Ayo Oyoze Baje argues that Nigerians are overburdened

“Leadership is taking responsibility, while others are making excuses”

-John Maxwell

“What do these people in government take long-suffering Nigerians for? How do we explain or begin to justify four increases in the pump price of petrol within one year, coming soon after the months of excruciating lockdown cause d by the COVID-19 pandemic? This was at a time when other people-friendly and compassionate leaders across the world were sharing various forms of palliatives to cushion the economic effects on their citizens. But what were our own political helmsmen doing? They were busy hoarding the palliatives, increasing Value Added Tax (VAT) and electricity tariff, not minding the negative ripple effects these have on the fragile economy.

“Now, we are confronted with an escalating inflation rate that has spiralled to over 14 per cent while the exchange rate has hit N472 per dollar! With these several businesses will definitely crumble. Perhaps, it is all because they do not spend a kobo of their stolen wealth to buy fuel, pay for electric power or even buy raw food items in the market.

“For me, this is nothing but sheer cruelty. They do not wear the same shoes as we do and therefore, do not know where they pinch us”! That was vintage Andrew, my friend of over two decades venting his anger.

“Calm down, Andrew, because this is one of the spin-off effects of the deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry”. I began to explain but only got Andrew’s emotions triggered off.

“Mr. Baje, you should know that you are one of the few Nigerians I respect, because you have consistently expressed your undying love for the country through your essays, lectures and contributions on topical television programs. But please, don’t try to explain or defend what these callous people have done. Tell me, do they understand the meaning of deregulation? In fact, which oil industry are you even talking about?

“Do you mean an oil industry which boasts of four comatose refineries, on which they claim to spend billions of Naira every blessed month for the never-ending turn-around maintenance, without producing a drop of refined petrol? Do you mean an industry reflecting a rental state where the NNPC workers keep being paid for little or no meaningful work done? Do you mean an industry that has become a conduit pipe? In fact, do you consider Nigeria as an oil producing country, all? ” Andrew went on, reeling bare facts and figures to put paid to any claim to the fight against corruption in the oil industry.

And all these reminded me about Obi Ezekwesili’s candid opinion on the series of pump price increases. She referred to them as: “cosmetic price-fixing measures of this administration that it continues to wrongly call deregulation. Real deregulation and liberalization of the of the petroleum sector would result in the same kind of structural change that happened in the telecommunications sector, making it possible for the poorest to have access to mobile phone services when competition amongst private sector companies terminated the previous government’s monopoly and the costly inefficiency of NITEL’s provision of telephone services.” That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Of course, it does. If the administration that promised to reactivate the refineries has failed over five years down the line, where lies the trust element, between it and the good people of Nigeria? If again it now claims to have removed fuel subsidy, which they lambasted the previous Goodluck Jonathan-led administration of misuse, what stops it from using part of the subsidy to provide impact-making palliatives to put a smile on the faces of hapless Nigerians? Why not use part of the subsidy to build strong and stable infrastructure to act as catalysts to boost the economy through employment generation? Why not sell off the refineries, if real deregulation has taken place?

Honestly, something must be missing somewhere along the productive value chain that leads to sustainable economic development. The pain again is that when important decisions, such as the fuel price increase is made without the stakeholders’ input and the government tries to find excuses to justify it, such exhibits nothing but a disconnect in the governance process.

For instance, for the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Timipre Sylva to claim that the new price is due to the announcement of a positive outcome in the final stage trial of the coronavirus vaccine is indeed laughable! The vaccine is being developed by American pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer Inc. in collaboration with BioNTech. How do we explain the paradox of the NNPC claiming to have spent N535.9 billion on subsidy, FAAC precisely in the First Quarter 2020?

As if adding fuel to the raging fire of anger in the land, Sylva said off-handedly that Nigerians will soon get used to it. To him there was nothing wrong with the recent price of the Premium Motor Spirit(Petrol)! But no! We are not donkeys that keep enduring the owners’ profit-making loads on its back and moving ahead with a ‘mumu’ smile. We have started asking how Nigeria has spent about $25 billion (N11.800 trillion) in turnaround maintenance of refineries in the past 25 years while the oil production facilities still remain moribund.

We want the outcome of the Senate Committee on Downstream Petroleum Sector’s probe of the NNPC’s claim to have spent over $396 million(N186.912bn) between 2013 and 2015 on maintaining refineries. Again, we need explanations as to how NNPC incurred a cumulative loss of N123.25 billion within 10 months between January to October 2019, putting the total revenue of the facilities at N68.82 billion while the total expenses incurred was N192.1 billion within the same period! It is also our right as tax-paying citizens to understand the patriotic concerns of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, that the country spends a whopping N120 billion annually on these non-performing refineries.

Indeed, Nigerians deserve to know why they have to pay a huge sum of N170 per litre of petrol, especially in their country ranked as Africa’s largest oil producer and also home to the second-largest proven oil reserves in Africa. It happens to be the 11th-largest oil producer in the world. They should also task the crop of their past and present leaders to explain why there is so much youth unemployment, job losses, decrepit infrastructure, insecurity and poverty in a land God has blessed with ‘milk and honey’.

So far, we have been taken on a long, donkey ride and enough is indeed, enough! As Andrew, my good friend rightly stated, it is time for our so-called political leaders to wear our shoes and feel exactly where they pinch us. We need credible answers to these questions, because we claim to run a democracy where the leaders should be accountable to the people and not to themselves.