Maitama Sule, Kao’je, fuel scarcity and sacrifice
Neither has age blunted the oratorical prowess of Maitama Sule nor has it truncated his candour and patriotic instincts. When he weighed in on the recent fuel scarcity and the attendant blame game that is leading nowhere, the revered octogenarian made two profound pronouncements.
First, he admonished Nigerians not to blame President Muhammadu Buhari or Minister of Petroleum, State, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu for the oil woes. Second, he implored Nigerians to be patient, observing that the rot in the country had become so endemic that it would require some sacrifice and radical surgery to heal the wounds inflicted on the country by years of governmental failure.
Not everyone will agree with the Dan Masanin Kano who, in his days as Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations, could hold an audience spellbound for hours with his oratory. He is one of the icons of Nigeria’s independence movement, someone who has carved a reputation as one of the nation’s voices of reason at very difficult moments. As one of those who can be said to possess an institutional memory of Nigeria’s march to (or retreat from) greatness, depending on how one sees it, his intervention at this point is in keeping with the Igbo adage that, it is taboo for a goat to give birth in the leash when an old man is in the house. If the words of our elders are the words of wisdom, then there is every reason to heed Sule’s candid advice.
For good reasons, Nigerians are justified to be very angry, not only over the fuel situation but the general state of affairs in the country. Rising unemployment, epileptic power supply, inadequate infrastructure, homelessness, declining value of the naira, growing insecurity minus successes recorded in the war against terror, all point to a nation in regress and a people betrayed by their leaders. Unfortunately, the situation is made inexcusable because it is the product of neglect.
While our despondency is justified, if I understand the elder statesman correctly, we should guard against throwing the baby away with the birth water. Nor should we lose our sense of reason and proportion. It is one of those ironies of life that, in a sudden twist of events, the economy got truncated, literally overnight, thereby prompting many people to get impatient with an administration that is barely one year old. It is my considered opinion that, except for partisan political mischief, it will be completely untenable to write off the Buhari administration even before it has had the opportunity of taking off.
Bala Kao’je, minister of sports in the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, hit the nail on the head in a recent interview with the Daily Times newspaper. Kao’je’s thesis is in three parts: First, it is rather hasty to write off a government that has barely spent one year in office; second, the fuel crisis is the product of years of neglect of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry resulting in Nigeria being a net importer of fuel instead of optimizing local refining capacity to boost employment and third, failure to deploy the oil boom for industrial take off has bequeathed a ruined economy to the Buhari Administration. I endorse Kao’je’s position.
On the general economic situation, Kao’je had this to say: “Nigeria made billions of dollars during the oil boom and if that money had been properly utilized in providing the basic social amenities and infrastructural facilities, we would not be lamenting over dwindling oil revenue and the economic crunches that is ravaging us today…”
On fuel imports, hear his candid words: “Nigeria has no need to import refined products if successive governments had invested in building or maintenance of existing refineries in the country. That is not to say that the previous administrations did not do anything to salvage the problem but the argument is that their best was not good enough to place us at the right position.
“We don’t have to import refined petroleum products but since we do not have the capacity to refine for now, we are left with no option but to import refined products. …”
The purport of the opinions of Maitama Sule and Bala Kao’je is crystal clear: today’s suffering is the price we have to pay for years of the inadequacies of our past leaders hallmarked by the failure to deploy yesterday’s fortunes to build a solid economic base for future generations of Nigerians. Put succinctly, we should stop the blame game, put on our thinking caps and brace up for the hard choices that are inevitable if we are to extricate ourselves from the present stagnation of which the fuel quagmire is only a symptom.
The way I see it, to solve the fuel problem, two choices stand out: we could restore subsidy in full or allow market forces to determine the pump price of petrol. But as in every decision in life, either choice comes with its implications: significant consequences for the people’s purchasing power, ability of government to finance development projects, growth of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and social harmony.
To reach a decision, we need to ask ourselves some soul-searching questions: What kind of country do we want? Do we want to remain a dumping ground for the finished products of other countries? Do we want to continue to create jobs for other countries by being perpetual exporters of raw materials such as crude oil or do we want to create jobs and develop indigenous capacity through local industrial effort? Are we ready to make the necessary sacrifices today so that our children can inherit a sustainable economic platform and remember us as parents whose memory deserve to be celebrated or do we want to guzzle down the future of our children through unbridled gluttony and ostentation and earn the undignified reputation of being failures?
A good parent thinks more about the kind of footprints he leaves, about a legacy rather than fleeting glory or comfort. This generation of Nigerians, leaders and followers, government and opposition, no matter age, gender, creed or status, is being summoned to greatness, not by the comfort we enjoy but the joyful sacrifice we make for the future generations. That, to me, is the challenge of the moment. Therefore, rather than bellyache indefinitely over who to blame or the right choice, I will advocate that we, bite the bullet now, jettison subsidy once and for all and allow the price modulation or stabilization principle to swing into operation immediately. The future starts today!
Author: The FEDERAL INSIGNIA, a nascent group of policy analysts poised to change the content and direction of conversation on national issues, in Nigeria.