when I can help it, electing rather to roam around in fiction and heavily embellished true stories to take the mind off the oft depressing spectacles that daily befuddle the mind about how what has the potential to be one of the great nations in the world remain ever pedestrian, but after seeing what Nigerians have been made to go through, as the fuel scarcity continues to bite hard without let, I became compelled to qwerty this.
After spending half the day in the shed without customers looking in even to ask for directions, I decided to close shop and head on home. All was fine in the bus I had boarded at twenty-five per cent higher than the normal fare owing to the lingering fuel scarcity (and that was because I left early as the fare geometrically increase as the day wears on), till the female passenger in the front seat beside the driver received a call. Apparently, her husband had siphoned some fuel from the container she was using to store fuel in her shop for her generator into his car, promising to replace it. She had flown into a rage on learning this, throwing expletives not only on her sales girl, but also on her husband, using the words, “Oko Olórí Burúkú Òsì Wo Nìyen?”, in Yoruba roughly translating to “What kind of stupid husband is that?”, to the hearing of aghast passengers in the bus, who had heard her ranting at the top of her voice, in response to her caller, supposedly her salesgirl in the shop, who might have found herself in a dilemma having to refuse her madam’s husbands’ request to “borrow” the scarce commodity.
This isn’t the first time Nigerians are witnessing a fuel scarcity, but this is the first time it appears no one is in control to stem the tide (probably because a change of government from the ruling party to the opposition, following the last general elections is in the offing), as the situation further worsens even when it looks like it is just about to abate. The Petroleum Minister is A.W.O.L. and the so called Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of The Economy (de facto Prime Minister) is disputing figures with OIL MARKETERS who are insisting that they must be paid in full before importation and distribution of petroleum products can be normalized, and as for the President? Well, one thing is certain, he is still in Nigeria.
In the heat of all these was the order given by the Lagos State government to tankers lifting fuel from jetties in Lagos (to other parts of Nigeria) to leave the roads in order to rid Lagos roads of the massive gridlock on the Apapa axis as they wait to be loaded, to which they responded by refusing to lift fuel after leaving the roads, further compounding the problems of the masses. As if things weren’t bad enough, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN and the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, yesterday embarked on a strike, leaving many Nigerians to wonder how it is that the crude oil that was meant as a blessing, seeing that Nigeria has huge deposits of it, has become a curse, not even in recent times, but almost right from the onset of it’s discovery, costing in Nigerian lives far more than Nigeria and very few Nigerians have benefitted from it.
Interestingly, Nigerians continue to allow themselves to be treated as subhumans in their bid to procure fuel to run their lives, engaging in wastage of time at gas stations, fighting it out when eventually the shylock managers and fuel attendants decide to sell (usually above the approved pump price), or even buying at more exorbitant price from the BLACK MARKET either to run their cars, or fuel the power generators in their homes or business premises as the main source of power supply, while the mains from the now privatized power distribution companies act as “standby”, when they come on for the cumulative period of between three to five hours daily in the best of times. Infact, it is not impossible to find Nigerian homes that can barely afford three square meals a day, yet would find a member of the family angling at filling stations attempting to buy fuel during periods of scarcity, to power generators just to watch NOLLYWOOD movies, we are that wired up to fuel.
Lives and properties of Nigerians have been lost in a bid to store this commodity that’s in high demand all year round. One’s ears are inundated with stories of fire incidents (even as late as a few hours ago) involving private cars, public transportation buses with passengers dying from injuries sustained from several degrees of burns, and smoke inhalation after the plastic kegs containing fuel, in the boot of the buses where they have been kept exploded from the heat; to houses and shops where fuel has been stored going up in flames; to petrol lifting tankers falling over on bad roads, spilling its content on the road and drains, with the attendant deaths of inhabitants of the places where these accidents occur following a “spark”, as they made to scoop fuel, to the many cases of petroleum product pipeline vandalization, even of gas pipelines (mistakenly) with heavy casualties in tow. I don’t even want to talk about the environmental degradation in the areas where the crude oil is explored by foreign oil conglomerates in the Niger Delta, that is already an overflogged issue with no respite in sight for the victim host communities.
This THING, that many take for granted elsewhere has continued to be a huge headache for Nigerians, with each crisis outdoing the one before it in intensity of the suffering it inflicts on Nigerians, with the attendant insensitivity of government officials charged with the responsibility to ensure that these don’t occur, a constant feature in the unfortunate equation. Crude oil, and the resultant petroleum products is such that every activity of the Nigerian is built around it, right from when the budget is pegged at the price of crude oil in the international market, to the budgets made at dinner tables in Nigerian middle class homes with cost of fuel in mind.
The Chinese have helped Nigerians to cope with the challenges that unavailability of fuel and power brings, by making many of the appliances (such as TVs, standing fans, flashlights, lamps, electric shaves etc) come with batteries that are rechargeable so that Nigerians can have use of them when there’s “NO LIGHT”, and homes where they have managed to procure fuel to run their generators by any means possible are besieged
by “friendly” neighbours who bring in their phones, power banks, lamps and the likes, for recharging, for which they will do well to oblige, or else be labelled selfish, and treated as “pariah” by their neighbours.
At the heart of all this, is Nigeria’s inability to refine its own petroleum products to meet even local consumption talk more export, and having to import the products even from countries not endowed with crude oil, but with refineries (some owned by Nigerians who made money from politics) to refine sometimes, crude from Nigeria, where government wastes sizeable portions of the annual budget to subsidize (consumption, rather than the means of production, as it is done in saner, for other products) the commodity by paying differentials to the importers and marketers, to keep fuel especially petrol/gasoline within the so called reach of the COMMON MAN, unfortunately only in towns and cities that have the ears of the media and government, but definitely not in the hinterlands and areas away from governmental agency supervision, where petroleum products (subsidized like petrol and not subsidized like Diesel and controversially, Kerosene) sell at above government regulated prices.
The attempt by government to remove the subsidy a few years back met with a brick wall that almost led to its toppling via popular uprising, before it succumbed by “partially” removing subsidies, and plunging the monies gained into the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P that turned out to be a huge scam, and object of political patronage at the end of the day, something (subsidy removal) that the incoming government may do well to reconsider especially with the massive goodwill it is currently riding on, if we are to make sense of any of these fuel related situation we have unfortunately found ourselves in. I believe it will meet with little opposition if they can employ the same propaganda machinery engaged to procure electoral victory, only this time with the best intentions for Nigerians at heart.
Many Nigerians have resigned themselves to fate, considering that the present quagmire will linger for a while till the new government finds a temporary and a permanent solution to the crisis after assuming office on the 29th of May. This is hoping they won’t be swept away once again by the cabal that has kept the giant that’s Nigeria perpetually on its knees, turning what should have been a blessing for her, into a curse.