Oil Price Increase: Nigerians Are Angry – And Rightly Too

by Churchill Okonkwo

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – this is not easy”. – Aristotle

It was an unbearable hot September as we waited in an unorganized queue in a petrol station at Nnobi in Anambra State. The universities were closed as a result the strike action by lectures and I was at home to assist my Dad who could not withstand the stress and rigors of “fighting” for petrol at gas stations in Nigeria. I had to be at the station as early as 5.00 am to beat the black marketers to the queue, but could only manage 50 meters from the pump. By 11 am the lines had grown as long as the third mainland bridge as we waited for the operators who were mapping out the strategy on how to maximize profit. There was shoving and pushing as the sweaty day made us sullen with discomfort.

When the operators finally started to sell, they no longer used the meter, but rather, were charging indiscriminately knowing fully well that we were prepared to pay at all cost. A palm wine taper was asked to pay three times the “official” price, when he refused, one spare-parts trader who felt he is “buoyant enough” wreaked the taper to either pay up or he will pay and take his petrol. The memory of that encounter has stayed with me for about 10 years now.

That was why in “Labour and Government Face Off Over Fuel Price Increase: The Way Forward” last year, I suggested the immediate privatization of our refineries that are fast turning to museums as part of the measures of cushioning the adverse effect the incessant increment on the price of petroleum products in the country is having on the poor masses. Little did I know that the worse is still to come with the top shots at NNPC, DPR, NUPENG, and PENGASSON, sabotaging all “effort” towards such privatization from the government that is still dragging her feet, afraid of closing the biggest channel through which corruption and corrupt practices are perpetuated in the country.

In that same article, I said that subsidy has to go. I still believe it has to go, but this time on conditions. Before I go to the conditions, let me state that I am angry – Nigerians are angry. This is not only easy but we have the right to be angry with “anybody” or “anything” that has “something” to do with governance in this country. The spring that controls the degree of our anger lost its elasticity the day OBJ invited Dokobo to Aso Rock and negotiated how oil bunkering will continue unabated in the Niger Delta. Our anger knew no limit since the Senators and the former education minister choose to dance naked in the theater of corruption and irresponsibility. The patience in us has been swallowed by the Lagos Bar Beach the day OBJ supervised the Mayhem in Anambra state with the IG. Just yesterday we heard that the government spends 300 millions a day to subsidize local consumption of petroleum products. Story.

Last night, the MD of NNPC, Mr., Funsho Kupolokun told Nigerians that they can no longer sustain the provision of petroleum products to Nigerians at the current price of crude oil in the international market. He quickly added that he is finding it difficult to pay the salaries of his staff. Now, my questions: what is the federal government paying the staff of NNPC and DPR for? Is it for selling oil blocs and crude oil and importing refined petroleum products? Is it for turning our refineries to redundancies? Is it for conniving and supervising the massive corruption in the oil sector? Meanwhile it is these same staff that has frustrated all the “unserious” effort of the present administration in privatizing our refineries. Are they afraid of losing their jobs and the avenue through which they siphon the wealth of the people of the Niger Delta? Why can’t Soludo and Okonjo Iwuala “force” this into the ears of OBJ, that it is only through such privatization that the deregulation of the down stream of the oil sector will gather the needed momentum and impact positively on what they call “economic reform agenda”? Things are getting to the stage where we all need a psychologist that specializes on “the madness of governance in Nigeria” to comprehend what and where this present administration is heading to.

When the present government came to office, a bag of rice sold for =N=1,500. Six years after, the price of a bag of rice is heading to =N=6,000. By the close of work today the increment will be affected and with the Christmas season fast approaching, only God knows where we will be by the end of the year. By now you should appreciate why Nigerians are angry to every degree, right purpose and I hope it has to be in the right way when the strike start.

The condition for the removal of the oil subsidy and the continued deregulation of the down stream sector is the immediate privatization of all our oil refineries. It is better for the big shots at NNPC and DPR as well as PENGASSON to go on strike (and fail to succeed) against the privatization that will put our refineries back to operation instead of our present dependency on imported refined products that have left us at the mercy of marketers and the price of crude oil at the international market. Most importantly, corruption has to be tackled with all sincerity the administration can muster, knowing fully well that the survival of the nation depends on that.

How will you explain to the poor Niger Delta woman that she has to pay more than she can earn (that is if she is earning a living) to buy kerosene for her ant infested fire-wood from the farm in her back-yard that has been polluted by oil? How do you explain to my mother at the village that she has to pay four hundred Naira just to get to Onitsha from Nnobi to buy clothes that will take her one month to sell at little or no profit? What do you expect my brothers that solely depend on generating plants with petrol and diesel to run their business in the country? And my brother who recently bought a truck to run his poultry business, how can he survive? How can I survive with the stress of having to transport myself in Lagos? When will this government start doing the right things at the right time?

Pending the time the increment is officially announced, the strike action over, the dust settled and our loss counted, I may not be able to say anything further except that we

are angry – and rightly too. This is easy too.

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Anonymous September 8, 2005 - 4:00 pm

Dear this is a nice one from you the issue is that the so called nigerian leadres are now engage into a battle of "lets see who go fall". But i pity them because they think evil rock is where it all ends they forget to know that one day they will live like a single man like me (civilian) despite that they have achieved all they want with our oil money the dangers of the agrieve masses face them as they walk along the street.

Anonymous August 29, 2005 - 10:27 am

You said it all.


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