By Sunny Ikhioya
It is not a doubt that Nigeria has an abundance of great and intelligent people. They have been analysing and forecasting the economic situations of the country – including the perennial fuel scarcity – all these years, all to no avail. It is not that they have not analysed correctly, that would have been possible if other things “remain the same”, as the economists will say. But, in Nigeria, all things are not always equal and that is why we keep dancing in circles.
We tend to avoid the realities on ground – for you know what the reasons are but choose to follow unworkable ideas and solutions. Everybody is working, everyone is struggling and striving to make fuel available in the country, yet such efforts have failed to yield dividends. The answer is injustice in the system – against the workers and the people. If a people believe in their leadership, where ever or whatever the society, they will put their lives on the line to make the system work; this is only possible when the leadership is sincere in their dealings.
Despite the increase of pump price of fuel from N87.5 to N145.00, with crude oil at $40 per barrel, we were unable to stabilise fuel supply in this country. Vanguard on Tuesday December 19, 2017, carried the headline: “Nigeria spends N2.07trn on fuel imports in 9 months”, an increase of 14.2 percent compared to same period in the previous year January to September . Supposedly government ought to be having a better handle on the fuel challenge confronting this country, as it was a key campaign issue in the last presidential election. Promises were confidently made on how they can turn around positively the situation in the NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation). Is it not disappointing, therefore, that almost three years after, we are spending more on fuel importation?
Why is it that anytime there is talk about privatising our refineries, there is renewed vigour on the part of NNPC to make our refineries work? And immediately the heat cools off, they return to the status-quo? It is the same thing now: our local production of fuel is not making any impact, just as was the case during the past government. But while the latter had a human face, the former seem to revel in propaganda and deceit, nothing more. Nobody can tell me that we cannot get the challenge in the oil sector sorted out if professionally handled and without bias. We have shied away from the real problems in the country and have been chasing shadows; that is, if we remove injustice caused by religion, ethnic and corruption will naturally go under. It is only in Nigeria that an opportunity for indigenous production of fuel can be wasted. The leader that will rescue Nigeria should be ready to lay down his own life like Jesus Christ did; he must know no colour, religion and tribal sentiment. It is a Herculean task because his own people will accuse him of betrayal, but that is the only way the country can move forward; not boasting that you belong to everybody and doing otherwise.
Indeed, until we sort out the injustice in the oil sector, situations like we have every Christmas season will continue. It is sure that they will not attempt what they did in Niger Delta with the newly discovered oil producing areas in Lagos State and the rest of the South West. Until the leadership of this country is able to understand the psychology of the Niger Delta people, they will be unable to effectively deal with the oil crises. Even if maximum or extreme force is applied, it will only breed more militancy like it did with the Boko Haram of North Eastern Nigeria.
The people of the Niger Delta are grassroots-oriented, you may call them frontline states as far as oil production is concerned. They understand the language of oil, the topography, the pipelines and so on. The people are refining fuel on their own, even at great risks to lives and property.
It is their means of survival, having been denied legitimate means of livelihood caused by oil pollution to their land and waters, the aqua-culture already destroyed. It is for the authorities to identify these ones and integrate them into the main stream. Petrol and diesel production is all about cooking, filtering and siphoning, depending on the degrees. We can send research teams to the area to help them fine-tune their production processes, instead of the wholesale destructions taking place now. It is not compulsory that we must use current Western technology. The challenge is to eliminate all of the risks involved in the local production and all will be well. There are better ways to do it. Truth is, these people have perfected fuel and diesel production -albeit illegally- and that is what they are using to power their boats and generators in the creeks. The difference between this fuel and the one imported is the standard which can be achieved if deliberate effort is made to bring them to the main stream.
There is a need for synergy between government and the people; but you cannot achieved that if you pack the NNPC full with people who have no reason to be there in the first place. The Niger Delta man who is born in the swamp, breathes and drinks crude oil. Because of his experience and closeness to the production point from inception, he has been able to facilitate his own way of producing fuel. You cannot compare him to the people from the North or any other area of the country that has no oil. Only those who understand this should be put in charge of the oil industry. If you are in government today, go for justice: “give unto Caesar what is Caesars”.
The foundation for injustice built by depriving the true owners of oil their rightful place. The success of the oil industry does not depend on quota system or the domination of the majority tribes or religion; it is too critical to be reduced to that level. It also cannot be run by personal whims and caprices; it goes beyond sound knowledge of management to the deep integration of the people on whose land the oil is taken from.
*Mr Ikhioya can be reached via: www.southsouthecho.com and Twitter: @SunnyIkhioya