Fuel queue at Northwest Filling Station, Gbagada, Lagos. PHOTO: ADEBAYO SHARON OGUNLEKE
Whoever thought the 16-year reign of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) would ever be recalled with nostalgia. Truth be told, it was that bad then. So, sans sentiment, the takeover of power from them in 2015 by the All Progressives Congress (APC) raised hopes to the high heavens.
What with the fond promises floated by the latter as they campaigned themselves from opposition to power. Top of the table remains the equalisation of the Naira and the Dollar. Not unlike Fela Kuti had visited upon the pant and the trouser in an evergreen song so well cherished by all and sundry. Being ever dependent on importation, the Dollar had us on a bear hug so tight that the mere thought of the possibility elicited frissons close to orgasm.
As prominent in the avalanche also was the repair of old, and construction of new, refineries. Like prospected, this will see petroleum products sold at the lowest possible prices in the northern and southern hemispheres of the world. They even boasted the number of these crude oil value-chain drivers they’d put in place per annum!
To cut the story short, the truth remains that neither these – nor all their umpteen other promises – have been achieved these seven years on. So much too that in present-day Nigeria it’s only a few compromised denizens that can still afford to hope – let alone dream. Like in the rock/blues standard laid by Eric Clapton, we are all ‘running on faith’ and ‘talking in our sleep’ instead.
O yes. Mostly on account of the non-attainment of those lofty campaign promises, most citizens have been overcome by inertia. A situation neither helped nor encouraged by the situation the country’s economy has been deposited in ever since. Without mince, the ordeal has endured for as long as the regime’s tenure has lingered. Like a critic has averred, it appears as though the government in power were the protagonists in that secondary school novel One Week One Trouble by Anezi Okoro.
It’s that scary, to say the least. How indeed can anyone still caught within the sleeping giant’s borders dream? Certainly not when it now spends ninety-six percent of its income to service debts. At the last check, it stood at more than a whooping forty trillion naira. Mostly attracted to finance our staggering infrastructure deficit, it now hangs over our heads like once upon Damocles’ in classical times.
The government’s economic team should have known better. After all, according to the World Bank, it’d take $10 billion annually for ten consecutive years to balance the gapping deficit. And by abiding projections it’ll only take a matter of years – five at the most – for the principal to start gulping all our earnings.
Of course, the outcome is most worrisome because oil, our erstwhile much ballyhooed cash cow, has taken a back seat. For months now, the NNPC has had to spend all its earnings on the payment of subsidies. And according to much censored reports, there is much more to it than confronts the naked eyes. For instance, it’s rumoured that the country even finds it difficult to meet its OPEC quota from the few offshore terminals still in operation.
And this only when the rampaging, high-calibre cases of crude theft are let lie. An encumbrance that has reportedly seen vast quantities of the product repeatedly syphoned off between source and vessel-loading points. Laying concrete credence to the speculation of our coastal shores being the only veritable venue for black market crude transactions in the world.
Yet, like has played out, that side of the swindle pales somewhat when other indices come into play. Like when attention shifts to the importation of finished products. Against all expectations, that has become our bane since the entirety of our local refineries packed – or were made to pack – up.
As inferred ab initio, it was a strong point in the ruling party’s propaganda blitzkrieg during their takeover of power bid. In fact, as the new government set up, the kite they flew forth was that the subsidy their predecessors said they were paying to make products accessible was a fraud. However, like has turned out, to call what they now spend on it scandalous would amount to the canonization of preceding ‘clueless fraudsters’ they swapped positions with.
Today, the scenario has reached something akin to a critical mass. With the return of fuel queues hither and thither, the problem has come clear. In the worst cases even the already-subsidised components – kerosene and AGO – have virtually driven SMEs underground. The aviation fuel sector has only trived following their quick intervention lest they lost their favourite means of locomotion.
The much-touted excuse of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war notwithstanding, the people are at a loss for explanations. After all, their disadvantages apart, they also do proffer some advantages. After all, with Russian gas in retreat, we have purportedly stepped in to fill the gap. And at last oil prices are on the up. Unless the cheap price of crude under which they had been hiding since they assumed power was also one of information minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s stock-in-trade fibs.
Well, all the foregoing would not have been brought to the fore but for the recent developments in Sri Lanka. Like reported, a chain reaction of factors in their petroleum industry has led to a moratorium being placed on their sale.
According to the trending dispatches, petrol sales in the beleaguered country will be rationed for two weeks. The aim, by them, being to save petrol and diesel for emergencies. It came about following a severe dip in their fuel reserves. Supplies were rumoured to be barely enough for one more day.
Sadly, it’s certainly impossible to reroute this drift in the little time lag remaining in the present regime’s tenure. Therefore, this clarion call should be of more concern to those presently angling to take over from them in 2023. This is so they can better avoid the shellshock it’ll become if they come unprepared like their predecessors.
• Uzoatu the author of the novel Vision Impossible (Lagos: New Gong, 2006) wrote in from Onitsha Anambra State.