Nigerians are already fretting over the imminent increase in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS). Some former Group Managing Directors (GMDs) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) met last week and urged government to review the current price of PMS. Their argument was that the variables, which led to the pegging of the pump price of PMS at N145 per litre, have changed, particularly the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar. They believe that the prevailing price regime has become unsustainable and should, therefore, be reviewed upwards.
The former GMDs were in league with oil marketers. But there is also every reason to believe that they were equally in league with government. The meeting of the ex-GMDs was suspect in the first place. I do not know when the gang became a pressure group or a non-governmental organisation. Their advice was unsolicited. Yet, they stepped out with so much gusto to make their declarations.
Going by government’s disposition or responses to the rumoured increase in the pump price of PMS, it will not be out of place to say that the ex-GMDs are agents of government, who were sent to test the waters. That probably explains why the helmsmen of the petroleum industry freely passed the buck when they were confronted with the issue. While the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, directed the issue to the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Maikanti Baru, the GMD, in turn passed the buck to the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). None wanted to be held down to a position. Their disposition suggested that there was something they did not want to say.
Let us recall that the price of PMS was moved from N87 to N145 in May this year. When that happened, Kachikwu lectured us on some issues, bordering on price modulation and market forces. Many, certainly did not understand the minister and his economic head shrinkers. But he did say in clear terms that the pump price of PMS would drop in a matter of weeks or months. He left us with the impression that the market forces he referred to will necessarily work in favour of lower prices of PMS.
As a people who are addicted to hard liberty, Nigerians did not really bother about Kachikwu’s promise of what was to come. They accepted the situation and continued to pick the bits and pieces of their distraught selves. But what really rankled was that a few weeks after the increase in the pump price of PMS, the pump price of diesel also shot sky high. From N125 a litre, it climbed to N220. Nobody told anybody why it was so. End users of the product most of whom are business concerns had no choice. They had to buy the product at whatever price. But the bad news was that the situation increased heavily the cost of running their businesses. That is a major reason industries and blue chip companies are collapsing. The operating environment is clearly harsh. It does not support sustainability.
What is clearly distressing under the present order is the institutional conspiracy that is directed at the masses. The new price regime that came about in May came like a thief in the night. It did not follow any familiar pattern. Unlike what used to obtain, government did not give any notice. It did not consult with the relevant authorities. The new price regime took off first. Then government explained later. It was very unceremonious. The action was lacking in sensitivity. There was no effort to connect with the people. The increase just dropped from the blues.
Curiously, government’s misstep did not shock the segment of the society that has always been up in arms against unpopular and anti-people policies. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), government’s implacable foe in matters of this nature, went livid. It could not confront the issue. It could not challenge government’s action. It did not feel that something untoward has happened. But because labour must, at least, pretend to be labour, the NLC, under Ayuba Wabba, feebly announced a strike action. It did that to fulfill all righteousness. NLC, in truth, did not want to join issues with government on the matter. And so, the strike failed woefully. NLC, for the first time in its history, called off a strike without negotiation. Government simply ignored it. In fact, the strike did not take place in most states of the federation, particularly in the South West. Suddenly, the zone of the country that is always at the forefront of civil agitations assumed the back row. It was not interested in fighting the unpopular policy of the administration. The silence from the NLC and the South West was conspiratorial. It is in line with the curious turn of events in the country.
Now, another increase in the pump price of petrol, and by extension, diesel is imminent. But government wants to smuggle the increase in through the back door, using the ex-GMDs of NNPC and the oil marketers. Someone really needs to remind this government that there is something called accountability. If a government promised the people strawberries when it was about to take off, it should not inflict them with whirlwind when it is properly seated. No matter what may have changed in the economy of the country, the government of the day must not forget what it promised the people. If anything has happened that necessitates a change or shift in policy, the people should be made to understand. Government needs to explain. To carry on as if the people do not matter anymore is an act of bad faith.
The situation we have on our hands boils down to management of the economy.
It is easy to say that the country is in dire straits today because of the slump in the price of crude in the international oil market. But is that all that can be said or be done? Is that going to be the end of the story? Certainly not. Governance is about responsibility. Those who have been entrusted with public office must recognise that they have enormous responsibility thrust upon their shoulders. When such responsibilities come knocking at the door, the thing to do is not to give excuses. You confront the challenges as they come.
The responsibility before our government today is how to manage the economy. Regrettably, government has been found wanting in this regard. A government confronted with an oddity should be able to find a solution to it. Inability to do so signals failure. Under Nigeria’s present circumstance, the expectation is that government should be able to bring some dexterity to bear on the situation. It should be able to put together a team of experts, who can think out of the box. We are talking about experts on the economy, who can come up with uncommon ideas on how to navigate the economy out of the doldrums. That is what we expect. Endless excuses will not help.
It is even worse to seek scapegoats. I have heard this government say on many occasions that the previous administration is responsible for the present woes of the country. This is escapism of the highest order. It smacks of absolute lack of grasp of the fundamentals of governance. If a political group or association is entrusted with public office, the unspoken assumption is that it has come to improve on what it met. That is the basis for regime change. If a new regime cannot beat the record of its predecessor, then it has failed. Our government should, therefore, look forwards and lean less on yesterday. That is the only way it can find the tree for the woods.