When the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison-Madueke, announced the reduction of the pump price of PMS from 97 naira per litre to 87 naira per litre effective from Sunday midnight, it seemed that our 10 billion naira investment in her globetrotting had not vanished into thin air after all. The incumbent President of OPEC gave us the vaguely validating feeling that we also belonged to the global village.
All over the world, pump price of crude had been in free fall, as a result of the battle of wits between OPEC and the Unites States over fracking. Oil price has more than halved in the past months, tumbling from $100 to less than $50. This was our invitation to the party.
Now the return of 10 naira on a 10 billion naira investment is a woeful loss. 10 naira can buy no more than a sachet of pure water or a HB pencil or a match box – even though a pickpocket caught in Onitsha, the land of the authentic Azikiwe, would be lucky to escape being lynched for filching ten naira.
She mandated the Petroleum Pricing Regulatory Agency and the Directorate of Petroleum Resources, to ensure compliance nationwide from the stroke of midnight forward. She closed by saying that she hoped that ‘’ everybody will benefit’’ from the reduction.
The reduction should naturally translate to a potential saving of hundreds of naira. Nigerians buy many litres of petrol daily for their cars and their generators. But Madueke made a grave assumption.
She assumed that the official pump price regime obtained across the country. But majority of the population buy at higher rates in practically all the states. People are forced to buy at whatever rate they are offered, notwithstanding the difference between it and the official pump price. In the city where I live, a litre of petrol could spike to 160 naira. It’s sold at 97 only in NNPC filling stations. So in a way, the official fuel pump price applies to a few.
The twin agencies responsible for petroleum price monitoring coexist with a plethora of parallel price regimes. They could not ensure that fuel is dispensed at 97 naira per litre. They would certainly not to be able to make the 10 naira reduction a common experience at the present level of their activeness.
More to the point, the context of the announcement says a few things about the motivation of the heralds.
Madueke made the declaration after dinner time on a Sunday. No, nothing in the book casts a certain time for such pronouncements. Yet, there was something tangibly awkward about the scheduling. It had to be enacted on a weekend and past dinnertime, when the largest audience possible would be hooked on the news. The court astrologers marked it down to the most apt minute!
Then the venue. She published her tidings from the grounds of the State House. Nigeria’s seat of power has not always been the launching pad for a new fuel price regime. The choice and use of the President’s official address for this purpose indicates a clear intention to associate authorship of the reduction with the President. (HINT: What I offer you is not quite the result of the slump of crude price in the global market: It originated from the bosom of the man in residence. This is a gift from the President, an early Valentine gift from a Presidential Candidate standing for re-election to his people.)
Credit to whom it is due, the President’s camp got the stagecraft right. The reduction would have had little impact if the Minister had broken the news in her office, as is in a normal press conference. But this was an extraordinary press conference. And who could fail to imagine the quantity of ballots that may be given as payback to the President if the public is led to believe that the good news sprung from the sheer magnanimity of Goodluck Jonathan!
The results of Jonathan’s transformational leadership often escape his faculty of recall. Which is why he is often seen on live TV begging a rally to vote for him because he suspects that his main challenger cannot memorize a phone number. With this development, Jonathan, the one whose aides once claimed brought Facebook to Nigeria, may now begin to add that he is the leader who gave us the law of gravity.
People often joke that what goes up never gets to come down in Nigeria. The price of goods rise and keep rising. But has he not performed the unprecedented feat of pulling down the price of petrol from a higher altitude?
He and his team will put this ten naira change under a magnifying glass and describe it exaggeratedly. They will have this branded as a product of never-before-heard alchemy.
But the more discerning know nobody did us any favor. We were entitled to the reduction. And that reduction should have happen as matter of cause and effect. In reality, we should have started buying a litre of fuel with less money at about the same time other humans elsewhere began to enjoy cheaper fuel.
And that brings us to question of why we were made to lag behind the rest of humanity in this lower fuel price season. Did our President think that we didn’t deserve to share in this global behind? Was he so reluctant that he was left alone, the only leader who would not approve a decrease?
Even when President Jonathan came around to ‘’doing it’’, he grudged to exercise himself in not-my-will tokenism. He approved only ten naira reduction. By his own measure of proportion, even the theft of a sum of money that could have purchased a Peugeot car doesn’t make a thief. So he settled for the most contemptible amount that appealed to him.
On a personal level, the announcement caused me grievous embarrassment. At first, the impression I got was that the government was just out to mock. How could you purport to be responding to the global price and serve the people such deplorable trifle?
For one, the margin of reduction does not bear close resemblance to the degree of the fall of crude price. Ten naira does not, in any way, represent the remotest approximation of the percentage that should have been shaved off the fuel pump price if the price adjustment was truly meant to reflect the prevailing market trend.
The gesture presents itself as a patronizing appeasement, a concession granted to force silence. It is a callous and conceited reply to the query: Why are Nigerians barred from tasting cheaper fuel even when other people have begun to take it for granted?
It was a pacifier shoved into the mouth of a protesting child.
You asked for a decrease in fuel pump price: here is it. Will you now keep quiet or research another reason to keep blackmailing the Presidency?
News of a reduction should have caused rejoicing. Sadly, this one annoyed and provoked. It cast a pall of depression, leaving people moody, and worse off than they were before the interruption. They were happier before this. Until the government brought them notice that they were being cheated!
The other time, the Jonathan administration ambushed us with a fuel price hike on the dawn of a new year. And the whole country erupted into spontaneous anger. The timing and the scale of the increment melted the divisive identities of the people and united them as clusters of families across the states of the federation. The very air that hung over Nigeria became so agitated with fury and voices.
The matter was subsequently resolved in the interested of public peace and motion. The whole country had ground to a halt.
But the resolution did not touch the fundamental issues. Three years after, our refineries still run below capacity. We still import finished petroleum products. The fuel subsidy cabal still thrives.
Till date, the report of the Nuhu Ribadu’s team collects dust. The report of the audit of NNPC books has yet to see the light of day. They are lying in some report morgue in Abuja.
The offspring of that protest, SURE-P, has been turned into the outpost of the Peoples Democratic Party. Whereas it was created to mitigate the immediate impact of the partial petroleum subsidy removal on the population, to accelerate economic transformation through investment in critical infrastructural projects and to promote investment in the petroleum sector, SURE-P has become a tool for prosecution of partisan political agenda. A frontline PDP guber candidate himself confirmed that it had become a franchise ceded to party chieftains and deodorized ex-convicts.
Nigerians recognize this cheap publicity stunt for what it is. President Jonathan should not have bothered. Now this has rebounded, reinforcing that his capacity for effecting change lies at the barest minimum.
He is running on the record of Transformation Agenda. The kind of changes that has the name but no before-and-after difference.
Ten, ten naira changes…
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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