Neither Obasanjo nor Buhari…
The headline of the lead story on the front page of Daily Times of Tuesday, June 7, 1977 was ‘Fuel Crisis may Be over Next Year’. At that time, Muhammadu Buhari, the current President of Nigeria, who was then a Colonel in the Nigerian Army was the Commissioner for Petroleum Resources. Nigerians at that time must have heaved a sigh of relief on hearing such news from those managing the nation’s petroleum resources. But it was like the promise of a conman. It never happened. The military government of that era never rose to the occasion. It was, as usual, long on promise, but short on delivery. Fuel crisis persisted. The Olusegun Obasanjo military government failed the nation.
Proof of their failure to arrest the fuel situation was provided on Tuesday, December 26, 1978, by the same Daily Times, which was then Nigeria’s most read and biggest newspaper conglomerate. It ran another story on its front page with the screaming caption: ‘Xmas Trip in Tears…As Motorists Crawl for Fuel’. The disturbing story was properly illustrated with a six-column picture of long queues of vehicles waiting at filling stations to refuel. Again, at that time, Buhari was Commissioner for Petroleum Resources while Obasanjo was Head of State. Again, they failed the nation.
Fast forward to December, 2017 and you could still cast the same headlines to fittingly tell the story of a nation crawling for fuel. Between 1977 and 2017 is a good 40 years. It means that in 40 years, sovereign Nigeria has been swamped in the same problem. The plaster sticker approach to solving the challenge by the intervening leaderships failed. From that dark era till date, Obasanjo and Buhari have ruled the nation twice. Between them, Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha (late), Abdulsalami Abubakar, Umaru Yar’adua (late) and Goodluck Jonathan have all popped up on the scene to do their respective terms as either military or civilian heads. They all failed the people and the nation.
These men, living and dead, failed to provide fuel (petrol, kerosene and diesel) at affordable rate at critical times of the year for 40 years; they failed to provide stable electricity, potable water, good roads, affordable and reliable healthcare; worst of it all, they degraded excellent public education bequeathed to them by the white colonialists. And you ask, what really has changed in Nigeria? Well, a lot has changed; except that it is negative change.
But it is such a shame that a newspaper headline of 40 years ago on the fuel supply situation in a country that prides itself as Africa’s largest exporter of crude oil, a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel will still be valid in 2017. You could say the same of infrastructure, healthcare and just about every aspect of human development. Yet, within this period, a generation of billionaires have emerged in Nigeria. These are special billionaires who attained their new status not by any dint of entrepreneurship. They never owned a factory, a shop or any thriving enterprise. They became billionaires by being in government.
Oh yes, serving in any Nigerian government at any level offers the cheapest and laziest route to amassing wealth. It is the surest ticket to changing one’s financial status. This characteristically reflects our definition of leadership. In saner societies, people get into public office to serve; they are bound by the dictates of the law; they are leashed to their basic entitlements, nothing more. In Nigeria, leaders are above the law; they are licensed to steal; they violate the constitution and still keep a straight face.
Smarter economies like Japan, Malaysia, South Korea et al have witnessed moments when their leaders resigned on the mere accusation of incompetence or corruption. Not so here. From 1977 till date when the headline stays the same on fuel crisis, none of our leaders have ever shown any sign of resignation on account of his failings. Obasanjo in the worst era of his tenure even wanted to arm-twist the nation to extend his stay to a nauseating three terms. Yar’adua who knew his health status but accepted to lead the nation and actually did from his sick bed did not make effort to resign while hemmed in on hospital bed in Saudi Arabia. Shagari and Jonathan, both of them good men who should have functioned more effectively as Imam and Priest respectively, were too nice and too weak to tame the legion of ravaging locusts that hijacked their governments. They, too, were unwilling to quit office until the momentum of the tide of their respective times swept them aside. You could say so of Babangida who conned the nation for years on end, transmuting from military dictator to a Military President (whatever that means).
Elsewhere, leadership thinks about the people, about doing good, about service to humanity. In Nigeria, leadership thinks about self, about ethnic group and about faith. Here, leadership does not admit its failure. Obasanjo still stalks the streets with that self-contrived air of being the best thing that happened to Nigeria. Yet, he is a failure because in his 11 years as leader of the nation, he still could not fix the power problem and he aggravated the fuel situation by giving a false impression that private refineries would sprout in different locations across the nation under him. As it turned out, licences for private refineries were handed out to cronies and persons who lacked both the financial and technical competence.
Nigeria has been classified among the ‘fragile five’ economies that would be most hit by the dwindling receipts in global crude oil sales. The other countries are Libya, Algeria, Venezuela (a nation with the highest crude oil reserves) and Iraq. Yet, out of these nations, none suffers more perennial petrol scarcity than Nigeria. While the cases of Iraq, Libya and Iraq can be explained, that of Nigeria defies any logical explanation. Nigeria is not at war. The civil war ended donkey’s years back. The problem is not population, either. Otherwise, how has China coped and coped well with her well over one billion population.
The only sound argument to explain the nation’s perennial fuel crisis is poor leadership. The current Buhari government most eloquently exemplifies the poverty of reason and reasoning that define leadership in Nigeria. This government much like its predecessors has been failing on many fronts but this current fuel crisis in which kerosene is advertised at N210 per litre and petrol sold for N250 at filling stations beats them all.
The lesson for Nigerians is that their salvation is not in Buhari, Obasanjo, Jonathan or any of the political and military fossils that ever pretended to lead them. The people should look beyond this tribe of recycled politicians and go for the emerging bold, resourceful and inventive crop of leaders who have made a success of leadership elsewhere and who are too ashamed to fail. The Buahris, Obasanjos, Jonathans and Babangidas have lost their sense of shame hence are not afraid to fail hence they failed and are failing.
I don’t believe Nigeria is under a curse or some kind of spell. I just believe the people need to drop their ethno-religious cassocks and follow a genuine leader with living brain not leaders with dead brains and jaded ideas. We deserve better than this.