Buhari: Better Days Ahead

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Urges prayers for troops fighting insurgency Summons NNPC boss over worsening fuel crisis

By Our Correspondents

In spite of the current challenges confronting the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari has said he is convinced that better days lie ahead.

Buhari, in a message of felicitations with Christians on Christmas, which he personally signed, said, “I am deeply convinced that better days lie ahead for us as a nation.”

The President’s optimism came just as he summoned the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Maikanti Baru, over the fuel scarcity across the country.

Announcing the meeting between the President and the NNPC boss, the presidency in a tweet on one of its twitter handles, @NGRPresident, said efforts were ongoing to end the fuel scarcity. The tweet sent out at 9.12pm reads, “Tonight, President @MBuhari meeting with GMD @NNPCgroup, @DrMKBaru, regarding the fuel supply situation nationwide. The President is very concerned about the situation and all efforts are going into a speedy resolution. Update soon.”

No update was however posted as of the time of filing this report.

Describing the Christmas season as the time to embrace the exemplary lifestyle and teachings of Jesus Christ whom he said was forthright during His earthly sojourn, Buhari in Chrismas message enjoined all and sundry to maximise the opportunity of this Yuletide season to pray for members of the armed forces and appreciate them for securing the country at the expense of their lives in the battle against insurgency.

His message reads: “I felicitate with all Nigerians, particularly our Christian brothers and sisters, on the occasion of this year’s Christmas day celebration. The commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ is an important opportunity for us to show love to one another and encourage unity by spending quality time with our friends, families and the less-privileged.

“It is also an occasion to draw inspiration from the exemplary lifestyle and teachings of Jesus Christ, who constantly stood for what is right, true and honest. The Holy Book describes Christmas as a festival of peace, joy, healing, hope and fulfillment. It kindles great expectations in the heart, irrespective of the challenges of the moment.

“As we celebrate this Yuletide season, let us devote some time to pray and appreciate the sacrifices of members of our armed services to keep our nation safe and secure.

“By the same token, and keeping with the spirit of the season, our gallant troops serving in the frontlines in the fight against insurgency; those wounded, lying in the hospital, as well as civilians who have suffered the brunt of evil and wicked elements these past years, deserve our fervent goodwill and sustained prayers.

“The personal fortitude of these individuals will continue to inspire us to victory as we turn the tide against the enemy and annihilate those who work against the unity of our nation. In this season of hope, let us remember to provide refuge to those who cannot enjoy Christmas at home with their families, or have been driven from their homes by insurgency or violence, particularly the Internally Displaced Persons.

“Lately, we have witnessed an upsurge in the activities of trans-border syndicates who lure our youths to modern slavery through irregular migration. While we have stepped up our efforts to halt this wickedness against the upwardly mobile generation, and have evacuated some of our compatriots stranded abroad, we appeal to them to shun the allure of embarking on such perilous journeys.

“I am deeply convinced that better days lie ahead for us as a nation as we make progress on all the major fronts where we have set our energies to surmount the challenges. I wish you all Happy Christmas celebrations.”

In their Christmas messages, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Abubakar, and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) urged Nigerians to embrace peace and see the period of Christmas as an appropriate occasion to do so in collective interest.

The Sultan, in his message signed by the Deputy Secretary General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, Salisu Shehu, said “Christmas, which marks the commemoration of the birth of Prophet Isa (Jesus Christ) – peace be upon him – should inspire love, compassion and kindness and these are virtuous attributes and characters that all believers are enjoined to imbibe.

“As you celebrate this important event, the Muslim community in Nigeria wishes you God’s guidance and abundant blessings. We, therefore, wish to use this opportunity to urge our Christian compatriots to make the best use of this season to pray fervently for our dear country, Nigeria that we can continue to live together peacefully so that we prosper as a nation.”

“For these reasons, all believers in Him (Jesus Christ) have an obligation to stand for justice, equity and fairness to all oppressed people in this country and the world over,” the statement said.

Sharing Buhari’s optimism, CAN in a statement by its president, Rev. Samson Olasupo A. Ayokunle, rejoiced with all Nigerians and urged them to be hopeful because the days ahead would be better.

“To us, the joy of Christmas is not limited to His unprecedented and miraculous birth, it is built even more on the triumph of His death and resurrection that gave meaning to His birth, because it was His resurrection that gave us hope against every hopeless situation.

“I am not unaware of the hardship Nigerians are facing today as many could not travel for the Christmas celebration despite the holiday due to the fuel scarcity, unpaid salaries and other economic factors. But the major theme of the Christmas remains Fear Not, no matter what we are seeing or hearing. That was what the angel, who broke the good news, told the shepherds.

“During the week, the National Bureau of Statistics reported that due to the harsh economic situation currently facing our nation, no fewer than 3.67 million Nigerians lost their jobs last year alone. They are still working on the figure for the outgoing year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s verdict on Nigeria was also as hopeless as that of the NBS if not more but our eyes are not on the government but on God, who always fulfills His promises no matter the circumstances.”

He said, “It is our hope that year 2018 will be a year of recovery to our losses, healing to our wounds and a season of unprecedented expansion of His Kingdom here on earth.”

But the mood in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) appeared different as the party’s National Chairman, Uche Secondus, asked Nigerians to pray for the ouster of the APC government in 2019, using the period of Christmas as a point of contact.

Secondus said in a Christmas message to Nigerians that the hardship they were going through in the last 30 months of APC administration showed clearly that it was a mistake voting them in the first place.

“The fact that Nigerians cannot see fuel to travel home to see their loved ones during this Christmas even after fuel price jumped from N87 per litre under the PDP administration to N145 under APC shows clearly that they have nothing to offer.

“As Christmas is the marking of the coming of the messiah by Christendom, this is the best time to seek God’s intervention to send a leader, who would save this country as APC administration has failed the people woefully,” noting that never in the history of Nigeria had there been this level of disaffection among the people with the government clearly unable to offer solution.

NNPC Assures on Early End to Scarcity

NNPC had earlier in the day assured that an end to the scarcity was near. After the umpteenth failed promise and a seeming defying of its strategy by the petrol situation, it had become apparent to the corporation that something drastic needed to be done to end the crisis. The corporation said six major oil marketers were now loading more products for distribution to petrol stations across the country.

In a statement by its Group General Manager, Public Affairs, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, on Saturday in Abuja, the corporation stated that more volumes of petrol were being loaded round the clock by Total, Forte Oil, Oando Plc, MRS, 11 Plc, and Nipco Plc. It said an end to the petrol scarcity was near. It was not the first time the corporation would be giving such assurance. It explained that supplies were coming directly from cargoes of petrol it had ordered and which had arrived the shores of Nigeria.

According to the statement, “The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has intensified efforts to flood the market with Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise called petrol, and other products.

“Already, six major marketers: Total, Forte Oil, Oando Plc, MRS, 11 Plc and Nipco Plc, are now loading products round the clock from their various depots in Lagos for onward trucking to all parts of the country. The supplies are mostly from cargoes of PMS imported by NNPC which are daily berthing and immediately being made to discharge their products to stem the supply hiccups.”

NNPC further explained, “The imported products are also being supplemented by supplies from the local refineries. NNPC assures Nigerians to remain calm and not to engage in panic buying as the end of the challenge is nigh.”

Having previously alleged that marketers were hoarding or diverting petrol assigned to their stations, the NNPC warned, “Marketers are strongly advised against hoarding, as security agencies, working with industry regulators, would mete out appropriate sanctions to defaulters.”

Earlier in the week, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, had stated that the corporation was expecting cargos of petrol with one billion litres, which it imported, to begin to arrive in Nigeria. Baru also stated that supplies to parts of the country had been doubled to 80 million litres per day since the current hiccup in the supply chain was noticed. However, checks by THISDAY in Abuja indicated that most of the filling stations did not have supplies.

The Department of Petroleum Resources suggested that NNPC should consign petrol trucks to petrol stations with physical presence as a way to cut down incidences of diversion and hoarding. After monitoring the situation on Friday, Head of Public Affairs Unit of DPR, Abuja office, Mr. Mohammed Bulama Seidu, told THISDAY, “If the PPMC consigns products to only stations that have physical presence, we are sure the scarcity would end soon. In the past weeks, we have visited about 360 stations in Abuja, out of which 157 were found to be selling. Those few that we found that had products that were not selling, we stationed our staff there to make sure they sold, and they are about 20 stations. We made sure the products were exhausted and took them out of the priority list of the PPMC for product consignment.”

Nigerians face Bleak Yuletide

In the last few days, Christmas trees have sprouted on popular spots in cities across the country, sundry yuletide symbols have adorned offices, and makeshift markets have appeared in neighbourhoods. But judging by the worsening nationwide petrol scarcity, it looks like Nigerians will not be getting the merry Christmas they have been dreaming of.

The petrol scarcity has given the citizens a really torrid time ahead of Christmas. Movement is hampered in many towns and cities by shortage of the mostly consumed petroleum product in the country and gridlocks caused by long fuel queues at the few filling stations selling the product.

In nearly all parts of Lagos State yesterday, gridlocks and vehicle queues were major sights. From Iju-Ishaga in the Agege axis to Ogba, Agidingbi, Alausa-Ikeja area to Alepere, Ketu, Iyana Oworo, Lagos Island, Ijora, and Apapa, THISDAY observed traffic jams caused by long queues of vehicles and keg-bearing citizens scrambling to buy premium motor spirit from the very few filling stations that were selling. Many filling stations in the state sold at N200 per litre, instead of the official price of N145, a situation that drove up fares by as much as 300 per cent, leaving many commuters stranded, with some resorting to walking long distances to their destinations.

In Abuja, intending passengers who wanted to travel out of the federal capital to spend the Christmas season with families and friends were stranded at major motor parks. At the popular Peace Park at Utako, people were seen sitting on their luggage, waiting endlessly for vehicles to convey them to their different destinations. A staff of Peace Mass Transit Company, Osmond Uche, said he was “appealing to the federal government to address the fuel situation. It pains my heart to see that we are begging to get what God has freely given to us. Government should try to settle whatever differences it has with the marketers.”

The situation was the same at the Television Garage, Command Junction, and Kawo motor parks in Kaduna State. An official of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told THISDAY that commercial drivers who brought passengers from other places to Kaduna were stranded as they could not fuel their vehicles to return to their stations. “It is a very sad situation, you can see many people want to travel, but there are no vehicles because there is no fuel,” he said.

Most filling stations within the metropolis were closed but there were very long queues of vehicles at the stations as the anticipation of petrol continued.

THISDAY found yesterday that the fare from Kaduna to Jos was between N3, 000 to N3, 500, instead of between N1,800 and N2,000. Also from Kaduna to Abuja cost N2, 500, instead of N1, 500.

In Ekiti State, from Ado-Ekiti to Ikere, which hitherto cost N80, was jacked up to N180, while Ado to Akure, which cost N600, was now N1, 500. There were few vehicles plying the major roads, like Ado-Akure road, Ado-Ibadan road, Ado-Lokoja road, Ado-Ikere road, and Ado-Omuo road. This left commuters stranded in major parks and junctions in Ado Ekiti, the state capital. At the normally busy Tosin Aluko Motor Park in the Ajilosun area of Ado Ekiti, only five buses were seen, with only two ready to convey commuters, while others did not have petrol to operate.

Yola, the Adamawa State capital, witnessed very light vehicular movement yesterday, as many vehicle owners could not get petrol to buy. The product was sold at N200 per litre at the few stations that had.

In many parts of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, THISDAY also noticed very few vehicles on the roads, as motorists packed their vehicles due to the petrol scarcity. The NNPC mega station at Okemosan and another NNPC station at Obantoko were the only two seen selling petrol, amid very long lines of vehicles. Yesterday, the fare paid by passengers from Ketu (Lagos) to Kuto bus stop (Abeokuta), which used to be N500, was N1, 200, while Kuto to Oshodi (Lagos) was N1, 300.

The situation was the same in Bauchi.

In Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, yesterday, there were few people at the parks. The increase in fares was more pronounced on the more distant routes. For instance, at the Rivers Transport Company Park, the fare from Port Harcourt to Calabar, which used to be N2, 500, was raised to N3, 000; Port Harcourt to Onitsha, which was N2, 000, was increased to N2, 300. Port Harcourt to Lagos increased to N6, 200, from N4, 500; while Port Harcourt to Abuja, which used to be N6, 200, increased to N8, 100. Abuja by Toyota Sienna cost N9, 600, while Kaduna by bus cost N9, 600.

But in Anambra State, despite the scarcity of petrol and its high cost, the number of vehicles on the roads remained high, with heavy traffic in major junctions in Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi, and many other areas. Indigenes of the state resident in other parts of the country defied the difficult conditions to come home in large numbers to spend the yuletide in their villages.

In Enugu State, however, the adverse effects of the petrol scarcity was largely minimised by a free transportation service provided by the state government.

Police Beef Up Security

Meanwhile, ahead of the Christmas day celebrations tomorrow, the Nigerian Police said it had beefed up security and retooled safety measures nationwide to ensure a peaceful yuletide.

The Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Jimoh Moshood, said in a release yesterday, “The Inspector General of Police, IGP Ibrahim K. Idris, has ordered comprehensive operational strategies to beef-up security throughout the nation during this year’s Christmas and New Year celebration. To this end, an elaborate security arrangement has been put in place to ensure a hitch-free celebration nationwide.”

Moshood explained, “The Inspector General of Police during his end of the year meeting with Commissioners of Police and above directed all Commissioners of Police and their supervising Assistant Inspectors General of Police to ensure adequate Safety of lives and property of all Nigerians during and after the period.

“The IGP further re-emphasised same directives to all Commanders of Police Mobile Force (PMF), Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) and Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS).

“In addition, Special Forces and specialised units of the Force, including Special Tactical Squad, Special Protection Unit, Border Patrol and Explosive Ordinance Department, have been adequately mobilised and deployed along with the conventional Policemen throughout the country to beef up security in their Area of Responsibilities (AOR).

“Police Federal Highway Patrol Teams, Safer Highway and Divisional Patrol Teams have been mandated and are under strict instruction to be polite, civil but strict in ensuring security and safety of travellers and other road users on all the highways and major roads throughout the country.

“The Inspector General of Police has equally directed the Assistant Inspector General of Police and Commissioners of Police to ensure that no roadblock is mounted anywhere in the country but to put in place visibility police patrol teams and crime prevention squads in their Area of Responsibilities (AOR) throughout the country to ensure safety and free passage for all travellers nationwide.”

Moshood said, “The personnel of the force will be on 24 hours round-the-clock surveillance and robust vehicular patrols throughout the Yuletide and the New Year.

“Particular attention and adequate police deployment will also be carried out on places of worship and venues of celebration, including strategic public places, recreation centres, shopping malls, business plazas, motor parks, government installations, and other important locations so as to forestall any criminal activity and guarantee the safety of the citizenry.”