by Debo Adesina
Once the fuel scarcity all over Nigeria became so recurrent and so excruciating in the agony it inflicts on all, I knew it would define the Muhammadu Buhari regime for good or for ill.
With queues around all filling stations for so many weeks now, causing so much pain for the people and too much damage to businesses; with a thriving black market and premiums being paid for fuel in a regime that promised an end to such, I knew the promise of CHANGE had once again been trumped by the entrenched ways of old. In one of the world’s biggest oil producing countries, inability to meet local fuel consumption needs cannot be a harsher measure of poor leadership mettle than inability to tell a stethoscope from a syringe would be for a medical doctor.
Fuel scarcity, alongside its attendant ills, was one single phenomenon that defined the Goodluck Jonathan government in 2012 when that much maligned (sometimes deservedly so) president sought to end the debacle with fuel subsidy removal. Not only did Nigerians rise in arms against him, he was practically beaten to pulp with protests and verbal punches so much that he beat a partial retreat, which did little to remove the aspersion cast on his person as an incompetent, insensitive, even clueless President. Which also helped in the process of dumping his era in that bin of the better-forgotten.
Under Buhari, a supposed government of dreams, fuel scarcity has now become something of a nightmare that haunts at day-break and would not go away even at noon.
The pain has been so excruciating that while nostalgia for the bygone years, as evidenced by the pockets of bring-back-our-corruption calls, is as stupid, shallow and insulting as they come, the thought alone is enough illustration of the nadir of disappointment to which Nigerians have sunk.
From all indications, this is not about to end soon and those at the helm of affairs are as frustrated as the rest of us. Which may have informed the admission by those at the commanding heights of Nigeria’s administration to publicly admit that much. But in admitting that much, much more is coming to light about the contents, or discontents, of CHANGE promised, the tragedy of change unprepared for and the reality of change not easy or possible.
Government, especially a democratic one that presupposes the supremacy of the people in everything, is nothing without a moral meaning to its plans and policies. The people, the greatest good of the greatest number, must guide all of its deeds and utterances.
When former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu skewered Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu over the weekend for his statement that we should not expect any magic from him and that Nigerians are fortunate he has already performed some magic of sorts by bringing in the volume of fuel currently available, the different meanings read into that rebuke are the best illustration of the dire times Nigerians are in, occasioned by high expectations and low delivery.
Now, it is possible that both should be placed in context, meaning that expectation should never have been so high given the mismanagement of the past years and delivery should be weighed against such rot as has been inherited by the Muhammadu Buhari government. Yet, the literal promise of heaven on earth when APC sought to oust the PDP could only have done little to temper the people’s expectation of instant results. Sadly, the style of this administration, arrogant and self-righteous in indignation at the slightest complaint by the people, as exemplified by the Kachikwu response to fuel scarcity and many of Buhari’s comments in the foreign media, does little to assuage apprehensions.
Indeed, the be-happy-to-have-us-do-something-at-all attitude is even fuelling a growing bewilderment at what manner of change this is!
A few people have interpreted the Tinubu statement to be the first open show of the discontent within the ruling party and that Kachikwu is a mere fodder for what would soon be an open Tinubu versus Buhari heavyweight snarling bout.
Others see political opportunism, in which case, Tinubu, ever the wily politician, has chosen the right time, the right issue and the right battle to fight, with a view to endearing himself to Nigerians.
Some even say, being one of the architects of the change we now hope or pray the Buhari government is, Tinubu’s conscience, overwhelmed by guilt over the change the government has not been, had to speak out to lighten the burden of disappointment on his own heart. And he may have latched on to the appearance of insensitivity on Kachikwu’s part over fuel scarcity to do a comprehensive rounding up of the administration, albeit in a coy manner that excoriates Kachikwu in very strong language on one hand but patronises his principal, Buhari, on the other.
Whatever the case, the administration’s outing so far on every other kind of scarcity, and there are plenty in addition to fuel, deserves such a reality check from within as Tinubu has offered. And the truth is that hardly is there anyone, who is aware of Buhari’s vast experience, watched him struggle over three presidential elections, who is not astounded by the apparent lack of readiness now that the job is at hand.
Who does not share the anger that ‘the fuel shortage is severely biting for the average person?’ That they are forced to remain in lines far too long, for too much time, to pay too much money for too little fuel is an incontrovertible fact.
Kachikwu, according to Tinubu, ‘spoke with the imperious nature of a member of the elitist government the people voted out last year and not the progressive one they voted in.’ He then proceeded to remind the minister that he is a public servant whose office is owned by Nigerians, not by him, the company he runs is owned by Nigerians, not by him and the people are his boss, not the other way round.
This was followed with a crash course on progressive governance: Kachikwu’s portfolio being so important, “he needs to reestablish the correct relationship with the public.”
Nigerians, Tinubu says, “no longer feel he is working for their optimal benefit as their servant.” Instead, “he seems to be standing above them, telling them to take it or leave it.” And for his policies and stint in office to be successful “and a help to this government, he must have the support and belief of the people at this tough time.”
Then, Progressive Populism 101: Kachikwu must talk to Nigerians in a way that they believe fosters their interest and that he understands the hardship weighing upon them
“To do this requires no magic or training in that strange craft. It requires empathy, compassion and the willpower to forge a better Nigeria. These must be the common trademarks of those serving in a progressive government, for these attributes are integral parts of the spirit and ideals upon which the APC was founded. Upon such notions was this administration voted into office by the Nigerian people in the operation of their sovereign will to seek a national leadership that would pursue their interests to the utmost and give them every fair chance to live in a better Nigeria.”
And he concluded: “Let all of us, in and out, of government never forget this. If we adhere to this remembrance, we shall see that magic will not be needed to bring the progress we seek.”
Phew! Harsh stuff!
However, while the different interpretations to this statement may have some or no merit, I only see an attempt to give a moral meaning to the Buhari administration’s mission, a crusade unto which many commentators signed months ago when dithering as state policy appeared the government’s defining style.
Kachikwu and NNPC may have caught Tinubu’s fancy on account of the biting toll of fuel scarcity on Nigerians today, his words, however, sum up the frustration of Nigerians about everything else.
The government is loved and it may well have great plans. But Nigerians are yet to experience the personal moral meaning of those plans. Only statements and promissory notes yet to be redeemed. Electricity supply for all very soon. Housing available as never before. Money for the unemployed. Money for widows and the disadvantaged. Plans for the weak and vulnerable as well as schemes for artisans. All are very grand and comforting ideas in their expressions on paper.
This retail of dreams in the face of nightmarish realities should stop, lest the government burns its huge store of goodwill with its sponsors and the people of Nigeria altogether. Afterall, if I may paraphrase Maya Angelou’s words at American President Bill Clinton’s inaugural in 1993 again, Nigeria arrived the Muhammadu Buhari presidency on a nightmare, hoping for a dream!
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Debo Adesina/Guardian