By Ikeogu Oke
Reading some of the public commentaries – and other forms of reactions – on the current fuel crisis and associated issues, I was reminded of why I opposed the controversial call to dissolve the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) made last year by a prominent Nigerian politician. The politician reportedly summed up his justification for the call with the words: “If you don’t kill the NNPC, it will kill Nigeria.”
Clearly, those words should make patriotic Nigerian see the country’s survival as dependant on scrapping NNPC at a time when its popularity was at its nadir owing to a variety of factors.
Prominent among those factors are allegations of massive corruption and mismanagement. Now, one of such public commentaries came from one Moses E. Ochonu’s in “Dr. Kachikwu’s Blunders” – published in Sahara Reporters and Premium Times. It sums up the predicament of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources in managing the current fuel scarcity in the country.
This sort of criticism is too harsh and demoralising. The function of the responsible social critic is to build hope while identifying problems, and not to demoralise. Ochonu’s criticism demoralises by its unjustified total condemnation of its target and his efforts, and by spreading despair. And by other forms of reactions, I refer to such call made by the leaders of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
In fact, I am convinced that killing NNPC would amount to turning the organisation into a corporate scapegoat, sacrificing the life of one institution to “atone” for perennial sins plaguing the nation like corruption.
And I see the call for Kachikwu’s resignation by Chief Bola Tinubu, which serves as a background for Ochonu’s unsparing criticism of the former – and the similar call by the ASUU leadership – as fresh instigations to lead yet another sacrificial human victim, rather than the corporate NNPC, to the altar of the same fetish.
And I wonder if Ochonu and the ASUU executive recognise how long the problems leading to the current fuel scarcity have lasted with our tolerance as a people.
For instance, in the past sixteen years before Dr. Kachikwu assumed office as Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, billions were spent on Turn Around maintenance of our refineries by successive governments. Specifically, $1.6 billion (about N251 billion) was reportedly voted for the turnaround maintenance of the four refineries across the country by the end of 2014. Yet, little (if anything at all) seemed to have been achieved by way of truly turning the refineries around to refine enough fuel for our local consumption. Hence, we have remained stuck with fuel importation.
Indeed, if anyone were to succeed in resolving this situation that has defied previous governments for nearly two decades in the seven months that Kachikwu has been in office, I would perhaps consider that person not as a magician – which Kachikwu rightly but tactlessly said he is not, and for which he has apologised – but as a miracle worker.The solution, especially if it must be long-term, lies in thinking creatively and taking radical measures which I believe the current government is doing despite serious handicaps.
To adapt that famous quote by Albert Einstein, it would be madness to expect to be doing the same thing about our fuel situation and not remain in the same dissatisfactory position.
The current situation requires action, understanding, patience and sacrifice from the generality of Nigerians, as one would expect from good members of a family whose breadwinner suddenly lost his job or had his wages reduced drastically; and who, not of his own making, lacks the savings to cushion the resultant hardship.
I think the least should be to offer suggestions on how the problems can be solved for the general good. And I do not see how calling for the resignation of Kachikwu without ensuring that the problems will suddenly disappear with his resignation and replacement or criticising the government without suggesting better steps than those being taken by it qualifies as a solution to the problems.
Curiously, some of these calls are coming even after Kachikwu has unveiled a holistic blueprint for reversing the current situation and working towards a lasting solution, as in the story entitled “My Story, by Kachikwu,” published on page 6 of Daily Sun of April 2, 2018. He should be supported to implement this blueprint, and not harassed.
•Oke writes from Abuja.