THIS column had, last week, passed off the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, as a quintessential professional, who does not live in the world of make-belief. I had argued then that it was for this reason that the man did not speak in muffled tunes on the true state of affairs in the oil and gas sector of our economy.
Kachikwu had become a subject of controversy, following his unpretentious declaration. He had told Nigerians to brace up for some long-drawn crisis in the supply of petrol to end-users. He hinted that the product would not be readily available until sometime in May.
But some people felt that he should not have said so. They said he sounded impolitic. They argued that he should have given Nigerians some hope of an early resolution of the crisis, even if it was a false one. He was chided for not speaking like a typical government official, who would promise the people one thing and give them another.
The minister’s faux pas, if his debatable indiscretion can be so labelled, attracted the attention of the National Assembly. The Senate, just like its lower House counterpart, ever too delighted at the prospect of putting members of the executive on the spot, took a scornful interest in the matter. It summoned the minister to explain his position.
However, for some curious reasons, the minister gave up on his earlier position. He settled for a new time frame in the month of April.
But he did not just cascade down to April; he tried his hands on some specificity. He oscillated from second week in April to the first week. Those who watched Kachikwu make this back and forth movement would readily have noticed that he spoke in a hurry. The time frame he dropped was not well considered. That was why he was not exact and could not have been exact.
But his verbal acrobatics did not work. The newshounds took over from where he stopped. If he was lacking in exactitude, the Press imposed one on him. They pinned him down to a date, even though he never mentioned one. That was how April 7 came to be. Kachikwu never really pronounced this date as the final day that Nigerians would experience the ongoing fuel scarcity in the country. The specificity was designed and delivered by the Press. But Kachikwu, it would appear, was too afraid to tamper or tinker with that date. So, he chose to live with it. He bothered less about the danger his self-imposed silence posed.
That is where we are now. The day that the Press announced has come. But was the minister on target? Did he get it right? It is evident that the minister could not deliver on that date. Anybody who knows anything about the workings of government business knows that he could not have delivered. Here, we can say that Kachikwu was a victim of harassment. He capitulated to a misguided public opinion. He does not seem to have the thick skin with which the criticism-infested public official weathers the storm.
Now that he has failed to deliver on a date he never really believed in, in the first place, he is going to be the worse for it. The senselessness of exactitude in official pronouncements on situations, such as the one he was confronted with would have dawned on him by now. Kachikwu will certainly learn from this folly.
But the issue at stake is not about one individual called Ibe Kachikwu. It is about the system that produced him. By the system, we are talking about the government of Muhammadu Buhari and the party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) – that gave birth to it. Here, we are talking about a political party that rode into limelight on the wings of populism. The APC promised Nigerians some kind of Eldorado. Its change mantra was its selling point.
Under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government of Goodluck Jonathan, which the APC took over from, Nigerians did not groan over fuel crisis. The product was readily available and affordable. The government operated a subsidy regime that worked. But the critics would not let Jonathan and his government be. They accused the government of wastefulness over the subsidy regime. They said the PDP government of Jonathan did not know how to manage the economy. It was on the strength of this that the APC began to pose as the answer that Nigeria needed. It discredited the PDP government of Goodluck Jonathan to no end. The result was the regime change that we have now.
Now, in the bid to do things differently, the Buhari government is shunning the path that the Jonathan administration treaded. It wants to operate a different kind of subsidy regime. It claims that its approach will save for Nigerians some millions of dollars. But that is as far it goes. The new system adopted by the new government is not working. Rather, it is inflicting hardship and suffering on Nigerians. But what is most lamentable is that the government does not seem to know the way out. It does not know how to end the mess that it created.
Suffering has become the face of governance in today’s Nigeria. The people are perplexed that the government they hoped so much on has dashed their hopes. They find the hopelessness and despondency in the land very exasperating. Certainly, what the people are reaping is not the change they expected. This is change for its own sake. It is not the change that pays.
If the APC is unable to bring about the change that Nigerians expected, the way to go is to be humble about it. It should explain to them why it has not got it right and appeal to them to be patient. But the reverse is the case here. The APC government is blaming the past administration of the PDP for its failure. APC is saying that it is failing because PDP failed. There is a problem with this argument. APC sought power because it felt that PDP was not getting it right. That was why its campaign relied so much on change. The message was clear – we will turn things around. We will move away from the rot of the PDP.
If PDP’s presumed failure was going to be an excuse for APC not to succeed, then there was no need for APC to have come in in the first place. The APC government of Muhammadu Buhari is making a mockery of itself by making PDP the issue. If it continues to blame PDP for its failures, Nigerians cannot but ask APC what it came to do in office. To lament PDP’s failure or to turn things around for Nigeria? APC has to choose between the two. The ongoing jeremiad is not the reason for its assumption of the reins of governance.
Indeed, whatever story we are telling today about the fuel mess that Nigerians are in is not about Kachikwu. It is about a pretentious order that wants to lead the people by the nose. Kachikwu just happens to be the fall guy, the pawn in the chessboard of a bankrupt order.