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Fuel scarcity, no; sabotage, yes

By DELE SOBOWALE

We have met the enemy and they are ours —Oliver Hazard Perry, 1785-1819; (Vanguard Book of Quotations p. 48).

IF you think there is fuel scarcity in Nigeria then you must either be ignorant or a fool. There is no fuel scarcity; and that is authoritative – as you will discover shortly. But, there is scarcity of patriotism and abundance of saboteurs – again as you will soon find out.

For a start, the Nigerian territorial waters is full of ships laden with fuel waiting to discharge their expected and badly needed cargo; in fact so many of them as to result in surplus – if only the saboteurs will let the fuel in and then get distributed round the country. But, they will not. How do I know? Well, by doing what every commentator worth his salt should have been doing at this time of the year – I went and found out at the source what is happening.

Almost annually, at about Christmas time, the nation is gripped with the anxiety created by fuel scarcity and nobody has been able to provide a coherent explanation. People’s holidays – usually the only one they have in the year -are ruined; travellers suffer and pay through the nose.

And annually, the newspapers and commentators sit in their offices and provide partial answers. So this year, starting from about three weeks before Christmas, I made three trips to Abuja, at my own expense to find out if the nation’s provider of fuel – the NNPC – was equal to the task. In short, the problem of fuel was reduced to one question: had the NNPC imported enough?

Like most aggrieved motorists, I went with a grievance and expected to find a sloppy NNPC unable to perform its basic function of getting us fuel. And I was all set to tear them to pieces on this page. But, the world is full of surprises.

The office responsible for fuel importation  and distribution nationwide is on the seventh floor of the NNPC building and the group executive director is one Alhaji Aminu Baba-Kusa – a very small man in stature but a giant in terms of work output. Despite appointments, he is very difficult to see.

But, I was on a mission and waiting endlessly would not deter me from obtaining the answer to that crucial question: has the NNPC imported enough? Finally, on the third day of waiting, I arrived in the office and met, as usual, a sea of people wanting to see the same man.

That again was no deterrence. From those who arrived before me, I learnt that Alhaji Aminu arrived the office a little bit after 8.00 a.m. And he spent the entire day in one meeting after another; giving orders; receiving situation reports about fuel supplies (or lack of it) nationwide; calling on reserves to plug holes where they occurred and generally attending to the business of ensuring that you and I, wherever we might be in Nigeria receive fuel. That went on until 10.00 p.m and I was yet to have my interview – although my presence was acknowledged.

Meanwhile, I did not just sit for 12 hours biting my fingers. I went to work, snooping, asking questions of some staff as well as my fellow “sufferers in waiting” who were frequent visitors to the office. My aim was to find out as much as possible about this man who holds so much of our fate in his hands. By 10.00 p.m, when Alhaji Aminu decided to “call it a day”, after working for 14 hours without break or lunch, he still had me to attend to.

He offered that his personal assistant should take me to his house for the interview and food. We arrived at the house to find about a dozen cars – people waiting to discuss business with him. His steward informed me that in about an hour “work will really start until 2.00 a.m.” Furthermore, I also got to know that this goes on every working day the man spends in Abuja.

In addition, he keeps his phone open all night to attend to sudden emergencies. The interview ended at 12.30 a.m during which I was told how many ships laden with fuel are in Nigerian waters; the fuel situation in most fuel depots and then the problems. By the time I left, more cars had arrived – for the day’s business. What a life!

But before going into the details of the problems – mostly unpatriotic sabotage, let me conclude this part by stating that in all my working life – which started in Boston in 1968 -  Alhaji Aminu is the first person to make me feel that the rest of us are just lazy lay-abouts.

In fact my final questions to him were: How do you cope? And how long do you think you can continue to work at this murderous pace? His answer to the second was disarming. He said “as long as there is problem of fuel supply in Nigeria,

I will go on.” And he was true to his words. When I called him on Saturday, December 19, 2009 at 11.30 p.m about the biting scarcity in Lagos; he replied me at 1.45 a.m to let me know the efforts being made to improve the situation.

And it was not just Alhaji Baba-Kusa who was up to his eyeballs with work. None of his staff left before Alhaji did – except the nursing mother who departed at 8.45 p.m after starting work at 7.30 a.m. I doubt if one could find up to 20 organizations, in Nigeria, whose staff put in so many hours a day. It was simply remarkable. So take it from me; there is no fuel scarcity. The question that naturally arises is: what is the problem? That will be answered in part  two next week.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.