By Muyiwa Adetiba
It is the way of life and living that many of us would have spent last Christmas in ways we could not have envisaged or planned a week earlier. Some of the unexpected turns end up as pleasant surprises. Some not so pleasant. A family heard their front door bell ring on Christmas Eve. At the door was their daughter who had flown in unannounced from the US to spend Christmas with them. The shriek of her ecstatic mum could be heard miles away. It turned out she had connived with one of her siblings to surprise their parents.
And they did; spectacularly. The whole episode of a dancing mum and grinning daughter including the look of surprise bothering on shock on the face of the father was captured on video. You can imagine the kind of Christmas the family would have and the pleasant adjustments they would have had to make. A somewhat bizarre but no less pleasant surprise was that of a man who met his estranged brother of 34 years in a church. He had come to Lagos for a church programme. His brother who was resident in the US came to spend his Christmas in Nigeria.
It was something he had lately started doing as he prepared for his final home coming. And for a reason only God can explain, they ended up in the same church, for the same service. The initial surprise led to wariness since they did not separate three and a half decades ago, on the best of terms. But they nevertheless reached out to each other as brothers should. It was a tentative small step. But it was an important step. They then agreed to meet in a neutral place for a down-to-earth discussion.
To the glory of God, a feud of 34 years that had polarised the family was buried on Christmas day. I had my own small surprise too. A childhood friend whose friendship has endured over six decades called to say he was in town for Christmas. It was all the more surprising because he hardly leaves the peaceful Ile-Ife abode where he had settled since his university days. He and his wife had decided to spend two days with their daughter. It was, as you can imagine, a great pleasure playing host to them on Christmas day and catching up on old times.
But not all the stories are pleasant. That would not be life. I heard of a man who walked out of his wife of 32 years on Christmas day. He didn’t take a pin from the house. It was a surprise Christmas move that left his friends and children in a state of shock. Then there is the sad story of the Kaduna attack in which half a score died. You shouldn’t have to expect death when you dress up to attend a carol service. And death in a church, a mosque, or even a place of recreation is a sad reflection on the state of a country.
The Kaduna State governor has to do more to safeguard his citizens. Too many deaths are occurring in his axis. It is hardly surprising however, that many of the unpleasant Christmas stories this time are centred round fuel. The friend I mentioned earlier who came from Ife had to go to Mowe in Ogun State to purchase a 50-litre jerry can for ten thousand Naira so he could at least be able to move around during his stay in Lagos. There was a story of a person who lamented spending seven hours in a fuel induced gridlock. My experience was not that dire but still worth mentioning. I had to go to Arepo on the outskirts of Lagos for a ‘must go’ birthday party. My fuel was slightly above a quarter tank and it was disconcerting and fearful watching the little gas I had gradually disappear in a fuel induced ‘motion without movement.’ However, the more ominous story is that there is no telling how many lives were lost; how many plans were seriously disrupted; how many otherwise happy moments were turned to sad moments by this sudden disappearance of fuel during Christmas.
Many conspiracy theories have sprung up. One of which is that the leaders being predominantly Muslims wanted to punish Christians at Christmas. Some claimed it was aimed at the Igbos who love to travel home at Christmas. I personally don’t think it is aimed at any sectional or religious interests. I think it is borne out of incompetence, impunity and greed on the part of all the stakeholders including a critical section of the Trade Union which chose that period to threaten a strike.
To be sure, it is not the first time this is happening. It has happened under almost every leader—Muslim or Christian—of recent. It also happened under a Christian with an Igbo name so the religious and ethnic cards don’t hold water. And it will happen again until responsibilities and punishments are attached to positions in Nigeria. In this instance, one would expect that the Minister for Petroleum, the Minister of State for Petroleum, and the Chief Executive of the NNPC should have their resignation letters on the table of the President by January 1 for the embarrassment to the government and the untold hardship to the people caused by bad planning, bad implementation and generally poor handling of the fuel situation.
I have always felt it is bad management for a Chief Executive to make himself the head of a unit within his organisation because it puts his head on the line should something go wrong with that unit. It happened with Obasanjo. It is happening with Buhari. Both made themselves Ministers of a corrupt and under-performing oil industry instead of putting people there who can be praised or fired. When the crunch came, they were unable to hold anyone responsible. And my message to Kachikwu is ‘don’t be in office if you cannot be in charge.’
As it is, we have too many glorified CEOs; people who sit in the big office but are outside critical decision making processes. Kachikwu is too intelligent; too smart and too knowledgeable of the oil industry to be put on the list of titular heads. I speak from a personal knowledge of him. If he can’t add value to the system he should not devalue himself. His reputation should mean more to him than whatever he stands to make in this present state of flux and chaos.
This fuel crisis does no credit to anyone; including those who are marginally and even tangentially connected with it. The official explanations are hollow, puerile and embarrassing. This is one Christmas story that should never, ever be told again—by government, marketers, anyone.