By Yaya Ademola
In the All Progressives Party (APC) Policy Document and Manifesto used at speeches in campaign rallies nationwide in the run-up to 2015 general elections, President Muhammadu Buhari made 81 promises to Nigeria voters if elected president. Two among the 81 promises are: generation, transmission and distribution of at least 20,000 MW of electricity within four years and increase to 50,000 MW with a view to achieving 24/7 uninterrupted power supply within 10years; reviving and reactivating our minimally performing refineries to optimum capacity.
Muhammadu Buhari, former Petroleum Minister, Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund, Head of State and anti-corruption and anti-indiscipline crusader cut the picture of an unwavering man of his words – a man of integrity – and millions of Nigerians like my humble self were persuaded, as Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu did persuade us, that he is the symbol of change for a better life that is direly needed. He was voted in as the president, defeating an incumbent for the first time in Nigeria’s history.
Almost six years after, nothing has significantly changed in the electricity situation of less than 5,000MW generation and distributions while our refineries’ pathetic case continues its degeneration towards zero capacity. As Yoruba would say, “Orisabo le gbe mi, semi bose bami”, literally translating to, “if the gods cannot advance our fortune, they should, at least, let us be.” Rather than be the case, Nigerians whose votes were obtained on the basis of the promises to fix electricity and refineries woke up on 2nd of September, 2020, to be greeted with a brand new double edged sword of increment in the price of petrol per litre and electricity tariff.
On 10th of September,2020, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Group Managing Director, Mele Kyari, on Channels Television, justifying the deliberate decision why our four refineries were shut down said: “they are unable to deliver crude oil to them effectively to their maximum capacity; there is a colossal loss of capacity because Turn Around Maintenance(TAM) has not been done properly”. He submitted that, “every corruption that you are aware of in the downstream industry is one way or the other connected to fuel subsidy.”
What manner of excuses to justify failure! Why would the refineries not work?Nigerians are well aware that the refineries have been outdated for about two decades while millions of US dollars were allotted over time for periodic Turn-Around-Maintenance (TAM). It has become customary for apologists, who thought they love the APC more than some of us, to point to the gargantuan rot left by PDP and previous decades of woeful governance, and the trap set in the badly, selfishly mishandled power sector privatisation deals. Sincerely, they don’t truly love the party, and if care is not taken, they will end up as its eventual grave-diggers. Why in the first place was the APC voted to replace the PDP in an epoch-making and impossible election? Simply because they claimed to appreciate the enormity of the challenges and have solutions for them, and Nigerians believed the APC, which then paraded an enviable list of achievers and achievements in the states that they held sway!
A progressive political party, at the head of which is President Muhammadu Buhari, is expected to adopt progressive options at all times when it comes to policy choices. It has a reservoir of human resources within its team and the wider Nigerian intellectual community to source such options in line with its commitment to the welfare of the greatest majority. The APC prides itself justifiably as the inheritor of the best tradition of progressive politics in Nigeria, harvesting the best philosophies from such defunct parties like the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) of the second republic if we are not to going even farther back. Egalitarianism is the common philosophy trending within all of these parties to whose tradition the APC lays claim.
The Unity Party of Nigeria, for instance, has as a stanza in its anthem: “egalitarianism is our national watchword; equality of good fortune must be to each sure reward.” How do we reconcile the lofty stance of such a party with the realities flowing from the policy choices of a progressive party that inherited such noble ideals? There is no curse placed on the power and petroleum sector great enough to upset and destabilise a determined government led by such a reputed leader as Muhammudu Buhari from implementing top notch, imaginative policies as to turn their fortune around. It is the most unreasonable thing, for instance, to be one of the world’s largest cassava producers, and then sell off all our produce to foreigners and go back to the foreigners with some of the earnings looking for gari, apu, starch and cassava flowers to buy; and lamenting the high cost. It borders on insanity! No nation on earth will have a single respect for such a country. This is among the insanities that Nigerians expected and trusted Buhari to resolve, given his personal strength of character and the progressive leaning of his political party.
For products from petroleum industry that have no other competitive domestic source; which are the driving components of almost the entire economy, and whose price increase have reverberating multiplier inflationary effect on all aspects of commerce and consumption, deregulation is no immediate option. It is a choice that must come after domestic refining, which sense must be clear to any progressive mind: except it is the dictated choice of anti-people, international economic institutions, to which a progressive party must not bow! Any policy that will leave the masses worse off than they are, when there are options, is not only insensitive but seems outrightly punitive. It should be clear that the masses will not suffer victims gladly.
Rather than clamp down on protests against such obnoxious policies, the government should look at other options opened to it, including stopping and stringently punishing massive theft from the commonwealth, as witnessed the recent NDDC-Gate, as well as cutting humongous cost of governance, which has been a constant but ignored sing-song in Nigeria. Escalating poverty and poor education and skill development policies are at the heart of widespread violent crimes and insecurity that government battle against unsuccessfully with billions of naira committed. How does government think it will reduce when it pursues policies that worsen the poverty and education situation? Are there then people in our progressive government that have made insecurity into a business and propose policies that will worsen it for the prosperity of their nefarious interests?
For the love of the APC, apologies by its blind devotees should be ignored by the government. Rather, it should listen to the protesting people, reverse the increments in the meantime, source its income through many available creative adjustments, and on the long term fix the refinery and build new ones to meet local capacity, while resolving all the intractable problems relating to power generation, transmission and distribution, especially metering, which has the singular capacity to solve a lot of the problems. Only thereafter can any form of deregulation make sense. Countries that have done so are not peopled with angels, and their leaders are not gods. The future fortune of the APC hangs on the choices made by its present Federal Government irrespective of the good marks being scored in some states it controls.
Yaya Ademola writes from Alekuwodo, Osogbo.