ANALYSIS: The Fuel Scarcity ‘Magical’ Turn AroundLatest News, News Features/Analysis, Tajudeen Balogun Friday, April 1st, 2016
By Tajudeen Balogun, Head, African Examiner, Nigeria Bureau
A fortnight ago, my focus was on the persistent fuel scarcity; the fear on whether the abnormality has come to stay (as experienced in the electricity supply) and more painfully, the stress and pressure many Nigerians have been exposed to, over a month ago, the current scarcity began. The terrible situation with the electricity supply, even before the last two weeks and now, has remained the same, in fact, worst, in some situation.
Less than a week after the piece (last Wednesday), the Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting addressed the press on the current fuel scarcity. Recall, I mentioned in the piece, that unlike the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who has been consistent in reaching out to the public on the various pressing issues of public interest, the same is not with the petroleum Ministry. Whether what Alhaji Muhammed always said was totally convincing or not, that is a different ball game. Still, what cannot be taken away from the Minister’s public speeches are his candor and politeness in the contents and manner of presentations.
Unfortunately and perhaps for the first time ever, Mr. Kachikwu would address the public on the fuel situation, since the current scarcity started, appeared not mastering the difference between the public and boardroom communications. His, “I did not have the magic wand and I’m not a magician” outbursts last week, expectedly turned out to be another topical issue in our National and political space.
Last Saturday, I and a colleague, an Assistant Editor in one of the National dailies were riding in the same car to an event in Oregun, Ikeja Lagos. Having driven by many gas stations without fuel and witnessed the agony many anxious motorists and other customers went through, at the very few outlets, selling the product, my friend snapped with frustration, that some people who have spent good part of their years, working in the Multinational, did need not be engaged in the public offices. Apparently referring to Kachickwu’s insensitive statement, my friend continued, such utterance from a junior Minister must be urgently checked, provided if the present government must continue to enjoy the public confidence. The debate lingered till the former Governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu joined in the fray. Tinubu’s dimension, interestingly added yet another twist to the controversy.
My position aptly aligned with those who held that the Minister erred in his statement. There is an aspect those who feel otherwise seem to be missing. The Yoruba will say: Oro ni omu obi jade ninu apo; ohun naa lo nmu ida jade ninu ako (Speeches effect peace and provoke violence). There is no doubt that Mr. Kachikwu wanted to be factual in his address, but where the problem lied was his manner of presentation.
In the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan, I had written that the obligation a government that appreciated the enormity of the public office owed people during crises is to always churn out messages of inspiration, assurance and hope. Any attempt to show anger, complacency or arrogance will definitely attract resentment, sharp criticism and condemnation; which has been the case since last week Wednesday when Kachikwu uttered his perceived sweeping statements.
I recall President Muhammadu Buhari found himself in a similar situation last year December, during his first and last Presidential Media chat. Then, the President was criticized to have responded wrongly to question on the abducted Chibok School girls, when he said he did not have credible intelligent report on the girls’ actual location. Well, I differed then to the view that the President was wrong on his response. My position was base on the fact that, from all indications, Buhari did not attempt to give impression that he needed to be praised for the effort being put into the war against the insurgents as well as never provoked the thought that there is little or nothing he could do again to carry on with the final war against the Boko Haram terrorists.
Careful and proper packaging of public communication by the government functionaries is very key; therefore, every occupant of the public offices must be conscious of this. It is better to have the knowledge and work with it always, instead of being ignorant or so careless, then, receive knocks from within and outside the same government one serves, for making an unguarded statement.
The intriguing aspect of former Lagos State Governor is that why criticizing publicly, a member of the government of his party? More significantly is that the portfolio in question is that one which Mr. President has interest and happens to be the substantive Minister. It has been argued that rather than making public condemnation on the error committed by Kachikwu, he should have deployed other available (internal) channels to voice out his difference. As a matter of fact, Tinubu’s approach is considered in some quarters as an affront to President Buhari and more regrettably, sent a wrong signal that the ruling party is like a divided ‘house’. I totally agree with this position.
Well, the good thing now is that Mr. President has reportedly mediated; defended and advised his junior Minister not to be distracted and concentrate more on effort to ensure that fuel is readily available in May this year, as he initially assured. This is a good one. Again, one hopes on the other hand that Asiwaju, given the level of controversy the matter generated and his position in the ruling party, would have also appreciated the better way to have intervened in the just rested row.
Be that as it may, my challenge again with Mr. Kachikwu’s latest announcement – turn around, is over the new date for fuel availability. The Minister while addressing the press reversed himself and promised the product would now be sufficiently available from April 7 this year, across the country. Although, I recalled that he noted the crisis would finally abate by May. So, the question now is that what was the magic that has taken place which has now changed April end to 7? Or is it a case of ‘let me tell them what they wish to hear’? Better still, is it that Mr. Kachikwu was forced by some elements to announce the new date? The junior Petroleum Minister appeared before the Senate Committee on Petroleum also this week; what happened before the meeting and after?
My hope is that Mr. Kachikwu was not influenced to make the latest announcement. But if yes, then he might again be on the way to land himself in another trouble water. Today, is April 1, leaving six more days to go for the fuel to be sold freely at the gas stations across Nigeria as he promised. As at today, (Friday), the experience in Lagos is not significantly different from what the residents have been battling with over a month ago. Very few fuel stations are selling, resulting to long queue, which also leads to traffic in most cases. To worsen it, some of the NNPC sales outlets also do not have the product.
I understand the Federal Government (FG) has removed the subsidy (not provided for in the 2016 Appropriation Bill) and as indicated by Mr. Kachikwu, it is only NNPC which is effectively doing the fuel importation now, as the local refineries are yet to be functional optimally.
The prevalent variables, concerning the fuel scarcity are giving impression that it is still not good to go. We must give the benefit of doubt – wait till next week Thursday, observe and assess what happens before passing judgment.
However, I must say here that it will be too dangerous for the present administration if between now and Thursday next week, the fuel scarcity across the country persists, despite the latest promise. There is no doubt that Nigerians’ hope would have been dashed and many felt very disappointed. The most dangerous of it is that the FG will lose the goodwill and trust it enjoys from the Nigerian people. This will be too bad at this stage of the present administration.
Another dimension to the activities in the oil and gas sector of the country is Mr. President’s occupancy of the position of the first Minister. Well, former President Olusegun Obasanjo started this. Really, there is no law yet in the country that says the President or a Governor in Nigeria cannot function in any portfolio he so desires. But beyond this, performance and good results become next.
I suspect probity and accountability, of course, efficiency, are the reasons for both Obasanjo and incumbent President Buhari’s decision to add the Petroleum Ministry to their portfolio. But what happens when too many lapses are being experienced in the same office? Who do we hold accountable? I feel that without personally holding a portfolio, Mr. President could as well beam his searchlight on the activities in the Petroleum Ministry. I appreciate Mr. President’s intention for his decision, but in the face of the ongoing, I will advise he relinquishes the office of Petroleum Minister. I mentioned this last two weeks in my piece, that President Buhari is pre-occupied with so many tasks, therefore, there is the need for him to source for a tested and trusted hand to be in charge of that Ministry.
Other reasons which I cited were inadequate communication from the Ministry to the public and perceived communication break down between Mr. President and his junior Minister. It does not speak well of Buhari and his administration in general, that he and Kachikwu would always give conflicting information on the same issue, concerning the Ministry they co-supervise.
Finally, the need for Mr. President to consider exiting the Petroleum Minister position is more significant. It is to avoid confusion; ensure effective communication flow and interaction between the substantive and junior Minister and ultimately, to achieve speedy decision making process. I feel all of these matters in resolving the lingering shortage of fuel supply in the country and other activities in the Ministry, its departments and agencies. As I said earlier on, Mr. President could sustain his special interest and lend his direct support as he is expectedly, keen on what happens in the Ministry. Mr. President should please realize that, in the end, the issue is not necessarily going to be about who did what, rather, he takes the responsibility for the success or failure of every member of his cabinet. Once again, President Buhari, kindly consider seriously, quitting the office of Petroleum Minister as another bold step for success of your administration.
Is Governor Fayose Making Sense?
The former Military President Ibrahim Babangida’s junta lasted with many intrigues and drama. When he was scheming to stay back in the office in the late 80’s, he began to reach out to so many stakeholders, including the traditional rulers across the country. Once, he invited the Monarchs to Abuja; met with them for no other significant reason than to seek their support for his inordinate ambition. After the receipt of national cake and they were about to leave, the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade was asked by the journalists about what did the Babangida discuss with them, the paramount ruler failed to command the respect of the Nigerians when he responded “the President is making sense”. Nigerians were totally disappointed in the immediate past Ooni for refusing to say the truth that trying moment, in the history of Nigeria politics.
That aside; Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State has repeatedly but unnecessarily featured in the news ever since he assumed office in October 2014. One of his excesses was the death Advert in 2015 on the incumbent President Buhari, in the heat of last general elections. Take or leave it, that advert divided the opposition, especially the Northern caucus and by extension, spelt doom for the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan in that part of the country. Fayose has pre-occupied himself with throwing jabs at Buhari and his administration since assumption, May 29, 2015 till date. Among the most recent; he alleged that Buhari was behind the violence which erupted in the March 19, 2016 Rivers State Legislative rerun, after all verifiable evidence pointed at his party and its members. He does not seem to be in good terms with his fellow brother and Governor of the neighbouring Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, perhaps due to personal differences. Fayose last Saturday in Ado Ekiti threw decorum into the wind, when he engaged in a war of words with the prominent Muslim Cleric, Sheikh Muyideen Ajani Bello, at a function by the Ansar-ud-Deen Society of Nigeria. The advice given by vocal preacher to Fayose to tread softly did not go down well with him, so, Fayose descended on the former, to the extent that the function was temporarily put on hold until he left. Again, this week, from nowhere and for the objective very clear only to him, declared that the abduction in April 2014 of the Chibok Secondary school girls was politically motivated so as to influence public opinion against the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration ahead of the 2015 general elections. The latest outburst was made by Fayose at the opening ceremony of a two-day workshop on Political Aspirants Capacity Enhancement organized by Women Arise for Change Initiative.
He and his soulmate brother, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike were allegedly behind the emergence of another controversial former Governor and PDP stalwart, Ali Modu Sheriff as the National Chairman of the leading opposition. This is against the wish of majority of the members of the party, including the BoT. He alleged that the DSS was plotting to kill the arrested member of the State House of Assembly. Hon. Afolabi Akanni returned to Ado Ekiti over a week ago alive. The rumour is presently being made that the DSS officials are allegedly after other State’s lawmakers. If I make ask, what actually Fayose has been engaged with as a Governor of his State that he can point at, since he assumed office? Can this man be taken seriously on many of his alarms and frivolities? Is Fayose making sense as late Ooni replied that time? Is everything ‘correct’ upstairs with this man? I have my view; it’s most likely, we are on the same page. But let me end by saying that everything can never be correct when an adult started ‘woranworan’ behaving hysterically. So, I suggest to those who are very close to Governor Fayose to please advise him candidly, that lies might thrive a little while, but definitely cannot last. That he lacks focus and urgently needs to adjust!
Rivers People; I Feel Your Pains
When discussing Rivers State politics, I always have problem with the folks we live together in Lagos. The central point of our argument is that the ruling party can never win in Rivers, if polls are conducted thousands of time. But I have always argued that if you know you are so popular in a place, why not allow a violence-free election? Painfully, the March 19, 2016 State’s legislative rerun has gone the same way of March 28 and April 14, 2015 Presidential and Governorship polls respectively – violence, killing and much electoral misconduct were order of the day. Again, the blame went to the same suspects.
However, I’m so glad that I met with some residents of the State last weekend at a function. They declared without mincing words that the man who presently occupies the State House and always claims he is popular among the people is not. They admitted he and his party have their strongholds anyway, yet, if a free and fair election is conducted, the incumbent Governor of the South South State and his first opponent chances are 50-50. They concluded that it would be difficult for him to win at the end of the day. This has always been my point. That if Wike and his party are really popular in Rivers, they should please allow free election to hold. But it’s a pity, the manner of politics in Rivers and some States in the same zone, is not really about performance and quality, rather, on tribal sentiment and personalities. Too bad. Rivers people, I feel for you as you live in pains and agony of political violence and killings daily. If you have entered ‘one chance bus’, as some have in another South West State, I say to you:‘E gunle ayo O!’ (Wish you a safe journey!)
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