Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is in the eye of the storm. He is at the centre of a vexed discourse over his recent declaration on the lingering fuel scarcity in the country.
When the minister told Nigerians to be prepared for more months of fuel crisis, it was the professional in him that spoke. He did not set out to deceive anybody. He did not employ ghost words. He said it as it was. But Kachikwu is being mulled in some quarters for not speaking tongue-in-cheek. He is being derided by some for washing the dirty linens of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the public. He is being made to understand that those who play in the public arena must put up a facade. They must not always say it as it is.
This deification of deception is usually a problem to a thoroughbred professional, who would not want his much cherished reputation to nosedive overnight on account of partisan politics or the make-belief of public office. Kachikwu certainly understands the dynamics of petroleum products supply in the country and he has just fed us with the facts of the situation. But the Kachikwu truth hurts. This is especially so in government circles where appearance and reality are poles apart. Kachikwu is being buffeted because in government and politics, the real is usually a luxury which most players can ill afford.
As Kachikwu struggles to deal with this oddity, let us remind ourselves of how we got to where we are at moment. About a year ago, Muhammadu Buhari rode on the wings of primordial sentiments and prejudices to become the president of Nigeria. As a contestant to the office of the president, Buhari’s candidature was strewn with cobwebs. Apart from his certificate mess, which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) made so much capital out of, Buhari’s public declarations indicated clearly that he had no idea about how the economy of a country can be managed. That was why he told Nigerians during the campaigns that he would raise the price of crude in the international oil market and reduce the pump price of fuel to as low as N40 to a litre. Many wondered then whether Buhari was a
one-man OPEC. Buhari also told Nigerians at that time that he would make our national currency, the Naira, to be of equal value with the United States Dollar.
In settings where people still have their brains intact, Buhari’s jejune declarations would have elicited opprobrious reactions. But because the senses of most Nigerians are on holiday, Buhari received applauses and approbation from the people. They hailed him as the man for the job. They saw him as the magician they had been waiting for. Based on this canonisation of mediocrity, Buhari got away with his juvenile rehearsals. He did not know the issues but his captive audience believed otherwise. If he was ignorant, his uncritical supporters were much more so.
It was because the ignorant and uninformed Nigerian was fanatical about the Buhari candidature that he did not need to task his brain to think out a programme of action if elected. That was why his campaign was not built around any issue. It had no substance. Its be all and end all was the empty chant about ‘change’.
Of course, we are all aware of how Buhari and the ignorant and gullible Nigerian procured the change they clamoured for. Those on the other side of the divide who sabotaged their own camp have since left the scene. And Buhari, the man they made by hook or crook, has since stepped in.
But there is a huge snag. Buhari, the beneficiary of the hurriedly packaged government of change, does not know what to do with the trophy he won. The shoes appear to be too big to fit. The man is swimming in the huge ocean of change, not knowing which direction he should be heading to. It is this confused state that has put Nigeria on autopilot. The country appears to be on a roller coaster. No one, strictly speaking, is in charge. That is why things are not working. That explains why the people are moaning and groaning.
It is in this sea of confusion that the likes of Kachikwu have stepped in. Kachikwu, like a few others in the Buhari cabinet, is struggling to make meaning out of the empty campaign promises and messianic posturing of Buhari. If Kachikwu or any other appointee of Buhari finds himself at sea, we should not be in a hurry to persecute them. We should begin the scapegoatism with Buhari, the author of the reign of confusion that has enveloped the country.
Therefore, when a Kachikwu tells us to prepare for a more biting fuel crisis, he knows what he is saying. He knows that the government he serves has no idea and no plan about how to deal with the problem. Kachikwu as an expert may have sold an idea to the government. But is the principal ready to pay heed to his expert advice or proposition?
Those who think that Kachikwu sounded impolitic by speaking the way he did will soon discover that the man was in order. He was trying to help the government he serves by sounding as realistic as possible. In fact, I am amused by the antics of those who are putting pressure on Kachikwu to say something different. The man has finally ingratiated their appetite for wishful thinking by changing the goal post of the fuel crisis. The minister has given us hope of an early resolution. We are now to look towards early April. This modification may have gladdened the heart of those who love to engage in mental flights. But the truth that may stare us in the face soon is that the month of May, which Kachikwu originally quoted, will come and go yet Nigerians will still be struggling with the energy crisis. Putting pressure on Kachikwu to eat his words is unhelpful. It will solve nothing.
Those who blame Kachikwu for telling Nigerians the truth should stop to ask whether the Buhari government is getting it right in any area of our national life. Is it in the strength of the Naira at the foreign exchange market? Is it in the availability of electricity? Under the Buhari regime, the value of the Naira has plummeted to an all-time low. It is so bad that Nigerians have to pay a lot more for goods and services, and this has deepened their economic woes. The question that then arises is: What has become of the campaign promise of one Naira to one Dollar?
What about public power supply? No progress has been made in this regard since the advent of the Buhari presidency. The number of electricity megawatts has fallen lower than the Buhari government met it. The people are roasting under the heat occasioned by the near absence of electricity. But even more tragic is the fact that Nigerians are being made to pay for darkness. Some two months ago, government collaborated with power generation and distribution companies to increase electricity tariff by 100 per cent. The people have to pay because government, which is supposed to protect them from such an arbitrary and exploitative increase, is also an accomplice.
We may beat about the bush for as long as we care in this matter. But if the APC government does not develop a plan of action on how to deal with the recurrent fuel logjams, we will continue to have the Kachikwus of this world shock us with their bitter truths.