Stop the drama, let there be fuel
By Theo Adebowale
When a people have the misfortune of wicked people in key positions their miseries know no end. So let it be with Nigerians. In this part, there is a well patronized trader who is so full of herself. She tells you the price of a commodity, you try to negotiate for a cheaper rate, she promptly snatches it from you and orders you out of her shop. The man who sells herbal products nearby is no better.
We complained about his tag on one product that sells cheaper elsewhere, he bluntly told us to patronize the shop that sells at a cheaper rate. Many traders with this attitude are to be found all over the place. They are always right, their customers are ever wrong, unless they ‘behave’ themselves! The unfortunate thing is that manufacturers, distributors and consumers are at their mercy. Do you know that Mama Elepo stockpiles the product until when the price peak? When five liters sold for N 1,500, she bought a large quantity. She does not sell until selling price is N 2,500. She is lucky there is no longer the Price Control Board which would have regulated and enforced prices of essential commodities.
The International Monetary Fund became so visible in Nigeria during the military presidency of Gen Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) when Structural Adjustment Programme came to the fore and citizens were educated on why our economy must be restructured. Since then, there has been much hardship. Prices of petroleum products are adjusted upwards from time to time, but the highest jump was during the current presidency. Nigerians were told that local refineries would be repaired and new ones constructed so that the crude would be refined locally cutting off costs of transportation, warehousing and all that.
The Federal Government would need to give us a progress report on this venture. Just last week, queues started building up again in gas stations, and before we knew it, filling stations had shut down. Not a few of us suspected sabotage, a premeditated plot to frustrate the various religious programmes and festivals slated for the period including weddings, funerals but more importantly, the Palm Sunday. They were lucky the pentecostals do not attach much importance to Palm Sunday, otherwise, fire and brimstone would have been called down to consume the saboteurs. Our check showed that it was the IMF that insisted subsidies on petroleum products should be removed which is the technical language to instruct that pump prices should rise. The Structural Adjustment Programme slammed on several Third World countries in the 1980s have turned their economies around. Malaysia, Indonesia, India, South Africa, Brazil and many others have experienced revolution in their economies. Science, Technology, competent patriotic leadership have answered on their healthcare, information communication technology and economies resulting in positive turnarounds. Over here, proceeds of restructuring are promptly consumed by corruption.
When the power sector was restructured under the watch of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, 16 billion US dollars disappeared. Heaven did not fall. Then the distribution section of the power sector was privatized to concubines, friends, fronts and cohorts who had no competence in the area, with generous conditions, the distribution companies at liberty to provide supply whenever it pleases them. Merchants of darkness, thick darkness, these companies smile to the bank on a daily basis with billions of naira in their kith and Nigerians battling with power outage. Reliable supply is guaranteed only when you have one or more generator sets which are fueled at the gas station. So power outage that results from inability of distribution companies to supply power is contributory to more demand for fuel. Remember that politicians and their cronies are well represented in the distribution companies, as such, they dish out darkness at will. In the energy sector, their representatives and interests are located in NNPC and oil blocs, far away from consumers and dispensers. Distribution companies shut down supply with impunity. In the realm of wickedness, impunity is a way of life.
And the wicked officials and ‘investors’ are effectively protected from consumers and victims. While they share ‘subsidies’ which are intended to build and maintain infrastructure, they keep on chasing the shadow. Gas station operators are sacrificed to please the ignorant members of the public. BEDC had the effrontery to warn me three times in the past that my energy consumption was too low and I was cautioned to step up or be disconnected. One could not be surprised if some legislators and members of the executive branch of government are exempted from picking bills for consuming electricity so as to close their eyes against this violation and impunity.
Mama Elepo invests her capital as she wishes, sells at her pleasure. Grocers determine their prices and choose their clients. Government does not regulate their conduct. Each time there is scarcity the usual ceremony begins. Some State Governments read out the Riot Act, any filling station hoarding fuel would have its stock sold out, and it would be shut down. There would be task force in place now to ensure there is no hoarding, but we are not sure any would be set up to see prompt loading and discharge of cargo. The same routine anytime there is a shortage, a militarized fire brigade approach. And that gets us nowhere, more so since there is no parallel apparatus to monitor electricity distribution which is more essential to drive the economy.
One would have expected a government that wants to regulate activities of filling stations to get tankers ready, get them to deliver to each station promptly and see whether they would not dispense. But because product is better marketed by propaganda, they go about in convoys of a press crew, armed security personnel threatening businessmen they did not help to set up, or assist to run their businesses, all in an effort to mislead the general public. What is good for oil marketers is also good for electricity distributors. We must begin to have officials show transparency in handling provision of services and commodities.
It is time to stop fuel shortage and electricity outage.