Protests due to fuel scarcity

I’m a little angry writing this. I am, because we as Nigerians have allowed ourselves to be slaves to unhelpful kindergarten politics of the deadly kind. The government, the victorious opposition and the people share the blame. 

We are a few days to handing over government at the centre to a new party with the election of a new President, something monumental and epochal and the whole nation is grinding to a halt, because we have no fuel. Typically, the reasons are mired in controversy. We are told the problem arose from an announcement by President-elect Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, 14 April, 2015 that he will do away with the fuel subsidy regime in place. This immediately set the oil market into jitters as oil marketers, the beneficiaries and tin gods of the subsidy, stopped importing fuel and demanded to be paid in full for fuel already imported and to be imported by the outgoing government. They claim they do not have money to import any more and even if they have, they cannot take the risk of importing when they do not know what their fate would be under the incoming government talking subsidy removal. All this despite the fact that just before this problem, the Jonathan government has as one of its achievements the elimination of fuel queues as they seem to have found a formula to operate with the oil marketers to make the product available, unlike in the past.

At a point during the elections and shortly after, the opposition was being blamed for mobilising the oil marketers against the government. This story was mainly based on the fact that a lot of opposition top shots have interests and influence amongst oil marketers, but whether this was true or not was never determined. Now, the only thing obvious to Nigerians is that there is no fuel and to the chagrin of everybody, the government and the opposition seem quite happy to let this go on.

I think part of the problem is our negatively adversarial politics. The government and the victorious opposition seem not to realise where the campaign ends and responsible governance starts. The government thinks the victorious opposition should disappear until they hand over on May 29 and the victorious opposition thinks on one hand that they are as good as in government now, while totally not lifting a finger on the other, even as they deliberately or inadvertently sabotage the government with a view to further humiliating the government and exaggerating the nature of the problems they are supposedly inheriting. In all this, national interest is never considered by both parties.

Yes, it’s true that we have never had an incumbent democratic government defeated before now, so we have never had issues with succession or transition implementation in the past sixteen years. But it is no rocket science. It shouldn’t have mattered whether it is the same or different party taking over at the centre, what should matter is that once the elections are over, everybody joins hands to deal with  the national problems on the ground until the handover. Even the officially put together Transition Committee of the incoming administration that should have been working in tandem with the administration has been bedeviled by negative politics. In the beginning, Alhaji Ahmed Joda head of this Transition Committee said they were receiving all the cooperation they needed from the Goodluck Jonathan administration, but by the time he was going to submit their interim report two days ago, he had changed tunes under pressure from the APC. He now says there was no cooperation from Jonathan and his ministers and that all the issues they’ve had to deal with have been done by guesswork. Such childishness!

It’s irresponsible for the opposition to set the fox amongst the chickens when it said it would be doing away with subsidy knowing how volatile the market is. There really was no reason to say that since it is not a manifesto promise in the first place. If it is something they want to do, then they should have waited to take over first, so as to avoid this type of scenario where the ordinary people suffer. And even after the mistake, it still would have been okay to quickly douse the tension by assuring the marketers that the incoming government will meet all financial obligations to them, even if a new policy is to be pursued in the medium or long term by the incoming government. After all, any new government would need time to look at the papers closely, understand the problem from a position of involvement and knowledge before issuing policies. Certainly, a reassurance along those lines would have helped the situation. Instead, the opposition is out there throwing potshots at the government, issuing statements asking the people to ask the Jonathan government why there is no fuel and so on.

Honestly, I’m not sure why Muhammadu Buhari, the President-elect would choose this time to leave the country. He left supposedly on a private visit abroad but surfaced today at No 10 Downing Street after a brief meeting with British Prime Minister, David Cameron where we are told both leaders congratulated each other on their recent election victories and the UK leader expressed his wish to work for a stable, prosperous and secure Nigeria. He also “agreed to look at what technical assistance and support the UK could provide to the Nigerian government as it looks to undertake its reforms”. They “talked about the challenges posed by migration from Africa to Europe and the President-elect said he would do all he could to secure Nigeria’s borders”. Basically, this was just a routine discussion. It makes you wonder why he would go to the UK a day after Messrs Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson were with him in Abuja. Why would the President-elect think it is more important to be hosting a former British Prime Minister and be visiting the present British Prime Minister a day after when we’re talking less than a week to his swearing-in as new President of our country? Why does he think this trip matters more than sit at home to help find solution to the fuel scarcity problem bedeviling Nigerians at this moment?

Of course, I know some would claim he is not the President yet and should be free to go anywhere he likes before he takes over government, but at best that would indicate callousness and at worst a deficiency in patriotism. He should have taken a leaf from those who are giving him advice from the United Kingdom and America. I mean, in 2008 when the US was facing economic crisis related to the then incipient recession, the presidential candidates of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party were working with the Bush White House on solutions. After Barak Obama won, he was fully working with the White House in every sense, including helping to negotiate the government bailouts of certain critical sectors even before his swearing-in. That gave the American people confidence that partisanship has not trumped common sense.  This is what we should be doing here.

It may not look it now, but the biggest shame in all of this is the role of the people in all this.True, we have performed our civic duty of voting and choosing a new President, but why are some of us still out there talking and acting in an aggressively partisan way to the extent that we cannot see that this is actually a problem now that the elections are over? I read some Jonathan’s supporters jubilating that those who call Jonathan clueless and said he was doing nothing can now appreciate he was doing something with the lack they suffer now, while some Buhari and APC supporters are trenchantly pointing out that it is this type of government ineptitude that has characterized the Jonathan government, which is why they voted him out. These counterintuitive and false arguments now rule the roost while the nation continues to bleed! Yet the basic and only problem here is that grown-ups have left politics to idiots and philistines who have no idea what public responsibility is.

It’s probably too late now to do much about this as the handover is upon us and the President-elect is not in the country. The Senate as usual is impotently inviting everybody to come have a chinwag before they get to write a report, etc. Certainly, one cannot advise that the outgoing administration should be dipping hands into the national coffers to pay for anything now, as we expect them to have finished preparing their handover notes by now. So, this is very likely to be a problem to be inherited by the incoming government. My advice is that they should use it as a springboard to make a statement about how they intends to solve problems of national emergencies of this sort. They should have a plan in place to ensure that the nation resumes working hours after the handover, while for now they must immediately establish clarity of policy direction over the fuel issue. Indeed, how it solves this problem will go a long way to tell Nigerians what stuff it’s really made of. It shouldn’t blow the chance.

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