THAT frustration over the slow pace of the economy is beginning to boil over can be deduced from the variegated reactions of various stakeholders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) over a candid opinion expressed by the Minister of Petroleum (State), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu. The oil technocrat spearheading President Muhammadu Buhari’s agenda of restoring sanity to the oil sector had quipped that he was not a magician, after he had told State House correspondents at the Presidential, Villa, Abuja, that it would take till about May to get a clear handle on the perennial fuel shortage, plaguing the country. Since then, the Nigerian media space has been besieged with a welter of reactions, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
APC leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, in his usual deep and penetrating manner, fired the first salvo, admonishing the minister to guard his utterances which, he warned, was incongruous with the change mantra of the party. Tinubu’s admonition can be understood within the context of his strategic position in the APC configuration. Many will agree that he is an embodiment of all that the party stands for. For his role in spearheading the alliance that flushed Goodluck Jonathan out of power, though not elected, he will be justified to regard himself as being accountable to Nigerians on the performance or lack of it by the Buhari administration. As a true leader, he enjoined the minister to buckle up and deliver on the benchmarks promised by the administration.
If Tinubu’s admonition is excusable on the grounds of his pre-eminent position in the party, the same cannot be said of the demand of the South-South zone of the party that the minister should resign. Hiding under Tinubu’s mask does not accord them the moral authority to indulge in ‘mandibular peregrination’ (apologies to Gbolabo Ogunsanwo) or verbal diarrhea over the statement attributed to the minister. Nor would sounding sanctimonious betray the thinly veiled betrayal embodied in their self-serving statement.
I see a problem here: How does the president distill sublime and honest criticism from sycophantic statements intended to ingratiate political jobbers to the powers that be at the expense of solid professionals like Kachikwu, who answered the call to serve on the premise that they could follow the lead of a President whose greatest strength lies in his integrity? To underscore this dilemma, we need to recall that, if over enthusiastic APC members had not portrayed Buhari as a magician, possessing the wand to fix all of Nigeria’s problems within the first month in office, he wouldn’t have been under pressure to validate himself within the first six months of the first term of a four-year presidency, with a second term, constitutionally guaranteed, subject to the wishes of the people. In a dubious effort to wrest power at all cost, we were told that Buhari would fix the roads within a few months, conjure naira-dollar parity and restore stability in fuel supply within a few months. The messianic aura had all the trappings of a prophecy and for a despondent people who had come to rely on prophets and mullahs for redemption, the electorate started seeing Buhari the way the Jews saw Jesus Christ.
But Buhari is not a messiah: He is just an honest man committed to doing an honest job. He is yet to deliver the CHANGE he promised; not for lack of trying, not even for lack of clarity of vision as alleged by some critics. Truth is, his campaigners, his support base forgot the Latin economic caveat for every problem: Ceteris paribus…all things being equal. But that is the danger in playing God. With the oil market crash, budget delay, intra-party wrangling, etc., APC’s plans hang on tenterhooks. Paucity of funds has meant that the boast of a sudden turnaround cannot be sustained. The APC has leant that, as desirable as it is, change is not simply about sloganeering; it is about painstaking planning, single-minded pursuit of goals, the ability to create a stakeholder environment that compels the people to make the necessary sacrifices that would usher in CHANGE as well as ceteris paribus! Besides, change is not an overnight thing, not even a destination because the bulk of the recipe is attitudinal, not an event or a destination.
Unfortunately, the party’s biggest challenge is how to extricate itself from the scapegoat syndrome. Thus, failure to deliver on the party’s promises had to be blamed on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But with all avenues for blaming the PDP thinning out, the party has turned on itself, looking inwards for scapegoats. Who else would have been the most appropriate victim if not Kachikwu, a ‘political outsider’? Buhari must resist this because it carries all the frightening portents for failure.
Let’s get it straight: Kachikwu’s statement may not be politically correct. But this is not the time for political correctness. This is the moment of truth. And for good effect, the President himself has initiated the core value of his administration: INTEGRITY. Time and again, he has asked Nigerians to tighten their belts; time and again he has reminded us that this is a four-year presidency and that he should not be judged by his first one year. So, what would be the justification for crucifying Kachikwu if he echoed the President?
At any rate, if the truth must be told, aside from Tinubu’s fatherly admonition, it is tempting to conclude that those who insist that the problems in the petroleum sector can be fixed within six months are being hypocritical, ignorant and mischievous or a combination of these. The problem we are talking about has been on for over two decades. Why would Nigeria, one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil depend on imported fuel to run its machines? If, over the years, policy makers had honestly pursued a policy of local satisfaction of the country’s fuel needs, would Nigeria have had a rash of farm tanks instead of modular refineries that would ensure self-sufficiency in fuel production? What about the endemic rackets in fuel subsidy, which virtually every administration wore like a developmental talisman? If these problems have been with us for so long, with a chain of oil ministers, is it morally right to punish Ibe Kachikwu for the sins of his fathers, meaning previous administrations?
Politics, it is claimed, is a very dirty game indeed. Some conspiracy theorists suggest that Kachikwu’s statement could have provided aggrieved members of the APC a handle to attack the President who, de jure, is the minister of petroleum affairs and who, by that same fact, is vicariously responsible for any performance gaps in the sector. But such a decoy would fall flat in the face of the evidence. Granted that to the common man, ready availability of fuel is the basic index of performance, any dispassionate reality check will lead to only one conclusion: Under Buhari, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources has started establishing some noticeable milestones. First, the monstrous subsidy (allocation), which Jonathan inherited and sustained, has been substantially slashed, resulting in a savings of about one trillion naira. If this is not an achievement, one wonders what else could be. Second, the corporate governance environment has been boosted by greater transparency in contract awards and information management hallmarked by the periodic NNPC Monthly Oil & Gas Report. In the process, the system is witnessing an upscaling of confidence necessary to stabilise the industry amidst growing frustration in other areas. If this is not an achievement, one wonders what is.
• Agu, former MD of Champion Newspapers, wrote in from Lagos.