Illustrative of the sorry pass we have come to in Nigeria today is the tot making the round in cell phones across the land. The message asks where you’d be on April 12 and 19; whether on a fuel or an election queue. It sounds somewhat cynical, but it reflects the mood of despair, resignation and underlining anger in Nigeria.
Nigerians in the past several weeks have been spending hours on fuel queues in our urban centres, in search of petroleum products and as the queues have lengthened, deepening peoples’ bewilderment, so ha the disarray in government too taken on a geometrical proportion.
The most annoying aspect of this scenario is the discordance in the viewpoint of government. At the beginning, Nigerians were told that the scarcity o petroleum products was a temporary problem caused by saboteurs which would soon be dealt with. To underline his control, President Obasanjo promised petrol “in the next three days”.
Of course, the queues did not retreat. Then newer explanations surfaced, related to events outside of the shores of Nigeria. Government spokesmen began to blame the preparations America was making for its aggression against Iraq as well as the long-drawn oil workers’ strike in Venezuela. In the same breath. officials of the NNPC would appear on television to assure us that Nigeria had millions of tonnes of reserve products. These products have somehow not come to the petrol stations, and the suffering of Nigerians has lengthened with the queues.
It is quite clear that Nigeria’s oil policy placed against the backdrop of this fuel crisis is a labyrinti that is shrouded in an oily mess of half-hearted effort: at maintenance of our refineries to locally produce fue on the one hand and huge outlay of foreign exchange to import refined products on the other.
The problem seems to be located in the inability of government to creatively balance this labyrinthine web. to ensure supply of petroleum products in Nigerian petrol stations. The result is the very serious hardship that Nigerians have witnessed in the past couple of weeks. It is a serious indictment of the Obasanjo presidency that it has failed so dismally to arrest this crisis on the eve of elections. The different explanations they have proffered and Mister President’s crocodile tears have not washed with Nigerians and have not impressed us either.
The question that becomes a fundamental one to ask is who then is profiting from our hardship? Whose bank account is fattening as Nigerians sweat it out on fuel queues? Why must the procurement of petroleum products become such a source of misery for Nigerian people, when we are Africa’s largest oil producing country and the sixth largest exporters of crude oil in the world?
The Obasanjo administration that has been in the saddle in the last four years owes us the duty of coming clear about the problems in Nigeria’s petroleum sector.
It must rescue itself from its present disarray to find a lasting solution to the embarrassing problem of having to burn man hours on long petrol queues. It is shameful to sit atop a huge reservoir of petroleum and yet get lost as a country in an irresponsible oil policy which cannot deliver petroleum products to the citizens. Government must acquit itself in a more responsible manner than it has done so far.