Reading the flurry of responses to the statement credited to the Minister of State Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, on the lingering fuel crisis last week, I must confess to struggling to understand what it is really that irked Nigerians the more: an alleged inscrutable arrogance in the face of damning failure; or the momentary candour of admitting that the extravagant placebo, or if you like, the outsized artifice which the Buhari administration had sought to count upon to deliver on the promise of stabilizing the fuel supply situation, is as unworkable as it is patently dated!
Confronted by a battalion of reporters to tell them when he hopes the nation would get out of the latest cycle of fuel crisis, the minister, who doubles as the helmsman of the national oil corporation reportedly blurted out: “One of the training I did not receive is that of a magician, but I am working very hard to ensure some of these issues go away”.
How, he didn’t say.
The minister would nonetheless go on to remind the newshounds that: “… for the five or six months we have been here, NNPC has moved from a 50 per cent importer of products to basically a 100 per cent importer and the 445,000 barrels per day that were allocated were to cover between 50 and 55 per cent importation…So it is quite frankly by sheer magic that we even have the amount of products at the stations. We are looking to see how to get foreign exchange input; the President and I discussed extensively on how to get more crude directed at importation”.
So much for the exaggerated self-score by the minister; the fact is that we are here: citizens of OPEC’s six largest exporter of crude can’t get fuel to buy at the pumps. From North to East, West to East, the story is the same – petrol has become the latest essential commodity to be procured at great pains. Officially, it is supposed to be selling at N86.50 a litre; now you’d be lucky to buy at N150. A friend in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital told me he bought at N200 a litre. That is the way it is. And to imagine that this is happening under an administration that promised change.
By the way, it is no small matter that a minister of the republic, a supposedly first rate one, would dare to link the current situation with the calling of the practitioners of the high art of magic – going as far as to suggest that it is “sheer magic that we even have the amount of products at the stations”! Or his self-serving statement about two months waiting period for which Nigerians must necesarily endure after which fuel will thereafter flow ceaselessly! Can we ever get serious?
There is certainly a sense in which the minister’s momentary candour – minus the hubris – could in fact be far more ‘beneficial’ than Nigerians could have imagined. I mean the carefully constructed edifice of make-believe, the castle of denials and the blame-game that have sustained the industry in the past months right up to the point of spawning a culture of abdication; all of these unravelling to the embarrasment of all and right before our very eyes. The development, if anything, comes to one basic but uncomfortable truth: the new NNPC team –headed by Kachikwu, has done practically nothing different on the basis of which it expected things to have changed! And this is despite being in office for more than six long months!
This is why his resort to blaming the fuel crisis to dollar shortages, moribund refineries, and alleged misallocation of fuel imports by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), at best efforts at rationalization, is unlikely to impress Nigerians. While it is a long way from when we were required to throw up our arms in mock surrender to the the usual culprits: the ubiquitous pipeline vandals said to have practically brought the downstream sector to its knees; the club of marketers said to have made a habit of feeding feed fat on Nigerians’ misery, the latest development challenge us to focus on the lingering inertia as well as the criminal lack of responsibility by the NNPC and its principal, the Federal Government, which have fostered the current climate of despondency.
Clearly, Nigerians didn’t expect the administration to work magic – and certainly not in six months. That is if magic means overhauling the extensive pipeline network, the disused depots and their ancillary infrastructure, the re-streaming of the moribund refineries – all of these within six months to even a year. Even at the best of times – and most Nigerians would readily agree that these are not the best of times – it would ordinarily be a tall order – to get these done. Of course, given the years of neglect, Nigerians certainly understand that it would take some time for changes to become apparent at least in these areas.
Point is – Nigerians have learnt to see beyond appearances, the self-glorification of officials particularly when they mount the high roads to hold imaginary saboteurs responsible for what is essentially structural problem of inadequate supply; they are able to appreciate genuine efforts when they see one. At the moment, what they are being served daily is a menu of placebos that falls short of what is needed. The earnest expectation of Nigerians is that they will be served the real stuff soon.
Are the latest supply hiccups inevitable? Only if the NNPC can convince that there are elements in the supply chain that are either unknown or unknowable or that Nigerians have suddenly found new uses for the liquid gold. Dollar shortages? Haba – NNPC! Moribund refineries? Since when did we begin to rely on the refineries for local supply? And now this new one – an alleged misallocation of fuel imports by PPPRA! Would there ever be an end to the tale? Is Kachikwu no longer the supervisory minister for the PPPRA? The truth is, none of the activities as far as we can see, are unknown or incapable of being anticipated. We have a fair idea of our daily requirement of fuel; the same with the import cycle. To the extent that the situation didn’t happen overnight, there is sufficient lead time for the federal government to have taken action.
This is where an apology instead of self-justification would have done the magic. But then, our minister, not being a magician, is unlikely to offer Nigerians the benefit of that simple but efficacious therapy.