Season of discontent
“No light, no water, terrible!”
This soulful poetic rendition was done in Lagos way back in 1977 by a new house-help straight from the village with a smattering acquaintance with the English Language. It was her own dramatic way of reacting to a Catch 22 situation that NEPA, as it was then called, had visited on the nation. For days, running into weeks, there was no light. Without power supply, there was also no water supply because you needed power to pump the engine at the public water works. Generators, as an alternative to NEPA, was not so common place as we have today, so the poor and the hapless had nowhere to turn because they could not also pump water out of the borehole.
We thought wrongly then that we were witnessing the year of the Armageddon. How wrong indeed we were. As a country, we have since witnessed the progressive deterioration of the power situation despite all the money voted to improve service and despite the metamorphosis from NEPA to PHCN and now to DISCO.
All these have in turn led to the mushrooming of all manner of generating sets including the I better pass my neighbour type with its lethal fume which, when inhaled, routinely kills the entire family in their desperate attempt to survive the antics of NEPA and its numerous DISCO successors.
As it was in 1977, so it is even today. No light, no water. And this terrible situation is compounded by the utterly inexplicable and unacceptable shortage of fuel across the country. For days, running into weeks, Nigerians have been groaning in the dark. And since there is no power supply, they have no water. Even their small generating sets that run on PMS cannot work because they cannot get fuel to buy. This past Easter holiday which ought to be the season of love, peace, harmony and tolerance turned out to be Nigeria’s veritable season of discontent causing tempers to run high even in high quarters.
In a moment of exasperation the other day, the Minister of State for Petroleum, the intellectually savvy Ibe Kachikwu, who doubles as group managing director of NNPC, lost his cool. Reacting to angry Nigerians who stay days on the queue for fuel that is now a scarce commodity and who hold him responsible for it, the minister said he was not a magician, he did not train as a magician and, obviously, therefore, he had no magic wand to deploy to solve the problem of fuel scarcity overnight. He told Nigerians not to expect any dramatic improvement until sometimes in May, a long shot from now. Oh, wait a minute: In a dramatic turn there will now be magic, come April 07 and those planning protests should save their fuel! This came after, presumably, some tutorial from the Senate on how to be a politician.
The minister, this none magician, might not have been expecting messages of congratulations to pour into his office for his candour – which the Presidency called his unabashed truth – but he must have been shocked, if not rattled, by reactions from even unexpected quarters. National leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the Jagaban of Borgu, who has been so busy these days collecting honorary doctorate degrees and assorted traditional titles, took time off his busy schedule to lend his weighty voice to those of the hapless citizens suffering from the chronic fuel shortage.
He told the minister off thus: “Kachikwu must be reminded that he was not coerced to take this job. He accepted the job and its responsibilities knowingly. He also must remember that he does not own the NNPC. ……..The Company he runs is owned by Nigerians, not by him and they are his boss.
In talking to us in such a manner, he committed an act of insubordination.”
Sensing more trouble for the minister, the Presidency quickly came to his rescue, confirming that what he said was the truth. That, unfortunately, has not done much to dissuade or placate angry civil society groups, some of which have given the minister an ultimatum to resign within 72 hours or they would move onto the street in protest. Nor has it made any impact on the Senate which has invited the minister to come and explain this long and seemingly intractable shortage.
You can trust those who are adept in fishing in troubled waters. This is an opportunity for political mongers to aggravate the tense situation and score cheap political points. Some of them are itching to reach out for Tinubu’s jugular for his comment while others think it is time to teach Kachikwu, technocrat sans magician, sans politician, the lesson of his life. In my considered opinion, Tinubu, as a leader of the party and an influential one for that matter, has a duty to draw attention to politically incorrect statements, especially any that he deems capable of hurting the credibility of the party. But the helpless Kachikwu has my sympathy. Not being a professional politician, he has elected to speak the truth as he knows it apparently never having heard of a politically incorrect truth.
Having said that, the administration must now move quickly to address the lingering shortage which has the potential of giving the Buhari’s administration a negative image and also tarnish the reputation of the President himself. If you add this fuel crisis to the energy crisis for which the President apologised to the nation last time, the result will be credibility problem and a major crisis of confidence.
Other major issues still hanging fire include the economy. The egg heads in the Buhari’s administration must worry about the direction of the economy, the exchange rate and the revival of the comatose industries.
A lot of gains have been recorded in the fight against the insurgents. Total victory over Boko Haram must be capped with the rescue of the Chibok girls. That will be the icing of the cake. At the end of the day, what will ultimately define the success of the Buhari’s administration is credibility. He promised to get Chibok girls out. To date, there is no known intelligence report of their fate and their whereabouts. And the chilling report or speculation that some of them might have been turned into female suicide bombers can only add to our worries and the government’s capacity to keep faith with their traumatic parents.
On other fronts, the President has been doing a lot of stock-taking in recent time. His speech last week Thursday at the National Executive Committee meeting of APC went a long way to reassure Nigerians that the man they voted into power last year has not lost track of his vision and determination. He openly acknowledged his mistakes and apologised for the sacking of vice chancellors and the dissolution of the governing councils of the 12 new universities as well as that of the National Open University of Nigeria.
He also took a critical look at Kogi, Bayelsa and Rivers states and admitted that he did not get it right during the governorship elections in the three states. He must have realised where the party went wrong and what he, as a leader, should have done which he failed to do because of his full confidence and trust in his associates to do what was right.
He used the Easter season to rub some soothing balm on the jaded nerves of the citizens when he assured them that the change agenda had not been ditched. The changes he promised, would come fast if “citizens imbibe the virtues of Jesus Christ and place national interest above selfish, personal and group interests.” He urged all Nigerians to eschew all divisive, parochial, ethnic and religious sentiments and pledge to live more harmoniously with one another.
“Our unfortunate notoriety in recent years as a country where the blood of men, women and children are wantonly and callously shed in frequent orgies of criminal, political, ethnic and religious violence has become very embarrassing and utterly unacceptable” declared the President.
There is no guessing the fact that he will back his words with action.
And to stem the flow and tide of the prevailing discontent which can only cause major distraction in the pursuit of chosen goals, the President, as usual, must be eternally vigilant to avoid being misled into taking decisions that are patently antithetic to national interest.