Mallam Mohammed Lawal
The stiff opposition against the recent fuel price hike was not unexpected. It was given before it came. They must cry, they must wail. It is in their culture. It was bound to happen and it did. No qualms. The huge hues and cries that trailed it were well taken. Happily enough, the Federal Government did not take all this for granted. It read the situation adequately well and correctly. Kudos.
But this particular time around, they were strongly for the very wrong reasons. They were equally misplaced. All the same, government is taking useful lessons as events unfold. It is not folding its arms either.
We have to remind ourselves that Nigerians are no strangers to fuel price increase. The hike has a long history on its trail. And Nigerians have been having almost a free ride all these decades. In 1978, the fuel price was 5kobo under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. In 1982, the late President Shehu Usman Shagari took it to 20kobo. That was the beginning of agitation against fuel price increase. Even then, the agitators never cared to consider what obtained in other lands.
General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) played along when he held sway as Head of State in December 1983 to August 1985. For that period, he retained the fuel rice at 20kobo. He resisted all attempts to jerk it up.
Even as a military leader, Buhari did not flex his muscle. He was compassionate and determined to ameliorate the people’s suffering. So, he left the fuel price untouched. His focus then even as it is now was to fight the corruption of the sacked civilian administration.
But the situation is no longer the same. And things cannot continue to be done the same way as it was done in the past. Buhari is very much aware of this stark reality. He is one that would not be frightened. He is prepared to take the issue headlong. He is particularly cautious of history.
Buhari would not take that risk. The situation needed to be attended to and urgently too. He knew that what obtained in 1985 as a military Head of State were completely different to the actualities of our times now. No more tea party. Then, it was “free launch” all the way. And we feasted on it to the very maximum. Those days are gone, at least for now. We do not have such “reckless luxury” again.
We need to fasten our seat belt and get more serious. That is if we genuinely desire an enduring nation. We have to flow and align with the international community. We cannot expose ourselves to avoidable hazards. We dare not deliberately set booby traps and land mines on our pathway. Neither can we be an island onto ourselves. That would be suicidal.
Several indices and authorities agreed that we needed to act faster than ever before. Failure to do this would be a monumental disaster and self-destruction. We must arrest the ugly situation even now. We must destroy the monster before it consumes us. We have to apply the speed of light. And that is exactly what government did in its wisdom. Then, one would be forced to think aloud: Why this much ado about fuel price hike? Why this hullaballoo? Why threatening brimstones at this critical period of our national life? These are the posers.
Suffice to say that it is in our character to kick. Yes, we shut down any government policy even before we take a second look at it. No matter how good the intention, we condemn first.
We forget so easily that we cannot be combative in fixing our oil price. We dare not do that in isolation; if we do, we risk being isolated. That reasonably informed the current fuel price regime. Market should be left free to determine prices. That is how it is done in sane countries. Ours cannot be an exception. There is yardstick to fix oil price. And it is international, it is not peculiar to any particular country.
Nations of the world are rated using the same scale, the parameter. It could never have been based on parochial sentiments that would not hold water. That would not stand the tests of times either. It would sooner than later collapse like a pack of loose cards. We have to wake up, brush up and flow with internationally recognised standard of doing thing. That if we are really ready to do business and forge ahead as one united nation. The pump prices around the world today would make Buhari an instant hero, you would want to envy. The prices from other lands exceptionally stand him out. Then you would be amazed and amused at the hues and cries.
The startling and eye-opening checklist: “The average pump price of petrol in the United States of America (USA) is $2.23 per gallon, which translates to ₦282 per litre at $1 = ₦480. In Saudi Arabia, it is $0.480 per litre or ₦230 per litre. In Germany, it is $1.492 per litre or ₦716 per litre.” Source: globalpetrolprices.com.
Another source made it simpler. It explained the implication(s) of the present minimal increase this way: “If you look at the fuel price increase arithmetic, thus; former pump price is N148 per litre, new pump price is N151 per litre, the difference is N3 per litre.
“If you are driving a vehicle with a full tank capacity of 80 litres, your cost of the petrol is now increased by N3.00×80 litres is N240. So, if you are using a full tank per week, it means that the increase will cost you N240, a week.”
The source concluded: “This is just a mere fact, apart from the justifiable reasons for the increase, considering the present prices of the fuel at the respective countries where the products are being imported.” Let us come nearest home. Checklist of countries surrounding us: In Benin Republic it is N359 per litre, in Niger Republic it is N346 per litre, in Chad, N366 per litre and in Cameroon, N449 per litre.
Even in other West African countries, the story is the same. Samplers: In Ghana, it is N332 per litre, in Senegal, it is N549 per litre, in Mali, it is N474 per litre, in Liberia N257 and in Burkina Faso, it is N433. Need we say more then? These are open facts, figures, data and statistics. They are never hidden they are there for the asking. You have equally access and assess to the database. Now, any more need for the hues and cries? Great doubt. So? Let us collectively bury the hatchet and move on. It is in our own joint interest.
The earlier we do this the better for all of us.
•Mallam Lawal, Board member NNPC, writes from Abuja