RingTrue By Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (Text only)

The acute petrol scarcity across the nation entered week six today, with the product selling for as high as N400 per litre in some states. This is the same product that should officially sell at N86 per litre. For over five weeks, traumatised Nigerians have been going through hell in fuel stations. Many petrol stations sell this product at black market price while officials of the DPR and PPMC look the other way. I have never experienced this kind of impunity all my life. The regulatory agencies have compromised. The story is that marketers ‘settle’ government officials before getting allocations. No wonder DPR officials have been unable to enforce the official price of this product. Should this be happening in an era of change? Must this continue in an era when the body language of the president ought to be turning things around and hindering corruption? I thought that by now, our dear Petroleum resources Minister, Muhammadu Buhari would have offered some form of apology to Nigerians over this anguish. This is the standard in sane societies. Unfortunately, public office holders in our dear country operate like big boss. Do they really care?

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu has equally under-performed as petrol scarcity bites harder. He has created so much confusion in the system, thus contributing to the crisis. Loquacious Kachikwu has been doing more of talking and less of action, without addressing the root cause of the scarcity. This is why we are getting negative result and weltering in pain. Again, this junior minister, who combines the portfolio of NNPC’s GMD, has been economical with the truth, regarding the true situation of this lingering fuel scarcity. Kachikwu is engrossed in the cosmetic restructuring of the NNPC, while the nation bleeds. What we want is to drive into fuel stations and buy petrol without stress. What is our business with NNPC restructuring stories? We don’t even know the true situation of our refineries. At a point, we were told that they were working. Then, suddenly, all the lies crashed.

This administration has clearly lost the battle against petrol scarcity. Kachikwu’s statement on Wednesday that the current queues at petrol stations would persist till May left many depressed. I was shocked that he said he was not a magician to make the queues disappear overnight. He said: “One of the trainings I did not receive is that of a magician; but I am working very hard to ensure that some of these issues go away.” This is the same Kachikwu that told the whole nation in February that queues would disappear within two weeks. Is it that he has suddenly forgotten what he told the nation? He is clearly clueless about how to solve this problem. On Wednesday, the Trade Union Congress described Kachikwu as ‘incompetent’. For me, he is dangerously-incompetent.

This man has no business staying a day longer on his seat. With the way we are going, we may have to beg Diezani Alisom-Madueke to return as petroleum minister.
This stinging fuel scarcity has compounded the existing problem of epileptic power supply across the nation. Because electricity supply has been erratic for about seven months, many relied on petrol to power their homes, offices and factories. Then, the fuel scarcity started, and persisted for over five weeks. So, it is double wahala for Nigerians in an era of “change.” So many communities have been without electricity for weeks. In my community – Ikorodu West LCDA – in Lagos, we have been without electricity for two straight weeks. Not even a blink. We have been told that generation has dropped to about 1500mw from a peak of 5500mw inherited from the previous administration. I am tired of all these stories. Many Nigerians are equally tired. The biggest challenge we are facing now as a nation is that the people that promised us “Change” are now coming up with all sorts of excuses on why they can’t deliver on their promises. They have also compounded our misery by squandering virtually all the gains of the last 16 years, just within 10 months.

This epileptic supply of electricity and scarcity of petrol have combined to make life miserable for Nigerians. Manufacturers are also gasping for breath. Generation companies should go and get their gas from anywhere in the world and operate optimally. There are thermal plants in countries without gas. Yet, they operate optimally. This is what this administration should force the Gencos to do instead of making excuses for them. Supply is erratic while the distribution companies continue to charge Nigerians heavily for power not supplied.

The twin problem of petrol scarcity and epileptic electricity supply has increased the pace of our sliding economy. The last 10 months have been horrendous, with so many company shutting down and thousands of Nigerians being thrown out of jobs. The energy crisis and stifling economic policies of the Buhari administration have now triggered a gale of retrenchment in virtually every sector of the economy. Just this week, those in the confectionery industry said over 2000 of their members had been sacked. Oil and gas companies have cut over 120,000 jobs in the last 10 months. The former National Industrial Relations Officer, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Hyginus Onuegbu, confirmed this figure, adding: “Precarious job crisis has hit the oil and gas sector for real.”
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned recently that manufacturers in Nigeria might be forced to shut down and move their operations to neighbouring countries due to difficulties experienced accessing foreign exchange for critical inputs like raw materials and delays in the processing of Form ‘M”. The construction industry has sacked over 60,000 workers in the last six months. The telecommunications and online store businesses are also retrenching thousands of Nigerians. There is hardly any sector not affected.

The National President of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, Comrade Samson Ugwoke said recently: “Many industries have started sacking workers. Up till now, we are still having fuel scarcity because the government has not done what it is supposed to do. We are talking about anti-corruption; we have not seen anything there. That one or two people have been prosecuted is not enough to say we are fighting corruption. There is still oil bunkering, people are stealing the crude oil; a country that produces oil does not have oil. I bought fuel at almost N200 per litre in Nigeria, and we are talking about anti-corruption. Industries will sack their workers sooner or later because there is no power; the power level is still low. An economy that is generator-based cannot guarantee companies to produce at 100 percent, and it is the workers who are suffering. So, if a businessman cannot make profit, he will reduce workers.”

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria has notified the Buhari administration that more Nigerians may likely lose their jobs, with about 200 manufacturing companies likely to fold up by the end of this month. Over 40,000 jobs are now threatened. While predicting an ominous business climate in months ahead, MAN said impediments like high cost of borrowing; poor infrastructure, lack of power and perennial PMS shortage and multiple-taxation have become burdens too much for their members to bear. The Chairman of MAN in Abuja, Nasarawa and Niger states, Mrs. Wosilat Shittu Titilola who spoke during its 2nd Annual General Meeting in Abuja added: “The situation has further become more difficult with inadequate power supply, unenviable poor infrastructure, high interest rate and general insecurity. All these factors negate healthy industrialisation and have made it difficult for Made-in-Nigeria products to compete favourably with goods from other economies.”
Official statistics released this week confirmed the mass sack across our nation. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the unemployment rate in the country climbed to 10.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year compared to 9.9 per cent in the previous quarter. The NBS noted that a total of 22.45 million of the total labour force of 76.96 million were either unemployed or underemployed in Q4 of 2015 compared to 20.7 million in Q3 and 19.6 million in Q2 of the same year. The number of unemployed persons increased by 518,102 during the period under review.

The NBC also confirmed the galloping inflation under the Buhari administration. It says the inflation rate in Nigeria is worsening. According to the NBS, the Consumer Price Index, CPI, which measures inflation increased significantly to 11.4 percent in February this year compared to 9.6 percent the previous month. The NBS said the pace of increase of food prices as recorded by the food sub-index increased at a faster pace in February, with the food index rising by 11.3 percent, up by 0.71 percent from what was recorded in January.

The massive depreciation of our Naira in the last 10 months has also contributed to the poverty ravaging the nation and the crisis in the manufacturing sector. I never in my wildest imagination thought that our dear Naira would ever depreciate to the level we are witnessing today. Now that the exchange rate has become extremely ridiculous, people who protested against N220/$ under the Jonathan administration are nowhere to be found. Our scruffy currency was yesterday exchanging at N330/$ at the Bureau De Change following continued scarcity of the greenback. Our symbol of statehood has never been this badly battered in the 55 years history of this country. Yet, Buhari is insisting on continuing with a muggy forex policy that has led to a record gap between the official and black-market exchange rates. “It would be very insane to continue like this for months and months,” Unilever’s Africa President Bruno Witvoet said last week.

The words of the Anglican Bishop of Awka Diocese, Dr. Alexander Chibuzor Ibezim on the poverty ravaging our nation are indeed instructive. According to Ibezim, the Nigerian economy is collapsing under Buhari: “There is too much hunger in the country and people are angry; the last time I travelled, at the airport you could see sad faces and parents who have children abroad cannot send money to them. The Naira is falling, hardship is severe among the people, and flexible economic measures are needed. They need to do something because they came with the change mantra; the people are waiting to see that change. It is our prayer that the change will come quickly.
“They should also know that all the energy of the government should not be focused on fighting corruption because it is not all Nigerians that are corrupt. The percentage of those that are corrupt may be one percent. So, you don’t have to leave the 99 percent to be suffering because you are pursuing the one percent that is corrupt.”

Ibezim’s words are indeed words of wisdom. We as Nigerians must raise our game if we want progress in this country. The truth is that no nation can rise above the quality of its citizens. We must learn to consistently hold our leaders accountable and insist that elected officials should deliver on their promises. We should not be seen making excuses for our leaders’ failing as some people are currently doing for Buhari. To continue to do this amounts to self-degradation.