AS the President Muhammadu Buhari government slowly inches towards its first year in office, the challenge of efficiently administering Africa’s most populous country has become a heavy cross which he must carry on his shoulders, as he struggles to deliver on the promise of change which catapulted him into office on May 29, 2015.
The task before the president is, indeed, huge. The pressure on him to wave a magic wand and move the nation to the promised land of plenty is heavy. From whichever angle one looks at it, be it health, electricity, fuel, education or the economy, what Nigerians need is nothing short of a magical portion to end our woes and make us forget the troubles of the past.
Let us take the fuel supply situation, for instance. The scarcity of petroleum has, in the past few days, entered a new low with fuel queues becoming quite frightening. The supply of electricity is much worse than many people remember in recent times. The economy, with the crash in the price of crude oil in the international market and acute forex shortages, is in throes.
The situation is making some “Israelites” to yearn for a return to Egypt, (the land of their servitude). This is more so as those who are suddenly finding nooses tightening around their money pots are crying to the high heavens and lionizing the bygone “days of the locusts.”
Concerning fuel scarcity, the impression in many quarters is that it was caused by government’s ineptitude and the decision of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, to allocate 72 per cent of oil imports in the first quarter of this year to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPCC) at the detriment of the independent oil marketers. This wrong impression has been corrected by the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN).
The association, earlier this week, declared that the prolonged leadership crisis among its members for two years was responsible for the lingering scarcity of petrol. Secretary of the IPMAN Interim Management Committee, Engr. Lawson Ngoa, admitted that the unhealthy rivalry between the two factions of the association crippled the importation and distribution of petrol by the independent marketers, who control about 80 per cent of the fuel distribution network in the country.
It is good that Dr. Kackikwu has now inaugurated the IPMAN Reconciliation/ Management Committee to resolve the crisis, as one of the ways to fully re-integrate independent marketers into the fuel importation process as one of the ways of ending the scarcity. IPMAN, which is the umbrella body of independent petroleum marketers in the country (as opposed to the International oil companies (IOCs) known as oil majors, accepted all responsibility for the difficulties suffered by Nigerians and expressed its readiness to begin the importation and distribution of fuel following the reconciliation of the factions by the minister.
The IPMAN leadership assured that with the increase in the percentage of imports allocated to its members, and other incentives made available by the government, the problem of scarcity of the product will fully be over in a few weeks. The federal government has also been reported to have arranged with the IOCs operating in the country to make foreign exchange available to the oil marketers to smoothen the importation of the product. The recent discharge of a 21 million metric tonnes vessel at Apapa and the subsequent loading of tankers is expected to bring some relief, even as the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has decided to maintain a 24-hour monitoring of fuel stations across the country to reduce sharp practices and to ensure smooth supply and distribution of the product, as well as reduce queues.
The management of the economy is another area in which the government is receiving knocks from Nigerians. The situation, here, cannot be divorced from the financial crunch occasioned by the crash in the price of crude oil in the international market and the efforts by the governor of the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, to manage the situation in the best interest of ordinary Nigerians. But, this has been to the chagrin of entrenched interests which have been affected by Emefiele’s initiatives. For example, in the face of Nigeria’s dwindling forex receipts, the CBN governor removed 41 items, including toothpicks, from the list of items eligible for forex at the official market. The subtle message from that action is that Nigerians should produce these items locally, or source forex privately to fund their importation, as they are not on the government’s priority list for forex allocations.
Emefiele also stopped the monthly allocation of forex to Bureau de Change (BDCs) operators, thereby removing the milk bottle from those who had been feeding fat on the monthly allocations, as it was a cool source of wealth for them, since many of them simply bought the forex and resold at staggering profits in the black market. The objective of allocating forex to the productive sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, where it would be used to create wealth and jobs, was defeated by some of the BDCs. To worsen matters, many of the BDCs were found to belong to some highly placed officials in the same CBN that was making the allocations!
The CBN governor was also accused of recruiting about 900 workers without adhering to due process and the constitutional provision on the need to maintain the federal character of the nation, even when it may not be possible to use any single recruitment exercise to determine adherence to federal character by any institution, and when some of the educationally disadvantaged geo-political zones may not even have enough candidates to fill their allocations.
The decision of the federal government not to devalue the naira, which is a credible option for a country that lives on the exportation of just one main product but imports virtually all its needs, is another issue that has been attracting flaks for Emefiele and the government. There is also pressure on Nigeria from abroad not to ban imports. This is at a time virtually all serious countries, including America, Russia and China, ban the importation of certain products to protect their local industries.
The issue of insecurity is another area in which the president still has so much on his hands as the Chibok girls remain unfound, and the Boko Haram attacks are yet to fully abate.
Beyond these attacks, there are also the verbal onslaughts from ordinary citizens on his handling of the nation’s problems. Nigerians are yet to understand the truism that the president’s cross is the nation’s cross. By wishing the regime ill, or rejoicing in its travails, the people are only biting their noses and spiting their faces. The success of this regime will translate to a better life for us all. Its failure, on the other hand, can only spell doom for the country for the next three years. Our best, yet, is to be patient and give the government a breathing space to implement its policies. It should not be stampeded or coerced into taking decisions that are not in the best interest of the greater majority of the people. It is only the success of the government in its policies that can make life better for the people.