It’s 2015. General Buhari has assumed the role of President after a landslide victory in an election that made history, in that it was the first time an opposition party has taken over from the ruling party in a democratic contest. He has inherited a mass of problems such as corruption ( a recurring nuisance in Nigeria’s narrative) a fractured identity ( the issue of tribal factions and the sectarian violence that manifested in the war with Biafra and the not – so –civil war – but civil war against Boko Haram) and then to compound it all fuel scarcity.
Any discussion on Nigeria’s political and economic landscape has to appreciate the complexity. Tracing the demise of the nation might be a pointless activity because events are so convoluted and intertwined but when the livelihoods of the country’s poorest are at risk, when banks are closing at midday or not opening at all, when flights are being cancelled, when Lagos, arguably the nation’s economic bubble is crippled by black outs, when even communication channels and telecommunications conglomerates fear imminent shutdown due to fuel scarcity, then we have to start rationalising.
Nigeria’s infrastructure has been in a state of flux for a long time, the country’s patchy power supply has to some extent become a defining feature of her identity. I remember growing up and those around me would scream “Up Nepa”, a phrase commonly used to show their elation whenever electricity was restored. NEPA (Nigeria’s National Electric Power Authority) has since changed to Power Holding Company of Nigeria but I still get so nostalgic when I think back to those times as a child when the lights would come back on and even now whenever I visit my mother’s land I still scream “Up Nepa”. In the interim, whilst there was no electricity, many would rely on their generator as an alternative source of power and although inconvenient it became routine. Now, the man who owns a small internet café, or the hairdresser who has created a name for herself in the neighbourhood or the workforce who are having to walk to work have nothing but initiative and Buhari’s tenure to rely on because using their generators is longer a viable option.
Who to blame for Nigeria’s predicament is complex. A degree of disruption was expected considering markets react to political events. Elections happen and markets dishevel because of uncertainty but this level of disruption cannot be normal. Commentators argue that had Good Luck Jonathan won the election, stability and continuity would have followed. For instance, marketers, already familiar with GEJ and his policies would not be fretting over their position as they are now. They would argue that the uncertainty surrounding the fuel subsidy and whether it will feature in Buhari’s administration is a nagging concern and has exacerbated the problem further. Granted continuity will always follow in the situation where the incumbent is re-elected and the row over fuel subsidy cannot be neglected but laying too much emphasis on the political economy takes away from the actions of the lead protagonist. Exonerating Jonathan is dangerous.
I wouldn’t dare leave out the fact that there has been a mismanagement of resources and funds under the current administration, we only have to look at the issue of debt being owed to the marketers which apparently amounts to an excess of 200billion Naira. Granted this isn’t the first time a substantial amount of money has been owed to the marketers but timely payments may have fostered good relations and pre-empted the blackout. The fact that the market is oversaturated with marketers in the first instance is down to the current government. Note that when Good Luck Jonathan appointed his minister of petroleum the number of marketers surged and it became a corrupt albeit profitable business as everyone associated with the government whether directly or indirectly was cashing in. Or is there enough time to speak on the failing refineries. If efforts were made to improve the condition of Nigeria’s four refineries ( Port Harcourt I and II, Warri and Kaduna ) then the over reliance on foreign imports would have been a thing of the past. Functional refineries at least in theory remove the problem of fuel shortage, eliminate the role of the marketer and keep oil prices relatively stable. What we have in Nigeria is an amalgamation of issues, spanning years of inability and ineptitude and good luck which ironically manifested itself as bad luck (pun intended) in many instances. Speaking on the bleak situation, the Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, Mr. Yusuf Muda – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/05/fuel-crisis-oil-marketers-holding-nigerians-to-ransom-2/#sthash.ZCUaj1xt.dpuf
“What we are witnessing is a symptom of much deeper shortcomings in the management of government business. If the refineries were working, the trucks will not be converging on Lagos to lift imported petroleum products. If the pipelines were in good state, the bulk of the products would be transported seamlessly to the various depots in the country. If the rail system had not collapsed, most of the products would have been transported by rail at even cheaper cost. If the government had not entangled itself in the complex web of petroleum subsidy, the supply side issues would have been substantially resolved.
However, this article wasn’t created to pass blame on any guilty parties but draw attention to what we learn about Nigeria.
We learn that the subsidy is a sham. It has in recent times become an unpopular opinion especially after the resistance movement in 2012, #occupyNigeria where crowds took to the streets to protests against the removal of the fuel subsidy. It is still unclear as to how we got to this point. Obasanjo’s administration spent 300 billion a year on the subsidy and in under one year of Jonathan’s administration the cost of the subsidy shot up and yet wasn’t meeting the need of the ordinary Nigerian. In actual fact the fuel subsidy is helping everyone but the local Nigerian. The scrapping of the fuel subsidy would provide the government with additional funding to spend on infrastructure.
We learn that Buhari is human. The expectation placed on him in this critical time in the nation’s history is enormous and he is expected to do away with the corrupt bureaucracy but Buhari is not a magician, neither is Osinbajo. The damage in the nation even precedes GoodLuck Jonathan and so addressing all the concerns will be difficult and the process may be piecemeal. However, what we can rely on is the fact that Buhari will try. Tweeting on the specific fuel issue, the president- elect wrote, “The countless number of man hours that will be spent at petrol stations will reduce our productivity as a nation. This should not be so,” A suggestion, that he cares for the condition of the nation.
Speaking in a recent interview with Daily Trust he adds,
One of the problems I have, other than the military, is the petroleum industry where I served for three and a half years under General Obasanjo. When people start talking about this subsidy I honestly get confused. I will tell you this, and I hope it will answer what you want to know. Back then we had a refinery in Port Harcourt, which was refining 30,000 barrels a day of Nigerian crude. Later, it was upgraded to refine 100,000 barrels a day. Another refinery was built in Port Harcourt to refine 150,000 barrels per day of Nigerian crude. So, Port Harcourt alone had the capacity to refine 250,000 barrels per day of Nigerian crude. But when I found myself as the Minister of Petroleum I set up another refinery in Warri for 100, 000 barrels per day of Nigerian crude and the Kaduna refinery a 100, 000 barrels per day. So Nigeria built capacity to refine 450,000 a day. Four Hundred thousands of which is purely Nigerian crude, but 50,000 was imported…. If you could recall, after finishing as Minister of Petroleum, I subsequently became Head of State. You remember, I appointed Professor Tam David West as the Minister of Petroleum. When we rounded up bunkers, collected their illegal jetties and allowed jetties for only big firms which were doing production and development in the country, we were shocked that we had too much fuel. We had to begin to export 100,000 barrels per day. Don’t forget that we didn’t stop at building refineries, we built more than 20 depots during my time, from Port Harcourt to Ilorin, Makurdi, Suleija, Maiduguri and Kano. More than 3,000 pipelines were laid to connect them… We did all that in this country and we didn’t borrow any money as far as I know. It’s Nigerian money.
What Nigeria can rely upon is a history of efficiency and productivity that will actually better the ordinary Nigerian. What we can expect from Buhari is a review of the fuel subsidy, improvement to the refineries and /or additional refineries and a more effective use of Nigeria’s funds that we hopefully be used to improve the nation’s energy and infrastructure.
Finally, we learn that you can take Nigeria‘s light but not their hope. Buhari may not be able to cast a spell over the hole that the nation appears to be in at this current time but his election signifies change. Nigeria waits for Buhari. He is the light in the midst of the darkness.