Politics

The Rhapsody of subsidy

It’s been years now since Nigerians were last confronted with the ugly, time consuming, distorted and burdensome lifestyle of fuel queues, adulterated fuel, and sky rocketing of fuel prices. Somehow this ugly monster whom we thought had been buried by PMB, reared its ugly face, and extended its proboscis into our lives, to torment us, and devour us to its filling, unwinding the progresses made — making us suffer, making the government look like a lame duck. It resurrected and did the ‘thriller’ graveyard dance all over our lives one more time. I passed by a certain expressway which happened to house an NNPC fuel station, and it took me almost the whole day because the fuel queues had taken over the road and we had to follow the long queues, to be able to progress to wherever we were headed to. This was in the nation’s capital. From December to date, we have had intermittent issues of fuel scarcity, from panic buying, to marketers hoarding, to rumors of subsidy removal. It has largely been about marketers hoping to make a kill on the litres of petrol they have, should the government remove subsidy over night. They stood to make 250 Naira and more, per litre. Nevertheless, fuel was hoarded and sold in the black market and the government’s Maradonic move jilted them, and left them with their tails between their hind legs. We all survived the affront and schemes of the marketers and lived to queue another day. And queue we did as we were hit by yet another glitch of more terrifying and tormentful fuel queues. What went wrong this time?

From rumors of sulphur in the adulterated fuel, to street talk of excess methanol in the supplied fuel of up to 100 million litres; the street press releases had come way before the NNPC press statements. By then, so many commuters had struggled with their vehicles, as the retailed fuel was already damaging vehicles across the country. Had the warning come a little earlier, it would have saved the losses incurred in the purchase of the bad fuel, atop the cost of its importation, and then the cost of the damages to vehicles. Only God knows how many vehicles and how much of that fuel was dispensed, not to mention the extent of the damage to the affected automobiles. The inconvenient, ‘doomish’, and troubling situation of the fuel queues was a sad reminder of the hell hole we had crawled out from years back. It frustrated every activity, be it official, social or otherwise. The lamentations were loud and resounding.

How did very large volumes of fuel find its way into our cars undetected, all the way from Belgium? There is a new NNPC LTD right? There are functional and independent Midstream and Downstream regulatory agencies right? So what happened? Or are we being punished for resisting the removal of subsidy? Did the officials connive with marketers or were they just incompetent? Was it a calculated act of sabotage to undermine the PMB admin? Aren’t there supposed to be tests? Or did the flurry and hurry of importation to meet an unprecedented rise in demand give room to this huge blunder? Did someone yahoo on this to become an overnight billionaire? From the names of marketers listed by NNPC, major marketers and importers of the products were involved, so most naive excuses shouldn’t be entertained at this time from them. We expect professionalism from NNPC LTD. It shouldnt be like the good old days anymore. Adulterated fuel in this country is not alien, after the successful and hideous cornering of the Nigerian populace into a life of fuel imports; despite being a rich oil country. These recent events are a rude awakening that we are indeed a ‘poor oil’ country afterall.

Buildings collapse every now and then from obvious flaws in design, quality, permits and other short-changing tricks which often times lead to loss of lives. There are times that this happens unrestrained over a short period of time. Sometimes in the same state. Then comes the Inquiries, then the committees, then the ‘have yous’ and what-not. At the end of the day, nobody gets punished. No one gets billed or prosecuted and fined/ jailed. This has sustained the culture of impunity all over. This is not restricted to the construction industry or the oil industry. This has become a huge national problem and is becoming the one thing that is our most or gravest undoing. Nobody gets punished for crime. Criminals go scot-free. EFCC/ ICPC breathing down their necks, then it graduates into judicial hullabaloo, and before you know it, it’s the end of the story.

Therefore, PMB as the Minister of Petroleum needs to personally handle this issue and take it to a logical conclusion. Logical in the move of making sure they are punished. Officials and marketers alike. Officials fired, marketers fined to their bones, will set a good precedent atleast in a new oil sector of the much celebrated PIB law. Threats and statements won’t just cut it. Hard knocks however will cut through just fine like a razor. If it is not done, then the old NNPC is no different from the new NNPC, and the new one is perhaps even worse. Fraud leap-frogged us from functional refineries, to a regime of fuel importation. This same fraud will devour the subsidy even when removed if care is not taken. That is why Nigerians believe that instead of a few greedy ones chopping off the 3 to 4 trillion Naira alone, it is better 200 million of us chop it off and feel ‘belly-full’ together as one.

Tahir is Talban Bauchi.

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