By Bisi Lawrence
It would appear that the one and only Jagaban, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State and Asiwaju of the Yorubas committed a slight faux pas in his public upbraid of Ibe Kachikwu’s utterances about not being a magician. Of course, the Minister of State for Petroleum,Dr Kachikwu is nothing of the sort as we all know, including the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Petroleum Resources who appointed him faultlessly to the position, in the first place.
Kachikwu himself need not have reminded anybody as such, especially the millions of impatient compatriots from whom he has no right, but every reason, to demand some measure of patience in the stifling circumstance of petrol starvation—that is what the populace consider it to be, not scarcity. And they want the man who is in charge to “perform”, if not magic, then some appreciable stuff far from promising time limits that are like magic of which he later confesses a deficiency to accomplish. However, it is clear that the gentleman was under a thundering pressure, the like to which he had obviously never been subjected.
But he would now have realized, as a public servant in such a high position, that it “comes with the territory”. All that could have been adequately explained by the Asiwaju to the minister in a personable fashion, instead of upbraiding him publicly in that angry manner.
In the alternative, the former governor might have adopted the ruse of employing the services of friends to deliver his rather harsh message, if he thought it was all that necessary. One suspects that is what Kachikwu has probably done through one of his friends and associates from the tone and timbre of the ripostes that have been lodged to Tinubu’s bilge. But there is a hidden danger here in the excessive concern of those who are forever poised to wail more than the bereaved. Nothing would delight some members of the Peoples Democratic Party than being able to create a fissure within the leadership of the All Progressives Congress, as it is today. Specifically, a fall-out between President Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu would be catastrophic to the political existence of the Federal Government and its constituents. But what could be sweeter to the lips of the “opposition”?
Anyway, the long queues seem to have grown shorter at the petrol stations, though the prices still range between one hundred and one hundred and forty naira per litre. That is still very unhealthy. The entire episode of the recent petrol scarcity tells an unpleasant story about our security situation. In a circumstance presided over by law and order, as we sometimes deceive ours to be, no petrol station can openly sell its wares above the regulated price. Neither could one find the products on sale away from the stations at exorbitant prices under the unwavering gaze of policemen. Nor would policemen, especially in uniform, become participators in the hoarding and distribution of the illicit products, as was rampant within the fuel stations.
Not only within the circumstances of the filling stations, but also in every aspect of our petrol industry has corruption, naked corruption, taken over the reins of conduct. The situation of the NNPC, the heart of them all, has undoubtedly become a story of integrated malfeasance in the discharge of its functions. The effort to equally make it a history should come with the “unbundling” —even if the word has been withdrawn, it is the act that matters —in the shredding of the infernal coalition that has virtually turned the god-given blessing into a man-made curse. It was a cesspool in which many unclean elements waddle to the detriment of the whole nation. But when Kachikwu mentioned, or was accused of mentioning, that the entire rotten structure would be “unbundled”,phiam! He found himself thrust before the inquisitors of the legislature. That was enough to make anyone lose track of the time projection he was making about a delicate proposition like the oil situation in Nigeria.
Consider it for a moment: here we have the sixth, or is it fifth, oil producing nation in the entire world, and it could not produce sufficient or ready supply for its own use; it had to import the crude product which it had produced, because it refused to refine it since it had made its refineries ineffective through a studied process of desuetude; so that it had to pay itself into debt from circumstances that otherwise had made others extremely wealthy. Can you imagine that? If you had read it in a book, you would say, of course, it could only happen in a novel. But fiction has come to life here and employment is scarce; some of the jobs that are available cannot fulfil their regular wages, while the cost of every material has gone through the ceiling. But Kachikwu cannot say “unbundle”, if he can say it in other words.
So here we find ourselves borrowing money—from the ends of the earth. China must be offering incense before the statutes of Buddha for bringing Nigeria to Beijing, cap in hand, and almost on its knees, to ask for a “facility” to shore up our deficit budget. Think of, for how long China would have been longing to have Nigeria in its massive arms.
Now, the 2016 budget could actually be called several names: it was missing and was found; it was “padded” and then “deflated” of some capital projects; so many important heads have rolled for its survival. And because of its massive reliance on borrowing, a major controversy has erupted, cascading its progress through those massive gates of Aso Rock to the law courts. But even more interesting, the Minister of Finance has taken to writing articles in connection with it. It is the third she has now penned, by her own meticulous count—and it is the foremost accountant of the realm counting, so she must be correct.
However, why all this fuss about a “deficit budget”? Bill Clinton is the only American president who has not operated under one in recent history. And you will remember that what he did was to gather together what you might call the “stakeholders”, at the beginning of his administration—much like our own President Muhammadu Buhari too did. Though it would seem it was not exactly for the same purpose, since it was not supposed to achieve the same result. But, there seems to be nothing too life-threatening to a nation about a deficit budget which means, basically, that there would not be enough funds to cater for the proposed needs of the nation, without having access to a loan from some sure and steady source. The indications are that we shall have the necessary access to the facility in China.
But, some people who are not directly involved in the law-making, or law-enforcement process in the country, are against any borrowing at all. They maintain that the money which had been purloined from our treasuries is simply enough. They would encourage the Federal Government to heighten the processes of recovering the purloined assets, as it is doing, or else face the music of a legal deterrent. Although only one of the senior barristers has come out to declare such intentions, there is a suggestion of more blowing in the wind.
If that happens, it will be part of the change that we should expect. Never in our history has any citizen taken the government—any government, federal or state—to court over budget matters. Is it good for the well-being of the nation? Was that a part of what we desired when “we, the people” tabled out our aspirations? Of course, we have to expect a justification of our “trivet” system of government and hope that any of the legislative, executive or judicial “leg” of government would cover up for the other in our favour wherever there was a default.
The homecoming of Buhari from China promises to be full of interesting times in some areas. Lying in wait for him was the Budget he would not sign until every proper aspect was in place, and there waiting for him, or his Minister of Finance, rather, may be a juicy court case that is the first of its kind.
That, too, is change.