POLITICS has been described as “hardball” sometimes. And this, it seems, is one of those times. When two weeks ago, Minister of State for Petroleum and Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, told a nation reeling and riling as a result of fuel scarcity and long queues at the filing stations, that it might take till next month (May) to be solved, he created a voracious appetite for drama and debate. He was pummeled on all sides.
But reality bites. Kachikwu was forced to readjust what he said, not that he recanted what he said. He told us he spoke like a technocrat. “Some of the phrases that I may use while being acceptable in the arena in which I play, obviously will not be acceptable in the public political arena”. He apologized, and said, “so, if anybody’s sensibilities were offended by those, I totally apologise”. I do apologise for the comment that I made jokingly with my friends in the press about being magician and it offended Nigerians. It was not meant to be. It was a side jocular issue”.
Analyzing Kachikwu’s apology in the context that makes meaning, one may want to ask: what is the difference between a technocrat and a politician? Understanding the difference between the two requires going beyond the dictionary definition. A technocrat doesn’t embellish facts, for the facts for him speak for themselves. It is about reality, not public expectations. In that regard, a technocrat is like an apple on a tree; he wears his heart on his sleeve. He neither indulges in doublespeak or demagoguery, a misrepresentation of the facts on ground.
Besides, a technocrat doesn’t like to be called a ‘yes man’. He will not want to promise the ‘moon’, and deliver the ‘cheese’. That’s not his training. All of these are the opposite of a typical politician, everywhere, not Nigerian politician alone. But former Lagos state governor, and leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu readily reminded Kachikwu that the turf he (Kachikwu) is currently playing is politics, not the boardroom. In politics, the name of the game is often demagoguery. Facts are not sacred. When a politician tells you ‘Read my lips’ (apologies to George H. Bush), you better don’t believe what the politician tells you. Believe the lies, or pray that he’s not indulged in doublespeak. For a politician, it pays to tell the public what they want to hear, not really what the circumstances of the situation demand you to say. That’s why our politics is often a fun to follow.
Here is what Tinubu said in response to Kachikwu’s harmless “joke”. “Kachikwu”, Tinubu says, “needs to know that respect and good performance will do what magic cannot do.” Tinubu admitted that notwithstanding that Kachikwu’s comment might have been made in a moment of unguarded frustration, or an awkward attempt at a joke, whatever the motive, it was “untimely and off-putting.”
According to Tinubu, Kachikwu ought to know he is a public servant and the seat he sits upon is owned by Nigerians, not by him.” And the company (NNPC) he runs is owned by Nigerians not by him, and Nigerians are his boss. He reminded Kachikwu that the portfolio he holds is so strategically important that he “needs to reestablish the correct relationship with the people, and this he concluded, “requires no magic or training”.
Tinubu was right but… He was right because, to borrow the words in Donald T. Reagan’s memoir, FOR THE RECORDS, in a “democracy, the political appointee does well to remember that he is present as a matter of luck and courtesy rather than by any right”.
The APC leader may have “done well” in making Kachikwu to know his ‘limits’, and forcing him to apologise to Nigerians, but the crucial question now is: what happens if at the end of this week fuel scarcity persists? Will Kachikwu resign? Recall that when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) a week ago, Kachikwu promised that the fuel crisis would end on or before April 7. It’s two days to that deadline. Is there any concrete evidence that the scarcity will end in 48 hours? Well, I believe in miracles, even if I don’t believe in magicians. Kachikwu has ruled out resignation.
This is why I think we have not been fair to Kachikwu. He spoke his mind, based on facts available to him, when he said this scarcity might persist till next month. Many of us augued it was not an impressive argument. We thought he was thoughtless for saying what he said. Again, reality bites.
Now that we have extracted apology from him, what does that solve if by Thursday the current fuel scarcity shows no sign of ending? This is what Kachikwu’s apology can or may have solved. Nicholas Tacichis in his celebrated book: Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation, provides reasons why Kachikwu has to take this course of action last Tuesday. Tavichis writes that apologies speak of acts that cannot be undone, but cannot go unnoticed without compromising the current and future relationship especially when the “offender” calculated that staying silent and stonewalling threaten what he calls “current and future relationship of one or more key constituencies..”
APC leaders know that the worsening fuel scarcity across the country is a veritable weapon for future elections. One of the questions the opposition PDP may be asking Nigerians when the time comes is: Are you better off with APC in power than when PDP was in power? But heaping the blame on Kachikwu is to miss the point. The truth is that APC has to show more passion and commitment to governance and governing. These are two different things. Governance and governing should not be used interchangeably. Governance appeals to popularity, while governing entails seeing governance as a human enterprise and fulfilling political promises and agenda made to the people during campaigns. On these two scores, APC is below the mark.
The main challenge for the APC ruling government is to reconcile the necessity of governance with the imperative that government must on one hand make things happen, and at the same time prevent certain things from happening. The worsening fuel scarcity across the country which has been on for weeks now is an unusual, agonizing situation. It is an emergency that requires not just a temporary solution but a sustainable one that will avoid future recurrence.
This is why successive governments have failed Nigerians. This is one of the reasons why APC has been handed an opportunity by the Nigerian voters to make a difference where PDP reportedly failed usefully. If APC fails; it may not have the luxury that Nigerians gave the PDP to stay in power for sixteen years. Providing lasting solution to the perennial fuel scarcity will be of supreme relevancy to APC remaining in power beyond the next general elections in 2019.