Trouble is creeping on us like the coming of the twilight and we are too bewildered to do anything about it. It is this that make you wonder who is really on our side; we the people. There is fuel price increase, we take it. There is increase in insurance premium, we accept. There is kidnapping, we pay ransom. The roads are bad, we travel anyway.
In recent weeks, fuel scarcity has returned to Nigerian towns and cities. We have heard magisterial pronouncements from high government officials about how Nigeria has enough fuel to last till the end of the millennium and how we should not subject ourselves to panic buying. Then days stretched into weeks and weeks into months and the people realise that trouble is at the door. At last, the much vilified oil subsidy is going with the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 and we await the consequences with trepidation.
Since the era of the subsidy and price equalisation fund began, Nigeria has expended billions of dollars to ensure that we have fuel at the stations. In doing this, the country has produced billionaires, who wait leisurely everyday as they see their egg nests grow. The oil-subsidy mafia became a super-tribe. No one could touch them and everyone knew that this shadowy group has enough power to install governors and the President. Each member has private jet and they live a lifestyle that you only see in the movies. They knew the meaning of the big life. When President Buhari was campaigning for the big job in 2015, he said fuel-subsidy is a lie! Then he came to power and became wiser. He became born again. Now he is on his last lap and he wants the next president to the drop fuel subsidy. Hmmm!
Nigeria is an oil producing country that spends billions of dollars importing fuel every year. The Englishman would say you cannot be more foolish than the man who took coal to Newcastle. Now we are importing palm-wine to Ile-Ife, the land of Obatala. To understand our journey on the oil trail, you have to appreciate what has happened to us in the past few decades since we became an oil rich country. We started well and we ended up with such fabled characters like Diezani Alison-Madueke.
One important milestone occurred during the Second Republic. In 1980, the Senate Leader, Senator Olusola Saraki from Kwara State, raised the alarm in the Upper House of the National Assembly presided over by the chubby Senator Joseph Wayas, now late. Saraki said he heard the rumour that N2.8 billion (about $3 billion then) was missing from the account of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). He wanted the National Assembly to probe the rumour.
In the end the Senate did set up a panel to have a public hearing on the matter. I remember that Professor Ayodele Awojobi, the engineering genius from the University of Lagos, did appear before the panel to prove that mathematically it was possible for the money to be missing from the account. In the end, Dr. Tai Solarin, the legendary social critic and educationist, who first wrote about the rumour in the Nigerian Tribune, came before the panel and confessed that he heard the rumour when he was riding in a Lagos molue bus!
More significant was that the panel summoned General Olusegun Obasanjo, who had handed over power to elected President Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1999, to come and testify before the panel. Obasanjo, who was Nigeria’s military ruler from 1976 to 1979, ended 13 years of military rule. He declined to appear before the panel. His lawyer, Chief Rotimi Williams, went to court, stating that Obasanjo was an institution that could not be subjected to the Senate summon.
During his reign as Nigeria’s military Head of State, Obasanjo had placed Nigerian oil wealth in the care of three unimpeachable men. Chief Festus Marinho was the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Marinho was a man noted for his high integrity and moral courage. He was reporting to the Minister of Petroleum of Resources, Brigadier Muhammadu Buhari, a ramrod soldier famous for his ascetic lifestyle and his disdain for worldly wealth.
The third person was Dr. Clement Isong, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria; a thorough economist and banker whose integrity and executive capacity has remained part of the legends of the CBN. Once, a junior officer had dared changed the CBN Governor Peugeot official car after four years. Angrily, Isong issued him a query, asking him to explain why he has to waste government fund, when the old car was still performing well!
Today, who can explain to us what is happening with the NNPC, now that it has become transformed into NNPC Ltd and the oil industry? The same Buhari is still the Minister of Petroleum Resources, 44 years after he did the same job under Obasanjo. Then Nigeria was an oil-exporting country as it is now, but was not an importer of petroleum products. We had functional refineries and functioning system. Then the NNPC was alive to its responsibilities.
The NNPC has undergone many mutations since the Marinho era, but it is still alive. All its refineries are virtually dead and it has spent billions of dollars in maintaining them in the morgue and keeping them in a state of expensive morbidity. No one seems to know what to do about these refineries. During the era of General Ibrahim Babangida, the refineries, old and poorly serviced, developed the habits of consuming hundreds of millions of dollars in turn-around-maintenance cost yearly. The matter worsened under General Sani Abacha.
In the closing months of Obasanjo’s Presidency, he decided to sell one of the refineries to a consortium under the leadership of Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Mr. Femi Otedola. The deal went through. When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came to power after Obasanjo, he unravel the deal and Dangote and Otedola were refunded their money. The new president preferred to keep his refineries in the morgue.
Now Dangote is coming up with his independent refinery and with that, Nigeria, the oil producing country, may have a functioning refinery. The full implication of the new Dangote Refinery is not clear, but at least it would provide thousands of new jobs and ensure that at least for the first time in many years, Nigeria can produce refined petroleum products for its domestic market. How this would affect the cost at the pump stations is not clear yet. We wait.
And we are waiting too for Emefiele, the linear successor of Clement Isong. Emefiele has been Governor of the CBN for the past nine years. Since 1999, four men have done the job: Joseph Oladele Sanusi, Charles Chukwuma Soludo, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and now Godwin Emefiele. He became the first CBN governor to become involved in partisan politics when he coyly sought nomination for the presidential ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). None of these men, except Emefiele, suggested that we need to change our currency.
The truth is that the Emefiele currency is trickling into circulation. We have been told that by next week, the old naira notes would no longer be legal tender in the Republic. If you have excess notes, you can take them to the fuel stations and stockpile fuel for the days ahead. You can also pay for your Third Party insurance policy of your vehicle whose fee has been increased by 200 per cent. Everything is galloping forward in Nigeria except the quality of life!