Opinion: How corruption brought Nigeria to her knees at Christmas By – GBEMIGA OLAKUNLE
The Christmas season is one of the most celebrated festivals in the world. The Christmas Day marks the date of the virgin birth of the Saviour. It is a tradition that some airlines in Europe and other parts of the world don’t normally operate their international flights that day because they expect their cabins – crews and other ground/officials staff to spend the Christmas Day with their families. It is a period that is characterised with high frequency of human movements through all forms of transport including, roads, air, railways and waterways. Those who couldn’t travel for one reason or the other do make use of money transfer systems to send money to their loved ones. The courier services operators are not left out of this pleasant rush hour period as their clients and customers send goods in the form of parcels and bulk items across to their family members and friends whom they couldn’t pay visits to because of other pressing demands. As a matter of fact, that is the time when most expatriates send or repatriate money to their respective home countries.
In addition, the characteristics of the period do encourage a lot of people to fix their social events within the season. And so it is very common to note that a lot of villages/towns in the African settings are agog with community festivals, weddings, burials and chieftaincy and house warming. It is also a time when old friends, acquaintances and family members do meet with a lot of funfair.
Unfortunately for most Nigerian commuters who desired to experience and share the love of this Yuletide with their loved ones in their home towns/villages, that’s the same period that the monster called corruption decided to bare its fangs and bite deeper into the nation’s oil sector; thus dashing the hopes of these Nigerians and as a result prevented them from attending scheduled important social functions or enjoying the Christmas mood with their loved ones. Those who made it had to pay through their nose as the transport fares jerked up astronomically. A story was told of a man who wanted to travel from Abuja to Lagos. And on getting to the motor park, he was told that the transport fare had skyrocketed to N15,000 instead of the usual N6,000 – N9,000, (depending on the type of vehicle and park). The man therefore decided to transfer his transport fare through an ATM to his family. Obviously, knowing the status of his account balance, the man might not want to risk a situation where he might get stranded on his return journey. In a similar circumstance, a brother of mine who resides in Abuja informed me that he decided to cancel his scheduled trip to our hometown in Oyo State when he realised the status of his pocket after servicing his car and putting fuel into his car’s tank. He told me plainly that he would be stranded if he dared venture to embark on the journey because he reasoned that he would find it difficult to get anyone in the town to lend him money to facilitate his journey back to Abuja since he drives a big car in the reckoning of people at home.
As of the time of writing this article, a litre of fuel sold for N400 in Abuja Municipal! And if the Federal Government does not remedy the situation within the next 48 or 72 hours, those who travelled out of their stations may be stranded; thus they may resort to borrowing or selling some of their personal effects to finance their return journey to their respective stations. A lot of transport operators and car owners may also be tempted to buy petrol into jerrycans and put in their vehicle boots to avoid being stranded on the road – a practice that is very risky especially during this dry season.
To underscore the seriousness that the Federal Government attaches to the ongoing fuel crisis, even President Muhammed Buhari, known for his taciturnity on crucial national issues had to quickly issue a letter from his own office and not through the offices of any of his media aides or the Minister of Information and Culture.
A very crucial point that can be noted from the letter is Mr. President’s allegation that some marketers are hoarding the fuel product and arbitrarily inflating the price for their own selfish purposes against the nation’s comfort, an unpatriotic practice which can spark off mass protests and national uproar against the Federal Government if the ugly situation is not quickly addressed on time. The onus now lies on the Federal Government to rise up to the challenge with a determination to curtailing or stopping these sharp corrupt practices among the marketers and ensuring that the hoarded products in their petrol stations are sold to members of the public at the regulated price. In addition, some unscrupulous members of the public should be discouraged from storing up petrol in their vehicle tanks, shops, offices or residences to avoid fire accidents.
To further buttress Mr. President’s allegations against the oil marketers, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, wondered how the nation’s daily consumption of petrol suddenly jerked up from 30 – 35 million litres to 80 million litres, if not for corrupt practices of hoarding or diversion of the product to neighbouring countries. Apart from the marketers, the minister also suspected other stakeholders in petroleum industry. Since our local refineries are either dysfunctional or not producing at their installed capacities, no one needs a prophet in the industry to tell us that the other unmentioned stakeholders being referred to may be some political big shots and influential Nigerians who own petroleum refineries outside the shores of the country where they take our cheap crude oil to and sell the same product to the country in a refined form. Some of these Nigerians belong to the exclusive elite socio-economic and political club. Their existence transcends the lifespan of any government. And they are the untouchables. The government’s watchdogs can sometimes roar and bark at them, but they dare not touch let alone bite these sacred cows.
While the Federal Government’s concerns on the petrol scarcity especially at this period are appreciated, the only way to tackle corruption in the petroleum industry and thus find a lasting solution to the perennial problem is to create an enabling economic environment in which we refine our own crude oil for our local consumption and for exports. In this respect, our moribund local refineries should be overhauled to operate at their optimum installed capacities while new licences should be granted to those who may wish to invest their capital in the sector. In addition, the operators of modular cells should be encouraged and licensed instead of tagging their operations illegal.
And as we approach the New Year 2018, let us pray that the LORD will imbue Nigerians (leaders and the led) with the spirit of patriotism. It is lack of patriotism that makes ordinary Nigerians to cheat on their fellow Nigerians. And that is the spiritual angle to tackle the menace of corruption that has become endemic and even systemic in our society.
To fight corruption, the government cannot do it alone. But the leaders can show leadership by example in that crucial fight which we must win as a nation. Punch
- Olakunle, General Secretary, National Prayer Movement, Abuja, wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org